My strange work schedule as a bridgetender for the City of Seattle means that I miss out on a lot of interesting events. Recently, my husband had the opportunity to experience some unique Pacific Northwest history, and I felt that it was worth blogging about. As I didn’t share the experience, and because, frankly, I need a day off from this blog every once in a while, he offered to write about it for me. So what follows comes from my husband, Cris.
Hopefully, most kids get a back yard to play in as they grow up, whether it’s the confines of their fenced yard at home, a park in the neighborhood, or the hundred-acre wood where Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh played. From the time I was ten until I moved out to a college dorm, my back yard was a forest owned by the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company. It extended for miles across Tiger Mountain, just south of Issaquah, Washington. There was plenty of room for discovery, and since it was mostly enjoyed by me, or in the company of a few friends, it became whatever we wanted to call it. Each clearing, trail or landmark was given a name, and family and friends always knew what and where we were talking about.
The years continue to zip past. The land is now the 13,745 acre Tiger Mountain State Forest, enjoyed by countless people. My network of friends and associates has far surpassed what it was when I spent the day in a classroom, tree fort, or fishing at Fifteen Mile Creek.
Recently I discovered the Issaquah History Museum was hosting a mine tour, and I recognized the photo as one of those landmarks in my back yard. The photo that caught my eye was an old mine shaft into the side of the hill, with a stream of water the color of burnt orange flowing out. That water has poured from the hillside in a ceaseless flow for as long as I can remember, although the cave now has a lattice of timbers in place to prevent reckless people from entering.
So, almost forty-nine years after moving into the forest, I attended a tour in the backyard of where my mom still lives, in the house we built with our bare hands, using the lumber milled from trees on our property. My goal was to listen and learn and discover some of the truth as told by others, as much of early Issaquah history includes coal mining. And what I learned was indeed fascinating.
After Weyerhaeuser did a land swap with the Department of Natural Resources, and the land became a state forest, the DNR and the US Department of the Interior, Office of Surface Mining did their best to seal off the mines to prevent access and accidents. One that I had once walked about fifty feet into was filled with liquid Styrofoam, a particularly non-ecological method that is no longer used. (Think of the expanding foam known as “great-stuff”.)
But the USDI only wanted to seal legitimate mines, and the one I recognized in the photo was also part of a stock scam, so they found a loophole in their guidelines and chose to exclude that one from being decommissioned. However, it’s still a state forest with lots of public access, so it fell upon the DNR to seal up the mine entrance.
On the tour, I learned about the stock scam. An investor named Raymond Carr claimed to have purchased the rights on Tiger Mountain and named the mine after his wife Caroline. It produced enough coal to provide the appearance of production, and in 1932 Mr. Carr sold $200,000 worth of stock in the mine to people on the east coast of the United States. To his downfall, he also sold $200 worth to a Dr. Malcolm Wise on nearby Mercer Island. The Doctor was excited to own a portion of a coal mine that was less than twenty miles from his home, so he visited the mine. That’s how he discovered that Mr. Carr had no rights to sell stock. The State Securities Department got involved, and the local lawsuit opened the flood gates to the lawsuits from the east coast.
The mine did actually produce coal for several years, but another nearby coal mine a half mile further up the trail was operated to greater success by a company from Montana and was called the Bear Creek Yards Mine. As a kid I knew that mine because the steel rails for the coal cars still came out of the mountainside and extended in an airborne loop over the collapsing hillside above where I’d hike and fish for cutthroat trout in Fifteen Mile Creek.
On the tour, we continued our walk beyond the Caroline mine, and several hundred feet further along the trail, our tour guide stopped along a crumbling hillside that I’d climbed dozens of times in my youth. At the top of the hill, among the layers of shale we would find rocks embedded with amber. Rock-hounds from near and far, following the lead in their guidebooks, would come searching for this amber, and the road to this location just happened to cross our property. For obvious reasons this hill was known to the family and friends as Amber Hill.
Our tour guide asked if we could guess why nothing grows on the hillside of exposed rock, and naturally we guessed that it was because of the shale. He then explained that just a few inches below the surface is a concrete cap that sealed off the air shaft to the Caroline mine. What?! It should have occurred to me that there was a solid reason why nothing grew on that slope; nature reclaims everything in that forest, and it swiftly overgrows and covers everything. And it turns out that there’s a concrete reason!
Just as the mine itself was draining water from the hillside, so did that airshaft while it was uncovered. Apparently the water flowing from both hillside openings was so great at the time that in order to bring coal from the Bear Creek Yards Mine, they needed to build a bridge to cross both the outflows. But concrete was plentiful at mine projects and bridges were expensive, so the decision was made to seal the upper cave entrance and build just one bridge.
The other discovery made on my backyard tour was that a high profile crime was related to the Caroline Mine. For the entire story of the Weyerhaeuser kidnapping, you can visit this site. It seems that after days of being driven around the western states, the 9-year-old heir to the family fortune was left tied up in the guard shack at the mine. When he escaped, he followed the road out of the forest, and his trail to freedom crossed the property where I grew up.
I know that there is always more to learn, but it was especially rewarding to spend two hours on a springtime Saturday learning so much about the back yard where I grew up on Tiger Mountain.