Just over 100 years ago, the Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Company felled its first log, beginning an enterprise that built, among other things, a lasting community atop Snoqualmie Falls. The company, later bought by Weyerhaeuser, built some houses and a mill store that turned into a town, eventually complete with a community center in 1918 and in 1920, the 50-bed Snoqualmie Falls Hospital.
Now, that hospital and the one that replaced it (Nelems Memorial) are both gone and the community’s new hospital is located just off I-90. Very few of those old houses remain, but thousands of new ones have cropped up. And the community center, closed in 1970, returned to the Valley only five years ago in the Snoqualmie Valley YMCA.
The connections created over the decades by the mill, though, are as strong as ever. When the standing-room-only crowd gathered in the DirtFish Rally School’s conference room for a centennial celebration last Saturday, they swapped stories and shared old photos just like any other family.
Lorna Wallace Young proudly talked about how her father, Arlie Wallace, husband, Gordon Young, and brother-in-law all worked at the mill, and about her own contribution, too.
“No kids were supposed to be in there,” she said, “but because I kept my hands to myself, I could bring my dad his supper.”
Her father was working nights at the time, the day’s host Dave Battey noted, because he was a volunteer spotter, searching the skies during World War II for enemy aircraft.
And if they saw any, Wallace Young marveled, “they had to use a phone, because they didn’t have radios!”
During her own night shift, she said, she had learned to recognize the outlines of enemy planes, too.
Another story, not quite so far back, came from Marvin Nielsen, another guest in the room, who talked about the day climber Clair Francis “fell (50 feet) from the spar-tree. Great big splash and he got up and said ‘what are you looking at?’”
That got a solid round of laughs, then Phil Cassady earned a round of ohs when he recalled the plywood mill fire, Feb. 6, 1989.
Battey interjected that the fire was the cover story of the newest issue of the Snoqualmie Valley Historical Society’s magazine, coming out in December.
Many of the 80-plus people in attendance had stories to tell and they had a willing audience. When a woman introduced herself as having worked in the planer mill, a girl at the back of the room whispered to her friend, “That’s so cool!”
The story-telling continued through a slide show of historic photos from the mill, including the old school house which was not as tiny as it seemed, the first mill manager’s house on Nob Hill — or Snob Hill, as people sometimes called it, the company’s sale of houses to workers in the ’50s — “Small houses went for $100, larger houses went for $150,” Battey said, the iconic smokestack still labeled S F L Co. after the merger with Weyerhaeuser in 1948, an aerial view of the area including the 1,200-acre Meadowbrook which Battey noted, “was really being farmed back then,” and the five-mile pit, the name of which no one in the room could explain.
The stories were just enough to nudge Owen Anderson, age 3, into a nap. He was asleep on his father, Casey’s shoulder, when it was time to cut the cake.
Baker Cynthia Golpe of MyCakes in Snoqualmie created a gingerbread replica of the mill powerhouse and steaming smokestack, to decorate the celebration cake, then helped cut and serve her creation.
Guests used the break to take a closer look at the many historic photos and documents on display and to exchange more stories.
The event continued with a showing of two historic videos.
Battey and his fellow organizer Tom Sroufe were pleased with the turnout, which also included Ron Kinsey, the grandson of well-known logging photographer, Clark Kinsey, whose photos were included in the slide show, along with some from his great uncle, Darius Kinsey.
The Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Company was the second all-electric lumber mill in the country when it opened in 1917. A Weyerhaeuser blog entry reported that electricity was changing the lumber industry: “The use of electric donkeys in logging is the innovation of the Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Company. They first experimented with this type of motive power when they used it in clearing their mill site. This demonstrated to them the practicability of using the engine in actual logging operations. The use of electricity has proven an economy. The chances of starting a forest fire, always present in the use of steam donkeys, is eliminated at Snoqualmie.
Battey has assembled a detailed timeline of the company’s history, which is the source of the following excerpts:
June 14, 1914 – Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Company is formed by Grandin-Coast & Weyerhaeuser, with an office in Seattle and plans to begin construction of the mill in June 1916.
April 6, 1917 – World War I begins, demand for wood products grows.
1917 – Snoqualmie Falls operations start in April; the company store opens; and in November, Mill 1 begins production.
1918 – A second lumber camp opens, Camp B, staffed with 100 U. S. army loggers; Mill 2 begins production May 24; the shingle mill begins production June 7; a second shift is added on Mill 1 Aug. 6; Snoqualmie Falls Community Hall and the first company homes are built.
1920 – Snoqualmie Falls Hospital opens, and the first baby is born there Sept. 30; the mill manager’s house is finished; the company contracts with Puget Sound Traction Light & Power Company for electricity.
1921 – The mill introduces the first electric donkeys at a cost of $250,000. On April 11, the company’s first manager, William Willard Warren died. He was replaced by Rodman Titcomb.
1922 – Snoqualmie Falls Grade School was built on land donated by the lumber company.
Jan. 28, 1930 – The community hall burned down; it was rebuilt immediately.
1942 – On May 20 the U.S. government interned the Japanese community at Snoqualmie Falls; women went to work at men’s jobs in the mill; the company began planting tree farm in the fall.
1946-47 – The burner at Mill 1 was torn down in 1946; the burner at Mill 2 came down the following year and the last logging camp was closed.
1948 – Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Company merged with Weyerhaeuser
1960-61 – Mill 2 closes down and is dismantled.
1968 – Snoqualmie Falls Grade School teaches its last class.
1971 – Community Hall and the Snoqualmie Falls Post Office are closed.