Retrospective: The Story of Edmonds Developer Zophar Lanning Howell III



Zophar Howell III

The people who came to Edmonds when it was still a small developing town came from a variety of places and backgrounds. Some had very little money and others were fortunate enough to have a substantial bank. However, they all seemed to have one thing in common: the hope for a good life in a young, evolving city.

Zophar Lanning Howell III was a leading developer who visited Edmonds 118 years ago. Although his name is not well known in Edmonds today, it is a name that seems to have an influential resonance.

When Zophar Howell arrived in the small waterfront mill town of Puget Sound in 1903, he chose to enter the real estate business. He soon teamed up with SJ (Stonewall Jackson) Mothershead, who came from a prominent pioneer of the Edmonds family. Together they formed the brokerage firm Mothershead & Howell, Real Estate, Loans and Insurance – their office on the busy corner of First and George (Main) streets.

In fact, in our day there are two reminders of Zophar Howell’s presence in Edmonds. First off, a few blocks south of Main Street, you may have noticed Howell Way. Only two blocks long, the street leads west from 5th Avenue to Third Avenue and the north end of Edmonds Municipal Park.

Second, according to the local newspaper, in May 1908, Zophar Howell intended to put on the real estate market 13 1/2 acres of his adjoining property in City Park. Known as Howell’s Addition, the area is today a prime real estate district. If your home is located nearby, you may have noticed on your deed that your property is part of Howell’s addition to the town of Edmonds.

The life and death of Zophar Howell

Zophar Lanning Howell III was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 12, 1873, son of Francis C. Howell and Isabel Robb. Although his father died in 1878, when young Zophar was only 5 years old, he did not grow up deprived of the best in life. He was a member of the great and wealthy Howell family of Philadelphia, owner since the early 1800s of Howell & Brothers Wallpaper Hangings Manufactory, a major wallcovering company in Philadelphia. The company’s products were known and respected across much of the country.

He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and his daughter Alice later said her father spent much of his youth traveling the world. Prior to arriving in Edmonds, he was a volunteer in the Pennsylvania Light Artillery, Army A Battery, serving in Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War. It was the first regiment accepted for service in the war.

After settling in Edmonds, Zophar Howell became a friend and supporter of the iconic James Brady, popular businessman, teacher and mayor of Edmonds; and – like Allen Yost and several other prominent Edmonds businessmen – he was admired and supported by the labor movement and the Socialist Party. Mr. Howell’s photo. which is shown here, along with a flattering article that appeared in The work diary Everett on June 9, 1911.

Zophar Howell has been involved in many different phases of Edmonds public affairs. He served as city clerk for two years, justice of the peace, president and first member of the Chamber of Commerce, as well as president of the Athletic Club and secretary of the Independent Telephone Company. He was a member of the Masonic Order of Edmonds # 165 and Lodge # 96 of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows. He represented the Snohomish County Commissioners at the Portland Fair in 1908. In 1921, Howell was appointed Postmaster of Edmonds, and held that post until his death 10 years later.

According to his World War I registration card, he was described as a tall, somewhat stout man.

On May 16, 1906, three years after his arrival in Edmonds, Zophar Howell married Louise “Lulu” Blanche Shank. The Howell family home in Edmonds was located at 6th and Alder streets. They had four daughters: Annabelle, Helen, Alice and Frances. All four girls attended Edmonds schools; graduated from Edmonds High School.

Zophar Howell had moved to Edmonds in order to make his own fortune. He flourished in brokerage and then, like so many others, lost everything at the start of the Great Depression.

He died in Edmonds on September 20, 1931, at the age of 58, of a heart attack, and is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Seattle (now Evergreen-Washelli Memorial Park.) Find A Grave lists him as buried at Edmonds Memorial Cemetery, but this is incorrect. His death certificate and Evergreen-Washelli Memorial Park records, including a photo of his gravestone, confirm his burial in Seattle Cemetery, not Edmonds.

Zophar Howell’s untimely death left his family in dire financial straits. With little money and daughters Helen and Alice still in high school and Frances, the youngest, in elementary school, Ms Howell applied for a widow’s pension based on her husband’s service in the Spanish American War. When her daughter Alice was still a teenager, in order to lighten her mother’s load, she boarded with a local doctor and his wife, where she worked as au pair and guardian of their young daughter. The eldest daughter Annabelle was already out of school when her father passed away and was working as a clerk at the post office.

Louise Blanche Howell survived her husband Zophar Howell by several years – she died in Edmonds on June 14, 1945. However, she had married a second time – to Edmonds resident Ralph V. Hard. Like her first husband, she is buried at Evergreen Cemetery in Seattle.

– By Betty Lou Gaeng

Betty Gaeng is a longtime former resident of Lynnwood and Edmonds, arriving in the area in 1933. Although she now lives in Anchorage, she occasionally writes about the history and people of Lynnwood, Edmonds and Mountlake Terrace. She is also an honorary member of the Edmonds Cemetery Board of Directors.


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