History of Snoqualmie Valley

A Short History of the Upper Snoqualmie Valley

Written by Dave Battey of the Snoqualmie Valley Historical Society and released for public use.


About 5,000 years ago, soon after the glaciers receded, humans first came to our Valley. The glaciers left a fertile plain and a magnificent 300 foot waterfall. The river had been moved from its ancient bed by the glacier and could not seek its natural level because of the bedrock encountered at the lip of what we now call Snoqualmie Falls. Mountain goat were plentiful on the crags; deer, edible bulbs, bracken fern roots and berries were abundant on the prairie. Without salmon there was little to draw a permanent year-round population above the falls, but as trade between the Native Americans on the coast and those inland increased, the prairie of the Upper Snoqualmie became a traditional seasonal rendezvous area. To preserve the prairie productivity the Snoqualmie's periodically burned off competition, keeping the valley floor clear. It was these cleared and fertile prairies that first drew white settlers to the area.

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Early Exploration

Samuel Hancock was looking for coal when he hired a party of Snoqualmies to bring him up-river on a canoe trip in 1851. Several others had preceded him, but they did not commit their impressions to the pen. Just above the site of the current Meadowbrook Bridge, Hancock asked his guides what they called the area. They answered, in Chinook Jargon, Hyas Kloshe Illahee, which means a good (or productive) land. Samuel immediately recognized the agricultural and timber value of the area, and took this information back to his neighbors near what later became Tacoma.

The Indian Wars

Friction around Puget Sound increased as white settlers claimed the cleared land which had been used for centuries by the Native Americans for their naturalized bulb, berry and root crops. In 1856, Puget Sound settlers feared that Indians east of the Cascades would become allies of the coast tribes to annihilate the whites, so a series of crude wooden forts were built, including Fort Alden at Meadowbrook. No Indians ventured west and the forts were quickly abandoned.

Jeremiah Borst

In the spring of 1858, Jeremiah Borst, a twenty-eight year old man on his way to Eastern Washington over the Cedar River trail, decided that the Valley was too good to pass up. He settled down in what was left of Fort Alden to become the legendary "Father of the Snoqualmie Valley." (He owned land in what is now Snoqualmie and North Bend, and platted Fall City) Jeremiah raised hogs and apples for sale in Seattle, and slowly bought up land from less successful pioneers. In 1863, the steep trail on the south side of Snoqualmie Falls was improved into a road and the transportation of goods to and from the Valley became easier.

Early Logging

As Borst and others farmed, a few tough pioneers began logging and milling operations. The first local mill, run by water power, was opened at the mouth of Tokul Creek about 1872 by Watson Allen. By 1877 there were twelve logging operations on the Snoqualmie River. Some logs were floated over the falls and down- river to Everett and the Sound. By 1886, logging camps on the river employed 140 men and sent millions of board feet of logs down stream.

Hop Farming

Three Puget Sound partners formed the Hop Growers Association in 1882. They purchased land from Jeremiah Borst in the Meadowbrook area, and soon expanded to over 1500 acres, about 900 of them in hops. The Snoqualmie Hop Farm was billed as "The largest Hop Ranch In the World," and was head-quartered at Meadowbrook. Hop growing flourished for about a dozen years, and then world market conditions and aphid attacks brought an abrupt decline into the late 1890s.

The Railroad

By 1889, Puget Sound entrepreneurs, tired of railroad barons bypassing Seattle and environs, had funded and built their own railroad, the Seattle, Lake Shore & Eastern, into the Upper Valley in a premature attempt to cross the Cascade mountains. This opened up our agricultural and timber resources to the markets of the world, and began the influx of tourists who still flock here to enjoy our beautiful scenery. In 1890 the railroad completed the still attractive Snoqualmie Depot.

North Bend & Snoqualmie Platted

With the railroad came a feverish speculation in Upper Valley land. North Bend was platted by Will Taylor in February of 1889 (as 'Snoqualmie'), and Snoqualmie was platted in August of 1889 as 'Snoqualmie Falls' by Seattle interests. Tradition states that the first lots in Snoqualmie were purchased by Edmund and Louisa Kinsey. With their six children they built the first hotel, livery stable, general store, dance hall, post office and meat market. Edmund helped build the first church in Snoqualmie - the Methodist Church building that is now the American Legion hall, and his name is engraved on the church bell. Two sons, Darius and Clarke earned lasting fame for their photographic legacy of pioneer Northwest timber operations.

Power Plant at the Falls

In the late 1890's a Civil Engineer named Charles Baker (who platted Snoqualmie in 1889) engineered and built the underground power plant at Snoqualmie Falls - which produced both electricity and local jobs. Baker's original generators are still spinning today. A small company town, including a railroad depot, grew at the Falls to house workers. Expansion in 1911 added a second power house around the corner below the Falls.

Snoqualmie's Incorporation

Snoqualmie voted for incorporation in 1903. A series of recessions and obstinate developers had created a challenging environment for the new town council, which met above Harding's store. Lots were still $300 each, as they had been in 1889. In defiance of these high prices, citizens had built on street rights-of-way and on vacant lots. Dozens of buildings were in fact "squatting" on unpurchased land. The lot price was lowered and a long abatement procedure began to move barns, mills, stores and domiciles out of the public right-of-way. The result was a town much as we know it today.

Meadowbrook Farm

As hop ranching slowed, other types of agriculture flourished on the fertile land of the Upper Valley. About 1904, the farm was sold to A. W. Pratt, who, with Angus J. Moffat, managed Meadowbrook Farm, mainly as a dairy, into the 1950's. As agriculture rapidly declined in the mid-1960's, a group of local investors purchased the farm. In late 1993 the bulk of the remaining property was purchased by Snoqualmie and North Bend as passive open space, using funds from King County Conservation Futures bonds. This purchase creates a permanent buffer, wildlife habitat and flood storage area on the Valley floor between Snoqualmie and North Bend.

Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Company

In 1917 the second all-electric lumber mill in the nation opened at the new company town of Snoqualmie Falls, built across the river from Snoqualmie. The economy of the Valley was given a significant and stable employment base. As World War I funneled mill workers away, they were replaced by soldiers to keep essential wood products, which included spruce for airplanes, in production.

By 1923, A. W. Pratt was platting the Meadowbrook addition to Snoqualmie, and the Snoqualmie area was growing, including the construction of a brick hotel, movie theater and new bank building.

Post Great Depression

The building boom in Snoqualmie, which included the erection of the brick-fronted buildings now housing the drug store, lasted until the Great Depression, which hit bottom in the Upper Valley in 1932. Salaries and wages fell, but the Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Company mill (now Weyerhaeuser) still continued to produce throughout the hard times.

World War II and the post-war boom increased the lumber requirements of the nation but also increased personal mobility. The building of US10 (Now I-90) bypassed the towns of Snoqualmie and Fall City and curtailed economic opportunity. Fortunately, the highway continued through the center of downtown North Bend for some years before the current bypass was built. The Upper Valley increasingly lost her sons and daughters to the urban centers, but was encouraged by the opening of a new Weyerhaeuser plywood plant in 1959.

By 1958 the bulk of the homes at the mill town of Snoqualmie Falls were moved to other places in the Valley, including a group that moved across a temporary bridge to the William's addition. Snoqualmie had stabilized by 1960 to a population of 1,216, which grew slowly to 1,546 over the next thirty years, an average growth increase of just eleven persons per year.