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Catalog Number WF 0758
Caption Whitney, Sisson, Tillinghast, Alexander
Description Portrait of the Whitney, Sisson, Tillinghast and Alexander families, taken at one of their homes on Padilla Flats. They were pioneers responsible for much of the present-day landscape of the Bayview to Whitney area. Rienzi Whitney settled on the Padilla flats in 1872 following his arrival from California. He formed the Whitney-Sisson Company with his cousins Edgar A. Sisson [Edgar was actually a first cousin, once removed. That is, he was the son of a cousin] and A. G. Tillinghast, and together they were responsible for diking the southern end of Padilla Bay to create acres of rich farmland. In 1877, Whitney, Tillinghast and Sisson imported the second steam threshing machine in the Skagit country. By the 1880s, however, the trio went in somewhat different directions. Pictured in this photo: Kate, Helen, and Edna Whitney, Worth and Ivan Alexander, and Grant Sisson, who later served in the state legislature in the early 1950s.

Rienzi Whitney was born in Abington, PA, in 1840. He fought in the Civil War, lived in Missouri, and came to Washington in 1872, taking claim near Bayview. He was elected to the territorial legislature in 1874. He married Rachel Augusta Wall and had three children with her prior to her death from tuberculosis. In 1876, as a last hope, he moved the family to California where he hoped she would regain her health. The 4-28-1877, NORTHERN STAR reported, "Rachel Augusta Whitney, wife of Hon. R. Whitney of LaConner, died at Colton, San Bernardino County, California, on April 2." [Their youngest, Dana Earl Whitney, also died in Colton in 1877. Both "Gus" as she was called and Dana Earl are buried in Colton. They lost their oldest and only daughter in 1872. Bertha Eliza Whitney came down with smallpox while on the ship from San Francisco to Washington Territory. The family was quarantined on Vancouver Island where Bertha died and is buried. This was 23 June 1872. They came to what is now Skagit county on the flats in August of 1872.] Following his wife's death, he returned to his farm holdings at Padilla and married Kate Bradley in 1879; see WF 4868. He proceeded to dike "250 acres of land divided by the Indian Slough" and united the two tracts by building a private drawbridge over 3000 feet long. [According to a letter written by Herbert Alexander, a nephew of Rienzi Whitney, they purchased a pile driver to build the bridge.] By 1889 he had 1000 acres under cultivation. He became noted in the region for his continual efforts to improve the quality of life for settlers. The 8-5-1882 NORTHWEST ENTERPRISE noted, "A Singing school is being held in Whitney's hall on Padilla Bay. The school is a source of much pleasure to those who attend, among whom are a number of good vocalists." The 7-15-1882, edition reported, "R. E. Whitney, the extensive farmer of the Swinomish, is making preparations to go into the seed growing business. He has already set out a small patch of cabbages for seed. Mr. Whitney has recently purchased a new J. I. Case Agitator Threshing machine and engine at a cost of $2600. He intends sending his old machine to the Samish this summer." When the railroad was built across the flats in 1890, Whitney Station was closed as a stop because of its proximity to Padilla, LaConner, and Bayview. The station was named in honor of Rienzi Whitney, and what was then left of Padilla was moved to Whitney, including the post office. The Whitney family moved to Anacortes that year and lived in the old Alden Academy; see WF 0025. Whitney quickly became a respected city leader and won a seat on the city council. The community was deeply shocked in1891 with his untimely death following a carriage accident at age 51. He was remembered with much respect and gratitude by Anacortes. Alice Cahail wrote an article for the 9-7-1939, ANACORTES AMERICAN in which she stated, "Everything that Mr. Whitney undertook was on so large a scale that it commanded public notice and was of public benefit." In 1907, Whitney School was named in his honor.

Edgar Sisson, born in La Plume, PA, in 1849, arrived in the LaConner area in 1872 and married Ida Leamer [see An Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties, page 780] in 1876. After working to dike the Padilla Flats with his cousin, Rienzi Whitney, Sisson apparently moved to Whatcom County and opened a store. The 8-19-1882 Northwest Enterprise reported, "Mr. Sisson of Whatcom will shortly move his stock of goods to Ferndale on the Nooksack where he is having a store built." The 10-28-1882 edition reported, "Mr. Sisson has nearly completed his store building at Ferndale. He returned this week from San Francisco where he went to purchase a large stock of goods." Sisson moved to Anacortes in 1909, was elected as a representative to the state legislature in 1913, and elected Skagit County commissioner in 1916.

A. G. Tillinghast, in addition to working with his cousin Rienzi Whitney to dike the Padilla Flats, experimented with raising seeds, working with his brother Isaac Tillinghast in La Plume, PA, who was also raising and selling seed; through him, Tillinghast's products found a ready market back east. One of his best sellers was a cauliflower seed developed by Hiram March, namesake of March's Point; see the Cahail article cited above. The 12-14-1893 ANACORTES AMERICAN reported that the "annual catalogue of A. G. Tillinghast is now being published. 15,000 copies of 1894 catalogue will be printed and bound at the ANACORTES AMERICAN." Tillinghast served as the postmaster of Padilla in 1882. He also owned land in Anacortes. The 5-21-1896 paper reported that Tillinghast granted the city a strip of land 80 feet wide through his property between O Ave. and P/Commercial Ave. at 32nd.

Alexander: Members of the L. B. Alexander family are also in this photo. Cousins to the Whitneys, Sissons, and Tillinghasts, the Alexanders also moved to Anacortes in the early 1890s. Ivan and Worth Alexander were two of Lucy Bradley Alexander's sons; both are pictured in WF 0783 and 5430. Ivan Alexander became mayor of LaConner c. 1920s.
Date 1889 c.
Photographer EWING, David B.
Collection Wallie Funk Collection
Subjects People
Place - Padilla Flats, WA
Credit line Donated by Wallie Funk, Wallie Funk Collection
People ALEXANDER, Ivan
Place Padilla Flats, WA
Search Terms Bayview
Padilla Flats
territorial legislature
Indian Slough
seed growing
threshing machine
Skagit County Commissioner
Object Name Print, Photographic