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Skagit River Journal

of History & Folklore
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The most in-depth, comprehensive site about the Skagit

Covers from British Columbia to Puget Sound. Counties covered: Skagit, Whatcom, Island, San Juan, Snohomish & BC. An evolving history dedicated to committing random acts of historical kindness
Noel V. Bourasaw, editor (bullet) 810 Central Ave., Sedro-Woolley, Washington, 98284
Home of the Tarheel Stomp (bullet) Mortimer Cook slept here & named the town Bug

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The Skagit River Valley & its great agriculture & Mineral Richness by Frank Wilkeson

(Cokedale mines)
This is a photo of the mines at the town that was eventually named Cokedale, four miles northeast of Woolley, in the hills. The mines went under many names, including Skagit Mines in the 1880s, then the Crystal Mine under Lafayette Stevens. Stevens discovered the coal seam in the late 1870s, probable with the help of Indians and he V.A. Marshall — also a pioneer of Sterling, were partners in the mine. They did not have the funds to finance the project, so they sold it to Nelson Bennett in the late 1880s, and he then sold it to C.X. Larrabee, who finally sold it to James J. Hill, owner of the Great Northern Railroad.Photo from the Lorraine Rothenbuhler collection.

Five Thousand Five Hundred Square Miles
of the richest lands in the world
Abundant coal from Sedro to Hamilton

(This article by Frank Wilkeson originally appeared in the New York Times on December 2, 1891.
It was collected and transcribed by Patricia McAndrew, a researcher of Wilkeson, who lives in Pennsylvania.)

      Opposite Sedro and in the low mound that marks the western extremity of the foothills the coal measures of the Skagit first outcrop from Hamilton to Sedro is thirteen miles. For that distance the river flows over coal measures. North of the river and about four miles from Sedro is a long, high range of hills that extends from Sedro to Sauk Mountain, which rugged peak stands close to the mouth of Sauk River [where it meets] the main branch of the Skagit. This range of hills is heavily charged with coal. It is known that the coal measures on the Skagit are at least 13,000 feet thick vertically. At two points only have the coal seams been opened preparatory to shipment. Nelson Bennett, who founded Fairhaven on Bellingham Bay, Washington, and who builds railroads and operates mines and establishes steamboat lines to aid in building a town as freely as a Kansas town boomer used a printing press to accomplish the same end, opened the Bennett coal mines, which are, in my opinion, the most valuable bituminous coal mines in the United States. The point he selected at which to open the mines is about four miles northeast of Sedro, and in the long range of hills that trends from Sedro to Sauk Mountain. At this point seven seams of good coal have been discovered. The continuity of the seams has been tested by sinking a slope, on the main seam, which is 28 feet thick. The seams all pitch at from 40 degrees to 60 degrees from the horizontal.
      I insert the following table for the information of Eastern ironmasters who think they own the market of the United States, and who resolutely refuse to establish iron works at new and advantageous positions so long as they are protected from competition by law. [Ed note: Actually, this table is too long to include here, but if you want to email us, we will return to you a copy in MS Word format.]
      When the great Northern Railroad, which is now being extended westward from the Milk River country in Montana to Puget Sound, bought the Nelson Bennett railroads, that extend from Sedro on the Skagit River to New Westminster in British Columbia, Mr. James J. Hill bought this great coal property, and with its output now proposes to control the coal trade of the Pacific coast. He owns the best coal property that I have seen on this coast, and if it is skillfully and economically managed, he will probably be able to set the price of the coal consumed throughout the country west of the Cascade Mountains and in California. This, provided the Skagit-Cumberland group of coal mines do not prove to be as valuable as they now promise to be.

Read about Patricia N. McAndrew's new book, The Old Soldier Goes Fishing — rescheduled for publication in the fall of 2008, a collection of his columns and a biography of Frank and his family.

      Nine miles up the valley from the Bennett Mines, and on the other side of the river, are the Skagit-Cumberland Mines, the development of which has cost close to $100,000. These mines are directly across the river from Hamilton. They outcrop on the flank of a high mountain. They have been traced for four miles back from the river to the very summit of the divide. Five seams, varying from five to ten feet in thickness, have been discovered. They all pitch into the mountain at about 60 degrees. They have been opened by a working tunnel driven across country rock at right angles to the seams, and as seam after seam was cut the coal was opened by cross-gangways, and a score of rooms have been turned. These mines are ready to output coal to-day. The coal is much softer than that contained in the Bennett Mines. It is a very superior coking coal, and can be cheaply mined. The seams are not too large. They can be cheaply timbered, which is not the case at the main seam of the Bennett Mine.
      It is a well-known fact that all the coals of the tertiary measures are liable to spontaneous combustion, and that it is unsafe to fill the mine chambers in which the miners work with broken coal for fear of fire. The working rooms must be kept clean of coal or the mine is always in danger. This being so, it is an open and much-discussed question among the miners of the Pacific coast as to whether the Bennett or Skagit-Cumberland group of mines will output the cheapest. Personally, I am satisfied that the Skagit-Cumberland coal will be cut and placed on the cars for less money a ton than the coals from the Bennett Mines. The cost of timbering in the twenty-eight-foot seam at the latter mines will be enormous. But the Bennett coal, ton for ton as it is cut, is the most valuable. It is equally good coking coal as that produced at the Skagit-Cumberland Mines, and it is a much harder and a far superior shipping coal. At any rate, the question will be decided in the near future. The piles on which to build bunkers to hold the output of the Bennett Mines preparatory to shipping will soon be driven at Fairhaven. The piles to support the bunkers to hold the Skagit-Cumberland coals, and those from the recently-discovered mine in Blue Canyon, near Lake Whatcom, were being driven the earlier part of January at Ship Harbor, on Fidalgo Island. It is on the coals of these mines that the future iron manufacturing industry of the northwestern portion of Washington will be founded.
      The coal measures terminate at the Skagit-Cumberland Mines. Five hundred feet beneath the lower coal seam the iron ores of the region outcrop, and continue to outcrop for six miles up the river till they terminate in iron mountains at the O'Toole Mines. Enormous quantities of ore are in sight, but it is all low grade. The best iron that I have seen in the Skagit Valley came from veins that trend through the primitive rock on the Upper Sauk River, and not far from the region that abounds in silver-carrying veins. The Sauk River iron ore is steel-producing, and the quantity is as great as at Tower, in Minnesota.

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Story posted on Oct. 18, 2001, last updated Dec. 27, 2004
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This article originally appeared in Issue2 and 5 of our Subscribers-paid Journal online magazine

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