At the mouth of the Stillaguamish River in the late 1860s and early 1870s, the saloon, logging camp, and mail stop now known as Stanwood, Washington was called Centerville. Confusion over the many Centervilles all over the United States and its Territories (Washington was still a territory at the time) compelled the Postal Service to ask the local postmaster to select a more unique name. In 1877, D. O. Pearson and his wife, Clara and young children had recently arrived to establish a general merchandise store. D.O. also took over as Postmaster – he was the 7th in 7 years at this outpost. He submitted his wife’s maiden name, Stanwood, and it was made official.
Clara Jane Stanwood was born in Lowell Massachusetts and raised by her grandmother because her mother died when she was only 4 years old. Her father left to serve in the Union Army in the Civil War and never returned. She must have formed an attachment to D. O. Pearson and his family because she followed them out to Whidbey Island in 1868 on her own at the age of 19. They married and farmed for seven years until D. O. invested in the mercantile at the mouth of the Stillaguamish River and brought his family there to live.
Clara Stanwood left no writings to our knowledge. She collected news clippings in a scrapbook now held at the University of Washington Special Collections. From those clippings you learn of a person who had contacts in all of the Puget Sound area – at these early times a relatively small world of people from the East Coast engaged in the lumbering business.
In the 1870s, when she arrived there were no regular steamboat stops at Stanwood and people were scattered on their homesteads, clearing land, building dikes and logging. The mail arrived from Utsalady twice a week. In the 1880s, while she was raising her children, Stanwood was still unplatted land and the store and wharf competed for trade with the commercial businesses upriver at Florence. But apparently she was able to raise funds and convince supporters of the need for this proud school building for her children and others.
In 1905 she was honored by Mary Allen as the “Mother of Stanwood” when they and others from Stanwood attended an exposition in Portland, Oregon representing their community and Snohomish County. When she died, the Stanwood City Council adopted a resolution recognizing her “life work and best efforts dedicated to the upbuilding of our social conditions and municipal progress…” The following notice of her death in the Stanwood Tidings in 1910 leaves a record of her accomplishments.
“Clara J. Stanwood Pearson was born in Lowell, Massachusetts March 18th, 1849 and came to Puget Sound, by way of the Isthmus of Panama, when she was 19 years of age, in which year, June 3rd, 1868 she was united in marriage to D. O. Pearson in Coupeville, Washington. In 1877 the young couple moved to Stanwood [then Centerville Postoffice]…
At the time they came to Stanwood, Mrs. Pearson was one of three white women then a resident of what is now the town of Stanwood and she bore the part of a pioneer woman with courage and fortitude, always ready, always willing and anxious to lend a helping hand, an encouraging word to her neighbor who was in distress or met adversity in those trying pioneer days of the valley. Her early life was devoted to the up-building and beautifying of her home and her energies were directed toward the up-life of the social conditions around her. She organized the first Sunday School in town and although never the member of any church, was the leading spirit that founded the first Methodist Church of Stanwood. Later she caused shade trees to be planted in the then isolated places about town, the large elms that now surround the city lots and town hall were planted there many years ago by Mrs. Pearson.
D. O. Pearson & Clara Stanwood Pearson sitting in front of her roses that grew on the south side of their home. The House still exists and new old roses grow in their place.
Photograph courtesy SAHS, circa 1905.
“But her work as a public spirited woman did not cease to manifest itself everywhere until later in life. Many perplexing questions came up for solution as the town developed and in these she was always consulted and perhaps the most gratifying result of her efforts was the construction and building of the present public school building on North Street which she lived to see become a high school. At the time this school was thought of, Mrs. Pearson was elected director and against a large opposition she led the fight for the school and won. It may seem rather strange to the present generation why there should exist in those early days an element of people who should oppose the building of schools yet this is true and proves that every advancement that has been made by the pioneers of this country has been an uphill struggle which made life in a sense a sacrifice.”
Her life was gentle, but like the still waters it was deep. In her heart of hearts she carried those she loved, and her hand was never weary, her step never failed in ministering unto, caring for, waiting upon those who were in any way dependent upon her.”
Twelve years after her death, while recognizing D. O Pearson on his 76th birthday, O. B. Iverson noted “Both Pearson and his wife were decided optimists — saw only the bright side and refused to see the other side and they became either leaders or strong boosters for everything of interest to the community….she was fully his equal….While giving other important duties much of her time, she raised a large family and gave them the best training that brains and mother love could give to qualify them for life in this difficult world.” Such recognition of women, though patronizing even for its day, is appreciated.
The house D. O. and Clara built in Stanwood about 1890 was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973 and is now a historic house museum operated by the Stanwood Area Historical Society. In 2001 the Stanwood City Council proclaimed March 18th as the town’s Clara Stanwood Day. In September 2003 an honorary marker was placed at the D. O. Pearson House in her honor by the Ann Washington Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. .
Introduction written by Karen Prasse
History of Pacific Northwest: Oregon and Washington…Portland, Oregon / North Pacific History Co., 1889, v. 2 p. 517
An Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties their People, Their Commerce and their Resources… Interstate Publishing Co., 1906., p. 975-6.
“Pioneer Woman Passes Away”, Stanwood Tidings, July, 1910;
Iverson, O. B. “Throws Interesting Light on D. O. Pearson’s Life.” Stanwood Tidings (June 8, 1922): 3
“Council Proceedings, July 18, 1910”, Stanwood Tidings July 22, 1910
Other sources include vital records (copies) and files held at the Stanwood Area Historical Society, Stanwood, WA
© 2007 Stanwood Area Historical Society, Stanwood, WA All Rights Reserved; WLP Story # 23