Western Washington is teeming with hidden ghost towns and mining camps. There really is gold, silver and copper to be found, forgotten towns waiting to be rediscovered, mining history and equipment to explore and even hidden mysteries to be revealed if we just take time to explore. We have been scouring the area for these elusive sites... As we find them, we will post them here.
Durham - King County
Coordinates: N 47° 20.349 W 121° 53.409
The Durham Colliery was originally organized by Peter Kirk's Moss Bay Iron & Steel Co in 1886 to supply coal for his planned Kirkland steel mills. Durham was named for a town in Kirk’s native north England. Coal production commenced in 1888 but was shut down within a year. The mine re-opened in 1915 as Durham Colliery Co. The name was changed in 1922 to Morris Bros. Coal Co., changed again in 1932 to Durham Coal Co. and yet again in 1933 to Palmer Coking Coal Co. Production ended after 1944.
According to memoirs written by Betty Morris (later Falk), the mining town of Durham "...was situated in southeast King County, in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains of Western Washington. It was one of many small mining towns or camps in this area of the county where the Green River coal beds had been discovered in the 1880s. The nearest town of any size was Enumclaw, a logging and farming community. Between Enumclaw and Selleck, a lumbering town several miles northeast of Durham, were the mining towns of Cumberland, Bayne, Occidental, Elkcoal, Hiawatha, and Kangley, and the railroad station town at Palmer/Kanaskat. Many of the mines in these towns had been originally opened by large companies but were shut down after World War I when the demand for coal dropped. Small operators then took over, often leasing from the large companies, and produced coal for the local market since most people had coal stoves at that time."
"...Durham lay on a hillside. Turning up from the county road (The Kanaskat-Kangley Road), a gentle climb, one crossed two railroad tracks, the Northern Pacific and the Milwaukee." "...At the top of the incline the road turned left for a level stretch, past the mine office and one other house before coming to the hotel. The office was simply one of the company houses that had been converted. A short distance beyond the office was the hotel. It was a large two-story brick building, which also contained a small general store. The hotel, run by Aunt Maggie (Margaret (Phillips) Morris, 1888-1955) and Uncle Jonas (Jonas Morris, 1882-1954) was a boarding house for the bachelor miners. Along the wall as you entered the kitchen on the ground floor was a cast iron stove. A long counter, running parallel to the stove, was in the center of the room. A zinc-covered counter formed a tee at one end. This counter or worktable had a hole in the middle. All scraps went into this hole and then into a barrel and eventually into some pigs, the kitchen disposals of that day. The kitchen also contained a long table for the men, sometimes as many as 50 hungry miners."
"...Just beyond the hotel the road forked. The left fork led down a gentle slope to the washhouse, where the miners bathed, and the coal bunkers. The right fork doubled back up the hill to the next level of houses. At the top of the hill, on the left, was the superintendent’s house where my family lived. My father was the mine superintendent. A boardwalk connected our house with its neighbor where my Aunt Lizzie (Elizabeth Ann (Morris) Nichols, 1886-1985) and Uncle Ben (Benjamin Nichols, 1885-1951) lived. Between these two houses were three tent houses. They consisted of wooden floors and shingled roofs with wood siding about half way up to the roof. Canvas covered the open area, hence the name “tent house.” They each had a front porch and a regular door, and must have been used for housing at one time but were now used for storage. They were built right against the side of the hill so we children could climb on the roofs from the hillside and were close enough together so we could easily jump from one roof to the next."
"...From the back porch of the big house a trail or path led to the mine. You might say we had a coal mine in our backyard. On the left of Aunt Lizzie and Uncle Ben’s house was a large shed, which served as a garage for several families. A dirt path ran from the garage down the hill connecting the houses. Here was a perfect place to roll hoops or old tires, just as we did. Between our two houses and the hotel was a large, sloping field bisected across the middle by a pipe, which carried water to the rest of the houses. This was the camp playfield, baseball or football, depending on the season. In the winter, when we had enough snow, it was perfect for sledding. We packed snow on the upper half of the pipe for a small sled jump, which gave us a big thrill."
This townsite is very easy to find. Probably too easy because it appears that the entire area has become a huge trash dump. Roads are littered with old pieces of carpet, the entire area is littered with beer cans and plastic bottles. There are even two newer cars stripped and perched on the hillside, as well as pieces of cars strewn everywhere.
To get there, you park along the Kanaskat-Kangley Road and following a concrete barrier blocked dirt path to the east, you will come to a well defined road. This is one of the two railroad paths that ran below the townsite. If you continue up the hillside, you will come to a second road (the second railroad) that parallels the first. Follow this road to the north for about .3mi and you will come across the hotel foundation on your right. Most of the townsite is above and to the right of the hotel. Not much left to see of the rest of the town except old pipes, an old cast iron stove and tons of newer trash. On the day we visited, we did not locate the mine entrance, which would be located further to the northeast, nor did we search the area on the south side of the Durham Creek for the bunkers, tipple and washery. We will save that for another day.
Fairfax - Carbon River - Pierce County - Fairfax Video
Coordinates: N 47° 00.624 W 122° 00.969
Article reprinted from Friends of the Carbon Canyon
"Fairfax once thrived as a lumber mill and coal mining town on the last leg of the Northern Pacific Railroad system up the Carbon River Canyon. The town was located in 1892 by W.E. Williams and his father. Williams later became a Pierce County Commissioner. Fairfax was named after Fairfax County Virginia for its well-known coal producing area.
The only transportation in and out of town was the railroad until 1921 when the Burnett to Fairfax highway was put in. Previously, residents who owned a car had to park in Carbonado and catch a train the rest of the way home. The new county road opened on December 17, 1921 and citizens no longer relied on the railroad for transportation in and out of town. The beautiful and historic O'Farrell Bridge was completed at the cost to the county $250,000. The price included paving to the town.
Fairfax was the home of the ManIey-Moore Lumber Company, one of the largest and most modern inland sawmills in the state. When the sawmill was running at full capacity it employed over 200 men at the mill and logging camps.
The Fairfax Mine also owned and operated the Fairfax Hotel, supplying it with electricity and water.
Brehm Brothers General Merchandise ran the post office, which opened on November 18, 1896. Items such as hardware, ranges, cook and heating stoves, granite and tin ware, guns and ammunition, paints, oils, glass, wall paper, automobile supplies including the Goodyear tires, Monogram and Standard gasoline and service pump. complete stock of miners' supplies, stationery, furniture, window shades, rugs, carpets, linoleum, matting and a supply of clothing from hosiery to ready-made suits and shoes that were guaranteed to fit could be purchased.
The town had a train depot, turntable, school with an indoor swimming pool, coke ovens, butcher shop. baseball field, and mine buildings. The company also owned the houses including the Victorian style mine superintendent's house with a tennis court. Everyone rented their homes from the company. Also located in Fairfax was the Manganese Coal and Copper Company. The Carbon River Shingle Company produced quality shingles of the highest-grade cedar.
Fairfax also had one of the richest coal deposits in the state. It specialized in furnace coal of the highest grade. Practically its entire output of coal was converted into that form of fuel. Eighty-five employees were on the Fairfax Mine, Inc. payroll in 1917 and drew approximately $15,000 a month. The company operated sixty coke ovens with a monthly capacity of 252,500 tons, which went to the Tacoma smelter. The mine also furnished the town with electric lights and water.
In 1896 work began by the Western American Company on properties in section 26. The construction of a railroad from Carbonado, and the opening of the mine were carried on in 1897 and 1898 and in 1900 the mine became a producer. The property was first operated with white, then black, and finally Japanese labor. In 1900 the company had built twenty-five coke ovens and increased the number to sixty in 1901. In 1907 the Tacoma Smelting Company secured the property and worked it until 1911, at which time work was started on a new mine in section 34.
The population for the years 1915-1916 was about 500 residents. Fairfax was a melting pot of southern and eastern Europeans. Poles, Bulgarians, Czechs, Serbs, and Italians mixed with a few Finish and Japanese immigrants all lived in this beautiful mountain glen beneath the shadow of gigantic, snow-crowned, picturesque Mount Rainier.
Baseball was a big sport then and if the ball was hit into the river it was considered a home run. Horse races were held down the main street every 4th of July. The biggest celebration was at Christmas time, when miners took up collections weeks in advance. The money was used to purchase presents for every child in town. No child went without a present for Christmas. The Schoolhouse tree was decorated and Santa handed out the presents to the children, purchased of course at the company store.
The buildings are all but gone now. Pillars for the mine buildings remain as well as the school swimming pool, a few coke ovens and the centerpiece for the railroad, the turntable. Streets can still be seen, but by 1941 Fairfax was all but a ghost town when the company pulled out and left. The post office closed in 1943. The mines had shut down and the buildings were either abandoned or torn down and used for salvage. Even the bridge crossing the Carbon River has washed away. The hotel and schoolhouse burned down.
Mother nature is reclaiming the town, Fairfax retains the rainforest characteristics of the Carbon River valley. Elk, bear, cougars and bobcats, can be seen in the meadows or crossing the streets. Deer nibble at the abandoned apple trees. Bull trout, steelhead and Chinook, Coho salmon, Coastal Cutthroat and Chum swim up river to spawn. Old growth cedars line the riverbanks. Pileated woodpeckers, wood ducks, and eagles nest. Marbled murrelets fly past on their way to Mount Rainier National Park for their nesting grounds.
Trilliums, wild roses, orchids and an assortment of ferns now line the abandoned streets. In spring and fall a large variety of mushrooms appear.
The Fairfax town site is a link to one of the few remaining wild life corridors in the upper Carbon River valley. It is also a large section of the greenway connecting Commencement Bay to Mount Rainier National Park for Pierce County Foothills Rails-to-Trails.
The Foothills Rails-to-Trails Coalition is actively negotiating with Timber Companies to reopen the former rail bed to Fairfax as an extension to its namesake multi-purpose trail. Historically the rail line crossed the Carbon River via a bridge connecting the north side of the valley with the Fairfax town site. Concrete bridge abutments remain in place still today. A goal for creation of the trail is to rebuild the bridge.
The Fairfax town site would provide a wealth of educational opportunities through interpretive signs as well as a rest area for trail users who may choose to stop off on their way to visit Mount Rainier National Park. Multi-purpose trails offer a chance to explain people and events that came before. Fairfax is the best opportunity to demonstrate that past to future generations."
The Fairfax townsite lies along the Carbon River Road beside the Carbon River. The townsite overlooks the Carbon River from a ledge above the river. Getting there is fairly easy down a slightly sloping road from the Carbon River Road, with several downed trees, small streams and muddy spots along the way. When visiting the townsite, located on the left (west) side of the road, we did not see the railroad turntable which should be located on the right (east) side of the road at the bottom of the hill, but other reports claim it is still there. The school swimming pool is still there and appears to be the hangout and campsite for local teens in the area. There should be two mine entrances at the base of the hill (Carbon River Road). We located one on the west side of the many (116?) coke ovens, but it was almost completely collapsed. There is a lot of historic litter in the area and the coke ovens and surrounding foundations are all moss covered and create a haunting atmosphere. The basbeball playing field is still there in the form of a wide open area and the towns roads are still visible. This an interesting and fun trip for the entire family. The hike down to the townsite is approximately .25 miles.
Franklin - King County - Franklin Video
Coordinates: N 47° 17.878 W 121° 57.544
Click here for a pdf of the Pacific Coast Coal Company Mine Map 1918 which includes Franklin
This coal mining community was established in the 1880s, with a post office established by 1886. In 1885 the Seattle and Walla Walla Railroad was extended from Black Diamond to the town, allowing most of the coal to be shipped to San Francisco. On August 24, 1894, the worst mine disaster in King County history occurred at the Oregon Improvement Company mine in Franklin. A fire caused thirty-seven miners to suffocate in the mine. A jury later found that the fire had been intentionally set, but the person responsible had also perished in the disaster.
By the early Twentieth Century, demand fell and mining became more difficult, causing the mines to shut down. The post office closed in 1916. By 1919 nearly all mining had ceased at Franklin and residents vacated, though a few families including the Moore family remained behind. Ernest Moore later wrote a book about his African-American family's experiences in "The Coal Miner Who Came West" (copyright 1982).
From the late 1940s through 1971, Palmer Coking Coal Company mined both surface and underground coal in and around the town site of Franklin. This mining ended in late March 1971 when a coal car bridge across the Green River was blasted in a ceremony attended by many local dignitaries.
The road to the town is returning to nature and is now a hiking trail. At the entrance to the town is a sign recognizing Peter Logar and Brett Wolden for their part in restoring the site for their Eagle project in 2004. The town of Franklin was one of Washington's largest coal mines during the 19th and early 20th century. The mine shaft is still there, covered with a large screen of rebar to keep people from falling in. It is 1300 feet deep! Franklin's town cemetery is farther down the trail, with large trees obscuring many of the headstones. If you park along the road by the Green River Gorge Bridge near the local cemetery, you can walk in to the area directly from this trail which is on King County Parks property.
The trail takes you approximately 1 mile to the cemetary (2 miles round trip). The townsite was fairly spread out along the old railroad trail, so you may be putting in several miles in searching for the old building sites.
Melmont - Carbon River - Pierce County
Coordinates for Fairfax (O'Farrell) bridge: N 47° 02.522 W 122° 02.444
Coordinates for old school ruins: N 47° 01.850 W 122° 02.004
The town was founded in 1900 when the Northwest Improvement Company, a subsidiary of Northern Pacific Railway, started the Melmont coal mine. The town consisted of a schoolhouse, a train depot, a saloon, a hotel, a post office, a butcher shop, and store, and rows of cottages that were used as housing for the miners. Each row accommodated a different nationality, the miners being seemingly self-segregated. The coal was used exclusively for use by Northern Pacific, and when they switched from steam locomotives to diesel and electric models, the economic base of the town was destroyed.
By 1902, the mine was producing coal to be sent 3 miles up the rails to Carbonado, where it was processed. During the sixteen years that the mine was worked, it produced approximately 900,000 tons (750 tons per day) of coal, which accounted for 4% of the total output of Pierce County.
On December 24, 1905, the house of Jack Wilson, then foreman of the mines, was bombed with a load of dynamite placed under the house. The explosion broke all the windows of the house, as well as those in the vicinity. At the time, Wilson and his daughter were sleeping in the house, but were unharmed by the explosion. David Steele, a miner at Melmont, was charged with the explosion, but was acquitted of the charges for lack of evidence.
In 1915, the Melmont Post Office was closed, and mail service to the town was done through Fairfax. The Northwest Improvement Company ceased operating in Melmont in 1918, but a few mines were opened by the Carbon Hill Coal Company, which operated from 1917 to 1919. At some point, the miners had affiliated themselves to the United Mine Workers as local #2963. By the early 1920s, the mines were all closed, and a forest fire destroyed most of what was left of the town. The last resident of Melmont was Andrew Montleon, who lived in the remaining basement of the second schoolhouse.
In 1920, the Melmont schoolhouse (the second one built) was torn down after Steven Poch bought it to use the lumber to build his own home. Today, all that remains of Melmont is part of the foundation of a bridge, a small building used for storing explosives, and the foundation of the schoolhouse.
This hike is a short, easy 2 miles, round trip. The most difficult part of the hike is scrambling down the steep trail on the north side of the bridge (park on the south side of the bridge and walk back across). We discovered that a rope makes getting down and back up again much easier. For those who want to skip climbing down the hill, the old railroad grade follows the highway from Carbonado and can be accessed before the bridge at several pull-offs along highway 165, although it will increase the length of the hike. The trail follows what was the old railroad which served the mines and towns along the Carbon River. Old coal mine entrances are scattered throughout the area. If you happen across them, look but don't enter. Coal mines are notoriously unstable and are well known to build up methane gas which is highly poisonous! When active, all the mine tunnels were supplied with fresh air from large fans.
Spiketon/Morristown/Pittsburg - Pierce County - Spiketon Video
Coordinates: N 47° 07.908 W 122° 01.121
Coal was first discovered mined in the Pittsburg area of Pierce County in the late 1880s. The Spiketon/Morristown/Pittsburg area is located about two miles northeast of Wilkeson and about two and a half miles south of Buckley.
The area was initially called Pittsburg in imitation of the bustling steel and coal city in western Pennsylvania. The name Spiketon came from a man named W. D. C. Spike, who opened a coal prospect in 1905 with his Pacific Coal & Oil Company. Mr. Spike was also a publisher of maps, including an 1890 Pierce County map. Confusion surrounded this area, as some called it Pittsburg while others referred to it as Spiketon. In 1917, the matter was settled when the State Legislature renamed the town Morristown, in honor of Abe Morris (1879-1933), the man who by then was in charge of the area’s mines.
In 1903, the mine at Pittsburg, now called Black Carbon Coal, produced 4,000 tons of coal and operated 150 days with 10 inside and 5 outside employees. That year Samuel Toff, a carpenter with no underground mining experience, died after entering the mine without a light and fell 60 feet to the bottom of a shaft. Two more fatal accidents occurred at the Gale Creek Coal Mining Company in July 1904, claiming the lives of Joe Pust and Frank Mankman. By 1905, the Gale Creek mines had closed.
Little coal was produced during 1905-1907 except for limited production from Mr. Spike’s Pacific Coal & Oil Company, as the area became to be known as Spiketon.
In 1909 the typical miner earned $3.80 per day with inside-the-mine wages ranging from $1.60 for a trapper boy to $3.95 for a shot (i.e. dynamite) lighter. Outside employees earned from $1.45 per day for greasers to $3.70 per day for a first class carpenter. Stableman earned $85 per month.
On November 8, 1919, almost one year after the end of World War I, the South Willis Coal Co.’s Morristown mines were sold to the Peabody Coal Co. of Illinois, one of the largest coal mining companies in the world. Peabody had dreams to greatly increase production, but post World War I markets hit rock bottom. The company shut down operations and in 1927 the Northern Pacific Railroad quit maintaining their spur-line into town. Morristown was no more and locals began referring to the general area as Spiketon. At about the same time, Abe Morris’ father, George Morris sold his livery stable and moving business in Wilkeson to Adolph and Charlie Angeline.
With the sale of the South Willis Coal Co.’s Morristown mines and the family’s Wilkeson livery stable and moving business, the Morris family’s investments in the east Pierce County coal district came to an end. Within two years, the family relocated to the coalfields of southeast King County in and around the towns of Bayne, Durham, and Occidental. With the formation of the Morris Brothers Coal Mining Co., Inc. on December 15, 1921, by Abe Morris, Frank Merritt, George Morris, John H. Morris, Jonas Morris, Edward G. Morris, and brothers-in-law Ben Nichols and Clarence Masters, a new chapter was about to be written in the Morris-Merritt family coal mining history."
There are two ways to get to what little remains of Spiketon. You can access the site from Spiketon Raod in Buckley which dead ends at South Prairie Creek, and teeter your way across a variety of "log bridges" across the creek. Or you can hike about .5 miles down the muddy trail from the end of the Wilkeson-Spiketon Road, which starts as Davis Street in Wilkeson, to the southern edge of South Prairie Creek (not really a creek - more a raging river). There is not much to see here, and the area is covered in blackberry bushes and ferns. It is best to go here during the late fall, winter or early spring. We did see an old fenceline and found several old bottles, broken pieces of china and rusty pieces of iron. The best thing about this area is the amount of wildlife here. All around us we heard woodpeckers and owls hooting. The river itself is beautiful and seemed to be a favorite hang-out for the area's teenagers.