End of an era
October 2, 2008 · Updated 1:45 PM
It is evident to anyone in the Snoqualmie Valley, both young and old, that the history of logging in the area is rich and deep.
So are the ties to Weyerhaeuser Co. For almost a century, the wood products company has dominated the local landscape. That legacy is apparent in such things as the gargantuan tree trunk on display in downtown Snoqualmie. Truth be told, it's hard to throw a rock without striking something that's somehow connected to Weyerhaeuser.
But it is also evident that things are not what they used to be. Weyerhaeuser's presence in the Valley has dwindled since the 1980s. The company's local payroll is easily outmatched by Nintendo in North Bend or the new businesses going into Snoqualmie Ridge.
With the announcement of a purchase-and-sale agreement between Weyerhaeuser and Evergreen Forest Trust for the 104,000-acre Snoqualmie Tree Farm on Jan. 16, it became clear to many that the final passages of a book were being written. Wes Stevens, along with his son, Mel, and his nephew, Bill Williams, helped write that book for almost 60 years.
There will still be logging at the Snoqualmie Tree Farm, the proceeds from which will pay off the $185 million in tax-exempt revenue bonds Evergreen Forest Trust expects to issue to finance the agreement. But it won't be the same as before, when generations of Valley families went to work among the trees for Weyerhaeuser.
When the Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Co., a Weyerhaeuser joint venture, decided to build a mill in 1916, it needed a place to house its employees. When the mill opened in 1917, the company founded the town Snoqualmie Falls. A school, post office and community hall were built, as well as a grocery store that was owned and operated by the mill.
Not too far from Snoqualmie Falls, across the Snoqualmie River, was Meadowbrook Farm run by A.W. Pratt. Pratt realized that those living in Snoqualmie Falls were limited in what they could do since everything was owned by Weyerhaeuser. Snoqualmie was a good hike from the mill town, so Pratt founded another town called Meadowbrook in hopes of providing a place where private businesses could flourish from Snoqualmie Fall's traffic.
Meadowbrook had more of what the mill families needed: another grocery store and a drug store; some of what they didn't necessarily need, namely two taverns; and what they would all eventually need, a mortuary.
One of the biggest attractions was the movie theater, The Brooke. The Brooke, which opened in 1923, had the latest in movie theater technology. It was the first theater in the Valley to show "talkies," effectively putting the competing Sunset Theater in Snoqualmie out of business.
Meadowbrook thrived, but it was not immune from the country's woes. The Great Depression hit in 1929, and by 1932, The Brooke's attendance bottomed out.
It was right about this time that Wes Stevens came to work for Weyerhaeuser. The Depression was at its peak but there were jobs with Weyerhaeuser, so Wes left his hometown of Arlington and relocated to Snoqualmie in 1933.
"Back then, the whole Valley worked for Weyerhaeuser," he said. "It was the only outfit in town."
Wes witnessed America's technological revolution by way of the timber industry. In his 40 years of work, he saw steam replaced by electric power, which was then replaced by gasoline power. Mills became more efficient, and although railroads were still an important mode of transport, diesel trucks started moving timber by the 1960s.
"There was a lot of change in the time I was there," Wes said.
With the advent of World War II, a lot of the mill's employees enlisted, leaving the work to be done by women. After the war, men and prosperity came back to America - and back to the Valley. A page from a 1957 edition of the Snoqualmie Valley Record contained a large advertisement for Meadowbrook Days, a three-day fair and extravaganza complete with a sky-diving demonstration and carnival rides. Business was booming, and everyone was happy.
All in the family
Just a couple years before in 1955, Wes Stevens' son, Mel, started working for Weyerhaeuser full time. He knew the lifestyle that came with the work, recalling stretches of time when his father was away at camp.
His childhood memories include chasing pigs through Snoqualmie as well as seeing movies at The Brooke. He had wanted to become a teacher.
"I was going to Ellensburg [Central Washington University] and studying education. But I decided to get married and start working instead," Mel said.
The work was hard, but Mel was drawn to it. While attending school he had worked for Weyerhaeuser during his summers on what was called a "fire crew." The fire crews were teams of men that cleared potential kindling for forest fires from the woods - good training for future loggers.
"I saw some of the trees they were bringing out of there now, and they looked like the ones I took down with an ax to make way for the bigger ones," Mel said last week.
A few years after Mel started working, Snoqualmie Falls started to disappear. In 1958, Weyerhaeuser announced it would allow the town's residents to move the houses they lived in onto lots in Snoqualmie. Families were eager to take advantage of the offer, which cost about $3,500. More than half of those who moved settled into what would be known as the Williams Addition. The whole operation, from the initial announcement to the last house to be moved to Snoqualmie, took three months.
Once the families left Snoqualmie Falls, the town slowly died over the next decade. Businesses left. The school closed in 1968, and the once-popular YMCA Community Hall closed in 1971. The post office, which served the town's own ZIP code of 98066, also closed in 1971.
"Seeing that town go away was strange," Wes said. "It was there for so many years."
Two years after the post office closed, Wes Stevens retired. In 1976, his nephew, Bill Williams, began to work for the company commonly referred to as the "Lazy W." Bill's father, Henry, had worked for Weyerhaeuser and his grandfather, Dean, was on one of the first crews to work the woods in 1917, a year after Weyerhaeuser bought the Snoqualmie Tree Farm.
Even though he lived in Snoqualmie, Bill grew up, like many before him, going to Meadowbrook to watch movies, shop and play baseball at a field across the river. He went to school in Snoqualmie Falls before it was closed and visited the town often to see his friends.
"It [Meadowbrook] was neat," Bill said. "There was even a soda fountain in the drug store."
However, the times were changing. America's environmental consciousness was increasing, as people called for forested areas to be protected. And with more Weyerhaeuser families living in Snoqualmie or driving in from other towns, businesses began to leave Meadowbrook one by one.
"Some owners went back in and tried to make a go of it, like the Wind Blue Inn tavern," Bill said. "But nothing ever happened."
The jobs left, too, culminating in the recent layoffs of 60 employees. After almost 26 years of working for Weyerhaeuser, Williams was told that Jan. 15 was his last day with the company.
For many, the $185 million agreement to purchase the Snoqualmie Tree Farm signals the end of an almost century-long relationship between Weyerhaeuser and the Snoqualmie Valley. The company's real-estate arm continues to thrive in the area, but the mill - once surrounded by the homes of those who worked in it and the forest - long ago stopped sawing wood and now only planes and dries lumber.
Meadowbrook has since been incorporated into Snoqualmie. Snoqualmie Falls is completely overgrown, and nobody can tell that a thriving town once stood there.
"I take some older people out there sometimes when they come by to see where they lived," said local historian Dave Battey, who lives near the site of Snoqualmie Falls. "I knew where the school was, and they tell me where they lived in relation to that, but there is nothing there. I take a picture of them, just standing there in t