Skagit Valley communities offer more than spring tulips
BBJ photo/SEAN ECHELBARGER
|Trumpeter swans provide a show for visitors in Bow and Edison in the Skagit Valley.|
As you approach the small enclaves of Bow and Edison in the Skagit Valley, trumpeter swans swoop up from moss-colored pastures, seemingly racing with your vehicle.
You’ll pass drooping farmhouses, grazing cows and faded vintage trucks that dot swathes of bucolic farmland. A motorcycle or two will whiz by and the sun might break, illuminating the potato fields.
You’ll realize you passed the community of Bow a few seconds after you’ve driven through its sole intersection, where the Bow post office and the Rhododendron Café sit, down the road from a collection of nurseries and antique shops. A few moments later a twist in the road brings you to the small community of Edison, hugged by the horseshoe-shaped bend of the Edison Slough before it slides out to Samish Bay.
While most visitors to the Skagit Valley are familiar with the county’s famous Tulip Festival in April, or the artist’s retreat of La Conner, a small but growing group of tourists are discovering Mount Vernon’s scrappy neighbor, Edison, established in 1869.
BBJ photo/HEIDI SCHILLER
|Andrew Vallee, of Smith & Vallee Woodworks, said he often sees otters and cormorants from the loft of his furniture gallery in downtown Edison.|
“Edison is still gritty,” said Andrew Vallee, resident and co-owner of Smith & Vallee Woodworks. “It hasn’t been polished and developed like La Conner.”
While neither Bow nor Edison is incorporated, the communities are home to 2,000 residents, a mix of farmers, artists and bikers. One Edison resident called the community “the last true town in Washington.”
Boasting two taverns, a handful of galleries, bakeries, cafes and shops, the community is surrounded by potato and dairy farms, a trio of cheese producers, ample bird-watching opportunities in the winter — especially for birds of prey, like eagles and hawks — and outdoor activities such as hang gliding and hiking around Chuckanut and Blanchard mountains.
Many visitors stumble upon Edison during a Sunday drive in the country, and are smitten with its rural, artsy vibe.
“If I were out driving and stumbled across this town, I would stop,” said Scott Mangold, owner of Breadfarm bakery.
When he and his wife opened Breadfarm in downtown Edison three years ago, they didn’t pencil much retail into their business plan, anticipating strong wholesale production. But in the past year, Mangold said he has seen a huge change in the volume of visitor traffic.
“It might be one of the area’s worst kept secrets,” Vallee said. “It’s at once unknown and, at the same time, kind of famous.”
The community retains a tangible outpost feeling. Several residents will tell you variations of the same bank robbery anecdote in which Edison townsfolk chased and shot down a robber outside the Longhorn Saloon. One version claims it happened in the ’20s, another in the ’50s.
Whatever the time period, a spirit of good-natured unruliness remains.
“In a way, it reminds me of a lawless frontier town,” Vallee said.
Especially on the weekends, when The Edison Inn features honky-tonk bands and people pour into the streets to mingle with neighbors and friends.
It almost goes without saying that all of the businesses in the Bow-Edison area are locally owned, but Edisonites take that concept one step further. Most of the downtown is zoned in a way that encourages live-work arrangements, and almost all of the community’s business owners live above or behind their shops.
Vallee’s gallery features contemporary, rustic furniture — crafted by him and his partner, Wes Smith, in their Deming workshop — in a turn-of-the-century schoolhouse they refurbished two years ago. In Vallee’s upstairs loft, perched above the slow-moving slough where he often spots otters and cormorants near his skiff, he surveys the view of Samish Bay backed by the San Juan Islands on a brilliantly sunny afternoon.
“You’ve got a vibrant arts community and natural beauty,” he said. “It’s rare you get those two things together.”
BBJ photo/HEIDI SCHILLER
|Husband and wife team, James Reisen and Jessica Bonin, in front of their store, The Lucky Dumpster, in downtown Edison, after planting spring flowers.|
Across the street, James Reisen and his wife, Jessica Bonin, shovel soil into two barrels, readying to plant spring flowers in front of their store, The Lucky Dumpster, which sells salvaged materials-turned-gifts. They also own the Dear Edison Gallery next door that shows local artists’ work. The couple intends to purchase an adjacent building and turn it into an artists’ collective, selling the finished products in their store and gallery.
“I’m drawn to how Edison has the feeling of times gone past overlapped with commerce and industry,” Reisen said. “The aesthetics and pace haven’t been replaced with consumerism, and no one wants to see that change. But we all want to prosper and see business grow.”
The pace in Edison is decidedly slow. Residents loll in the street to chat with neighbors, dogs pant in doorways and sometimes the only movement is the slow progression of a sandwich board’s shadow.
Further down the street at Slough Food, a specialty grocery store where customers can choose from a rotating schedule of wine, cheese and chocolate tastings, owner John DeGloria slices a hunk of prociutto while waxing praise for his home of three years.
“It still is raw and relatively undeveloped,” he said. “And it’s right at the edge between the bay and the mountains.”
It’s also on the edge of being a farmer’s market town, a biker’s favorite stop on the Harley-Davidson sponsored Oyster Run in September, and a laid-back artists’ haven.
Outside the Longhorn Saloon, the smell of grilled oysters is like a magnetic pull inside, where men in baseball caps line the scuffed-wood bar watching a football game. Two 20-something female artist types dip french fries into ketchup.
David Blakesley, whose gift shop across the way, the Shop Curator, sells his handcrafted silver works, art and soy candles that fill the old bank building with a sumptuous verbena-peach smell, summed up the townsfolk best.
“It’s just a really down-to-earth community,” he said.
Going south on I-5, take the Bow Hill Road exit 236, turn right on Bow Hill Road and follow it into Bow. Keep going straight until you hit downtown Edison.
Going north on I-5, take the Chuckanut Drive/WA-11 exit 231, turn right at WA-11, turn left at WA-237 and follow it into downtown Edison.
Where to Eat:
The Edison Inn, 5829 Cains Court, in downtown Edison, (360) 766-6266. Started in 1900, this oyster and steak house features two shuffleboards, live music on the weekends and a bar. The menu includes oysters, burgers, sandwiches and steaks.
The Rhododendron Cafe, 5529 Chuckanut Drive, in Bow, (360) 766-6667. A brunch, lunch and dinner favorite, the “Rhody” features a menu of traditional café fare as well as a rotating monthly ethnic menu.
Farm to Market Bakery, 14003 Gilmore Ave., in downtown Edison, (360) 757-0362. Local residents rave about this breakfast and lunch eatery’s baked goods.
The Oyster Bar, 2578 Chuckanut Drive, north of Bow, (360) 766-6185. You may have to change out of your overalls into slacks for this upscale lunch and dinner spot with a stunning view. The menu consists of pasta, steaks, seafood and dessert.
Where to drink:
The Longhorn Saloon, 574 Cains Court, downtown Edison, (360) 766-6330. Features a full bar, oyster and prawn menu items.
Where to Shop and gallery hop:
The Lucky Dumpster, 14011 MacTaggart Ave., in downtown Edison, (360) 907-4074. A gift store of salvaged-materials-turned-gifts, including furniture, cabinetry and house wares.
Dear Edison Gallery, 14011 MacTaggart Ave., in downtown Edison, (360) 907-4074. Rotating monthly contemporary art and sculpture shows from local artists.
Smith & Vallee Woodworks, 5742 Gilkey Ave., (360) 305-4892, regular hours beginning in May, by appointment until then. Contemporary-rustic furniture made by woodworkers Wes Smith and Andrew Vallee.
Shop Curator, 14010 MacTaggart Ave., in downtown Edison, (360) 483-9105. Silver jewelry, candles, soap and art crafted by the store’s owner, David Blakesley, as well as art and trinkets from other local craftsmen.
Edison Eye Gallery, 5800 Cains Court, in downtown Edison, (360) 766-6276.
What to Do:
Wine, cheese and chocolate tasting at Slough Food, 5766 Cain’s Court, Suite B, in downtown Edison, (360) 766-4458. Call for a schedule. Past tastings have included themes such as The Grape Called Grenache and Local Cheese. Reservations required.
Tour the cheese producers:
Samish Bay Cheese, 15115 Bow Hill Road, east of Edison and Bow, (360) 766-6707. Stop by to taste or buy Gouda, Mont Blanchard, Montasio and Port Edison cheeses, or call ahead for tours and summertime cooking classes.
Golden Glen Creamery, 15098 Field Road, south of Edison, (360) 766-6455. Cheddar, Gouda and fresh mozzarella cheeses for sale.
Gothberg Farms, (360) 202-2436. Not open daily, but call for group tours. Chevre, feta, Gouda and cheddar made from goat’s milk.
Hiking and bird watching at Bayview State Park on Padilla Bay, located seven miles southwest of Edison, or around Chuckanut and Blanchard Mountains, located north of Bow.
Where to Stay:
Benson Farmstead Bed and Breakfast, 10113 Avon Allen Road, Bow, (360) 757-0578, www.bbhost.com/bensonbnb. This 1914 restored farmhouse features five guestrooms and a barn cottage for families.
Guesthouse at Samish Bay Cheese’s Rutabaga Country Farm and Guest House, 15115 Bow Hill Road, (360) 766-6707, www.samishbaycheese.com. Owners Suzanne and Roger Wechsler offer two rooms in the guesthouse. Guests can participate in farm work, if they’d like, and also have use of the kitchen.