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(Seattle & Northern 1890)

Skagit River Journal

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Skagit County Logger, June 5, 1890
Hamilton, Washington, Vol. 2, No. 3

Part 1: Facts about the newspaper and promotional items about
mining, coal and railroads, the issue's theme

(Hamilton downtown)
      We are still mystified by this photo and the exact location of these buildings and when it was taken. If it was taken in the 1890s, this could be Water street running east to west, horizontally across the center, but that is highly unlikely when you look at the cross-streets. In the background, that is Coal Mountain across the Skagit river to the south. If it was taken after the turn of the 20th century, the street could have been Maple street. The only clue we have about the photo is from the 1991 Hamilton Centennial book, which notes that the three-story white structure was the Jens Rasmussen hotel. We hope that a reader can supply more details.

Part 1: Facts about the newspaper and promotional items about
mining, coal and railroads, the issue's theme

      Clear Lake historian Deanna Ammons met the owner of this very rare newspaper at the memorial service for a descendant of the Bartl family. This is the oldest issue of any upriver newspaper found so far from Skagit county. With the volume number, we now know that this newspaper was launched on May 21 or May 23, 1889, months before any newspaper was published in Sedro. The publisher was named W.H. Willis, who left almost no footprints in any other record except for this profile of the newspaper in the 1906 book, Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties.
      Pioneers of the upper Skagit valley well remember this peculiarly named journal, which was closely identified with the exciting times of the early nineties in that section. It was founded May 23, 1889, at Hamilton, by Messrs. W.H. Willis and B.J. Baker. An old army press was first used, and other facilities were in proportion, yet the first numbers of the logger are quite attractive typographically. Their pages are filled with exceptionally good articles, presenting an interesting, vivid account of the period. None of the political organizations were favored, the policy of the owners being to maintain political independence. At that time Hamilton was enjoying a strenuous growth.
      In July of the following year the paper was sold to Edward Suiter and H.C. Parliament, experienced newspaper men; they at once placed the journal in the Republican column and, August 8, 1890, changed its name to the Hamilton Herald. The Herald passed through the whole range of journalistic vicissitudes during the next five years, finally yielding the struggle in the spring of 1896. At this time it was the Populist organ of the country.

The same book also notes that the Herald rose like Lazarus in 1902. Hans J. Bratlie changed the name subsequently to the Herald-Recorder. H.C. Parliament also published a short-lived newspaper in Sauk City in the late 1880s called the Sauk City Star.
      Willis called himself the Managing Editor and published the newspaper through his Logger Publishing Co. The subscription rate in 1890 was $2 for one year, $1.25 for six months and 75 cents for three months. The political inclination was not obvious in this issue. Instead, Willis acted as a boom booster, which was typical of all the small-town editors in the boomtowns of the frontier. He may have moved on when the bloom fell off the rose after 1891. The two boom articles are transcribed below:

Hamilton's Future
As others see it, the most important city in the West
The Cumberland Coal Mines contain vast quantities of the finest quality of coal

      The Cumberland coal mines, situated in a mountain rising 8,000 feet high [actually 2,800 feet] from the banks of the Skagit river, just across from Hamilton, is one of the richest deposits of coal yet discovered in the Northwest. The product of these mines closely resemble the anthracite coal of Pennsylvania, which is shipped all over the United States for blacksmithing and other purposes, and it [compares favorably with the Cumberland mines of the state of Maryland.
      The mines are owned and operated by the Skagit Cumberland Coke company, of which D.C. Mackay, who opened the famous Comstock mine, is president. The company has spent about $100,000 in opening up and improving the mines. [Ed. note: we are puzzled as to this reference to D.C. Mackay. The last name is certainly correct. John Mackay was one of the people who opened the famous Comstock mines in Nevada, but we find no record of a D.C. Mackay. John's son, Clarence H. "C.H." Mackay endowed the building for the Mackay School of Mines at the University of Nevada, Reno.]
      It is stated on good authority that only a few weeks ago the Skagit Cumberland Coal company [hereafter SCCC] refused to accept an offer of $1 million for the mines, which offer was made by the Oregon Improvement Co. The company who now owns the mines, it is stated, refuses to put a price on their property, as they judge by what they have already developed that the supply of coal in this immense mountain is, comparatively speaking, inexhaustible and worth in consequences many millions of dollars.
      [Ed. note: JoAnn Roe notes in her book, Ghost Camps and Boom Towns, that the SCCC was incorporated on March 28, 1889, with Patrick M. Mackay of Seattle as its agent. The company began serious work on May 1, 1990, when they built a flume 600 feet long to carry water to a compressor that ran three Rix and Furth drills. A year before, men were tunneling when they barely escaped a flood in their tunnel from an underground spring that had enough force to carry two-ton boulders. After adjusting the direction of excavation, the excavation began anew in the summer of 1890. The company's coal output may have peaked in 1891, when the Seattle & Northern railroad reached Hamilton, but we find no record that SCCC ever employed 500-600 men as this issue predicted. During the Depression of the mid-'90s, production slowed to a crawl, but was revived again in 1902. According to Roe, much of this original James J. Conner-SCCC passed over to the new Hamilton Coal and Development Co., which incorporated in 1906. The company disappeared from its San Francisco parent company's corporate records in 1923.]
      The coal taken from these mines is fully up to the standard of the Pennsylvania article for blacksmith purposes and make the finest coke in the world. It has been tested by experts at different times and found to contain no slate or other foreign substance, such as is found in most of the coal taken from mines at six to ten feet thick and extending through the immense mountain, rendering it a matter of comparatively small expense to bring coal to the surface ready for shipment.

Waiting for a train
      The coal, used by the thousands of blacksmiths in all the coast cities, is at present shipped across the continent at a great expense from the mines of Pennsylvania, and when delivered finally cots from $20 to $25 per ton. When the Cumberland mines of the Skagit valley are in full operation the immense quantities of coal which will be shipped over the two [railroads] making their terminals at Hamilton will supply this demand to a great extent, thus giving this class of artisans just as good an article at much less cost.
      The vast quantities of coal now used in our big manufactories, which is shipped at great cost from the east, can and will be supplied from the Cumberland mines, as the coal can be sold from there at a much more reasonable figure than where it is necessary to pay big freight charges across the continent.
      The fact that this is the only coal so far discovered in this state that can be utilized for blacksmithing purposes and also to make coke renders it doubly valuable and [considering] that it is found in inexhaustible quantities, it seems only reasonable that this industry, which will employ many hundreds of men, when fostered by a wealthy and enterprising company, will itself support a city of thousands of inhabitants.
      Both the Seattle & Northern [S&N] and the Fairhaven & Southern [F&S] [railroads] will erect enormous coal bunkers on the Skagit river near the mines, from which they will load coal and carry it to all the cities of the coast. [Ed. note: the S&N did indeed extend to Hamilton in 1891, but the F&S stalled at old Sedro in 1889 and never did extend upriver.]
      Up to the present time the coal mines have not been developed to any great extent owing to the fact that transportation facilities were not at hand, and what coal was shipped only went to neighboring towns and camps where it was taken by steamers plying the Skagit river or on wagon overland. Even with the few men who were employed by the company, however, hundreds of tons of the coal was taken out that could not be used and is now lying in wait for the railroads to transport it to where it is so much needed in the different cities of the sound and coast. This surplus of coal taken out of the mines simply arises from the fact that the coal lies in solid beds where it can be easily taken out and it is entirely free from all foreign substances, being walled in by a porous rock, which ends just where the coal begins.
      No coal mine in the world contains such a wealth of pure coal, which can be used for so many different purposes and which can be taken out and shipped at so small an expense to the owners as the Cumberland coal mine on Skagit river. When fully developed this mine will give employment to 10000 men, which means for this single industry alone, a population of [5,000] people of Hamilton. [Some sources estimate the population at the peak of the boom in the early '90s as 1,500 or 2,000, but we have never found records of that. Probably 1,000 is more likely. Regardless, by 1900 the population had dwindled to 392; it rose again to 900 in 1909, but that was its peak in the new century.] The two stories below that are transcribed from this issue illustrate the hyperbole and boom mentality that was evident all over the frontier in the late 1880s and early 1890s before the nationwide Depression.

A Mountain of Iron, one of the
future sources of wealth to Hamilton

      Just across the river from the townsite and rising like a twin sister, is a mountain of iron with the richest and most extensive deposit of valuable ore in the world. One hundred tons of this ore is now being shipped to Irondale, where it will be smelted at the works at that place. The ore is remarkably pure and the quantities found in the mountain seem, from all appearances to be inexhaustible.
      About 110 claims have been staked out on the mountain by prospectors, though at the present time, 75 of the most valuable are in the possession of the Oregon Improvement company, which has bought the rights of that number of the lucky prospectors who located the claims. The Bennett, the Tacoma and the Last Chance ledges have been opened up to some extent and from every indication the supply of iron ore of the finest description is inexhaustible, and when smelters are put in, for which preparations are already being made, the company will have 3,000 men in this industry alone.
      [Ed. note: Oregon Improvement Company was organized by German railroad magnate Henry Villard in 1880 as a conduit for buying up acreage surrounding existing and potential rail routes, especially in southern Washington territory and Oregon. That was even before he purchased the Northern Pacific in a sensational grab. After Villard was dismissed just as spectacularly, the first time, in 1884, OIC became a tool of the Union Pacific Railroad and by the time that the Seattle & Northern rail line was planned from Ship Harbor east to the Cascades in 1889-90, OIC negotiated the real estate purchases and hired the construction crews. The company was already financially overextended by early 1890 and construction was briefly halted while mineral-bearing lands like this upriver block were sold off for cash, some to Nelson Bennett, founder of the Fairhaven and Southern. The company caved in under its own weight in 1893.]
      As though nature intended to leave nothing undone in the way of enriching this favored region, a magnificent stream of water rushes down between the two mountains with a 6,000-horsepower force. At the present time the Skagit Cumberland Coal Co. utilizes the stream to the extent of 2,500 horsepower in running the machinery connected with the mines.
      The immense force of nature will always furnish sufficient power to run all the machinery used in the development of the coal and iron in the twin mountains of the Skagit valley.
      Both mountains are covered with a magnificent growth of cedar and fir. The iron lodes have only been opened up to any extent in a few instances when it was not necessary to make any great exertion to bring the ore up to the surface, but all indications show that the mountain contains unheard of quantities of the finest iron ore, which needs only a comparatively small outlay to bring it to a place where it can be handled.
      The stupendous quantities of iron and steel used in the construction of railroads and other enterprises of the country, which it is now necessary to ship in flat cars thousands of miles across the continent, thus making the indispensable article cost double what it would if manufactured at home, render the putting in of smelting works at Hamilton a certainty.
      The amount of ore to be found in the immense mountain will justify an immense outlay for the smelting works which will most certainly be put in at that place. To ship the ore to another point to be smelted would entail an immense loss to the company for freight, which would render such a scheme perfectly impracticable.
      The fact that the mine has not before attracted notice was owing to the fact that a mine of that description without means of shipping the material after it is gotten out or worked into proper shape for the market, is simply for the time being valueless. The coming of the railroads has changed all this and soon thousands of men will be employed where now but a few prospectors watch claims.
      [Ed. note: all this ink was for naught. Even after the Seattle & Northern railroad arrived in Hamilton in 1891, the companies with deep pockets started backing away from investment as financial storm clouds darkened the pass as well as the rest of the country. Complicating matters further was a long series of lawsuits that tied up the James J. Conner properties on Iron Mountain. The smelters never materialized at Hamilton.]

Governor Moore hypes Hamilton
      Ex-Governor Miles C. Moore, in an interview with an Anacortes American reporter said:
      I have just returned from an extended trip through the Skagit valley as far as Hamilton. I had heard wonderful stories of that portion of the state, and what it contained and produced, and am now convinced that they were not exaggerated. I, of course, expected to see a rich country, but was surprised to see the variety of resources — timber, mineral and agricultural. It is really a wonderland. At Hamilton they are developing a very large deposit of a very superior quality of coal suitable for coking. There are also very extensive deposits of iron ore, both of which can be easily worked. The coal and iron are both accessible to the Seattle & Northern railroad — which is now being built between here an there — at very little expense.
      The Skagit valley, which is tributary to Anacortes, averages, I think, about ten miles wide and is 100 miles long. The Sauk valley, which is also a tributary to this city, is similar in its resources. Taken together, they contain about 150 square miles of arable land; some estimate the area at more than treble that amount. From information derived from citizens familiar with that section of the country, the extent is not less than 150 square miles. At present, much of the land is covered with a dense growth of valuable timber, which, when cleared, will be found to be remarkably productive. All of this will be tributary to Anacortes by the extension of the Seattle & Northern railroad as contemplated, although the Fairhaven & Southern is pushing in the same direction and will undoubtedly compete for the trade. It is, however, claimed by the Seattle & Northern people that they have the advantage in distance, grades, and a terminal better situated. I cannot approximate the amount of timber in the Skagit valley; the valley and hills are covered with it and it is as good as any, if not the finest, in the state. The trees are of colossal size, being from two to ten feet in diameter and from 200 to 300 feet high. Aside from the timber, there is lime rock in large quantities, stupendous quantities of building stone of the blue sandstone variety., granite and marble, not far from Hamilton.

      [Ed. note: Note that in both of these stories most of the predictions about future development of both coal and iron properties is based on access by rail. Even as a note in the News section of this issue tells that the Fairhaven & Southern was being sold to agents of James J. Hill, owner of the Great Northern, claims are still made that F&S would duplicate another line upriver to the mines. There are two problems with that prediction. The first was glaringly obvious to surveyors such as George Savage of Birdsview and Albert G. Mosier of Sedro. Once you rode on horseback six miles east of Sedro, you soon saw that the valley narrowed so radically that there was barely room for one rail line, much less two. That unlikely prospect did eventually happen when Ed English and his partners, the Dempsey brothers from Michigan, became disgusted with what they considered rate-gouging by Hill and Great Northern for transporting their timber downriver. They formed the Puget Sound & Baker River Railroad to carry their own freight and transport their crews. Two parallel common carrier lines, however, probably would not have been viable economically. The second problem was sub rosa at that time. Either the boomers were deceiving themselves and/or others, or they were just na??ve. Hill was rapidly extending his Great Northern line westward from the Rocky Mountains towards Spokane Falls. he was doing the same with Snohomish county. Many suspect that all along he planned his terminus for Elliott Bay in Seattle. The hyped possibility that he would cross the Cascade Pass was soon dashed when Stevens Pass was chosen. And the F&S was stalled in old Sedro. Nelson Bennett was beaten to the punch south of the Skagit by the Seattle Lake Shore & Eastern line and the S&N commandeered the route upriver.]

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Story posted on Sept. 14, 2004, and last updated on Jan. 24, 2005
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