Our Stories

Katherine Ervine: A Walk into History

Katherine Ervine '05 is in love with history. She's determined to make everyone else fall in love with it too, especially the history of her hometown of Everett, Washington.

Ervine, a senior history major at Willamette, was fascinated by history classes at Everett High School. She couldn't understand why other students weren't as enthralled. "I remember in high school history courses a lot of students were falling asleep on the desks," she says. "I wondered why they couldn't make history interesting for everyone."

A trip around the United Kingdom, in connection with her study abroad experience during her junior year, sparked an idea about how to make history come alive. "I did a lot of Rick Steves' self-guided walking tours around the U.K. It was fascinating. I realized if they could make European history that interesting, I could do the same thing with local history."

To finance her project, she applied for and won a Carson Undergraduate Research Grant, a $3,000 stipend designed to encourage independent research and study outside the classroom. Then she set out to develop a historical walking tour of downtown Everett.

"I didn't know a lot about Everett's history because we'd had only a very brief overview on Oregon and Washington history in high school. The first thing I did was read some local historian's work, which gave me a foundation."

Then she arranged to meet with the city's two historians. "The historians were a great resource. They work out of the Everett Public Library in the Northwest Room, which is dedicated to local history. One of the historians, Dave Dilgard, took me on a personal walking tour of the downtown. That gave me a good feel for the project."

She discovered that the old town and what is now Everett are quite different. "Everett used to be a mill town. There were more than 20 mills right in town, many on the waterfront. Now the waterfront is full of yacht clubs, new condos and fine dining restaurants."

Threads of the city's historic mill past are still evident in the fabric of life in Everett. "There are class distinctions in Everett today that come from our city's past. I never really understood that before."

Those divisions are obvious in neighborhoods where old mill owner mansions reside alongside modest mill worker homes. "Everett isn't like most towns in that there aren't "good" and "bad" neighborhoods. You'll see fine mansions next to little boxy houses. That's because the mills were spread out along the river and the sound. The mill owners lived near their mills in the same block as their workers."

Ervine also discovered her hometown's colorful past -- the National Guard Armory is haunted; the former post office has peep holes in the men's bathroom; there was a murder in one of the city's hotels that reads like a soap opera. "I love all the juicy stories," Evrvine says, her voice rising with excitement. "I felt like I was on a treasure hunt and found all these historical gems."

To create her walking tour, she spent hours researching downtown history, interviewing people connected with historic buildings and walking different routes. "There is so much history in Everett. I was constantly having to narrowing down the number of sites, which was really challenging. In some cases, I tried to work the historic information into other sites. Often, I just had to let some pieces of history go."

After five long months, Everett produced a detailed walking map and descriptions of the sites along the route. The final edition of the tour includes 20 different historic buildings or sites and takes about an hour to complete. The map and tour guide are available to print out at the Everett Public Library.

The Carson project also changed Ervine. It forced her to ask probing questions, talk with strangers and go into places she normally wouldn't venture.

"The experience made me more outgoing," says Ervine, who is planning to teach English in Japan for a year before going onto law school or graduate school. "Most people are really willing to talk. They just light up; they want to share. I think this will make me more willing to talk to people and to explore.