By Rich Tarrant
It had been a long time (five years?) since I heard directly from her. Her name is Mary Michaelson. Mary lives in a town called Lynden, Washington. It is the second largest city in Whatcom County, Washington. The town, established in 1874 on the site of the Nooksack Indian village Squahalish, began as a pioneer settlement headed by Holden and Phoebe Judson who named it Lynden. Lynden is roughly the same size as Vermilion. Although I’ve never “flesh-met” Mary we’ve talked on the phone and exchanged information, books and photographs since 2005.
The aforementioned Phoebe Judson was a daughter of Jotham Goodell, the minister of Vermilion’s first church built in 1843. In a history of that church written by local historian Betty Trinter the following passage appears: “In 1853, the Goodell family, along with several other Vermilion families, traveled to Washington State by wagon train to claim land offered by the federal government Phoebe Goodell Judson, daughter of the Reverend, tells of her experience in her book, A Pioneer’s Search for an Ideal Home. Homesick, she recalls her days in Vermilion.”
After reading Betty’s history, and my interest thus piqued, I acquired the book. And yes, Phoebe does talk about the Vermilion of her youth and her marriage to a local fellow named Holden Judson. But the book is a good deal more than that. The account of the family’s journey west describes an exceptionally American pioneer experience, both good and bad. But the journey hardly ended when they reached what was then the wilderness called the Oregon Territory. At that time Vermilion must have seemed very cosmopolitan to those folks. But it was behind them. And so they moved along, built homes, churches and schools, etc. In the case of Phoebe and Holden they built a town, and she gave it the name: Lynden.
So what about Mary? Still curious about the Goodell-Judson families I wondered if anyone in Washington State had additional information. One of the things I really wanted was a photograph of Phoebe – the girl who loved Vermilion and founded and named Lynden. Consequently, I contacted a reference librarian at the Lynden Public Library. And to my delight and surprise I was put into contact with Mary Michaelson who was then the co-curator of the Lynden, Washington Pioneer Museum.
As it turned out Mary not only had a plethora of photographs and information regarding the Goodell-Judson families, but she had also started an organization called “The Friends of Aunt Phoebe”. Moreover, the information she provided led me to find additional perspective / information about Vermilion as well as Vermilion’s Pelton, Austen, and Sturgis families among others. In 2006 she put together a book called “Memory Book – Friends of Phoebe Judson Reunion” in which Vermilion has a page.
In any case, I’d not heard from Mary for a long time. Then at the end of August I received an email from her: “I’ll bet you’re wondering where in the world I’ve been for the past few years! Well, I went dormant for about five years due to some health concerns… I’m doing very well now, except for some aches and pains, but nothing life threatening… All of the ‘Friends of Aunt Phoebe; group are rejoicing that I’m ‘back in the saddle again.’
Things are going very, very well for me. Last month, I attended a writer’s conference in Seattle and was able to pitch my idea for a book about Phoebe Judson to a literary agent from New York, who requested a book proposal from me… I find that there are still some very intriguing unsolved mysteries concerning Phoebe’s mother and father. I am working closely with Carolyn Stone (GG Granddaughter of Phoebe and Holden through their daughter Mary) and we have realized that some of these mysteries will require us to make a trip to Ohio to do some research on the ground. And so a trip to Ohio is now in the planning stage.
I am hoping that Rita Rosenkranz, the NY literary agent, will choose to represent me in the production of my book and will be able to hook me up with a major publisher. She seemed very interested in my idea to produce an annotated version of “A Pioneer’s Search for an Ideal Home,” incorporating newly discovered information and photographs, correcting errors and uncovering mysteries…”
Anyway, Mary and Carolyn will soon make an appearance in our town looking to solve some mysteries of history. Whether that happens or not I am certainly looking forward to seeing a new edition of Phoebe’s book with Mary’s enhancements. To me, however, Vermilion will of course always be “The Ideal Home.”
Vermilion resident Rich Tarrant has agreed to share many of the photos and stories he has acquired from the former Vermilion News and other local sources with the readers of the Photojournal. Rich is the youngest son and a grandson of the late proprietors of The Vermilion News (1897-1964). Readers may email him at: email@example.com