Flash flood at Edgewick in the Cascade Mountains kills seven people on February 26, 1932.

  • By Daryl C. McClary
  • Posted 1/06/2014
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10704

On February 26, 1932, a torrent of water, mud, and slash sweeps through the small settlement of Edgewick in central King County, killing seven people and injuring two others. The flash flood is the result of two days of heavy rain and snow melt that accumulate behind a 175-foot berm over Boetzke Creek on Mount Washington. The Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railway is held responsible for the disaster and will pay a settlement of $35,000 for the lives lost and property damaged in the flood.

Edgewick

Edgewick, in central King County, was originally a small mill town owned by the North Bend Lumber Company.  It was located on Boxley Creek near its confluence with the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River, five miles downstream from North Bend. Edgewick was established in 1906 and destroyed by a flood in 1918. Although never rebuilt as a mill town, people continued living there.  According to the 1930 U.S. Census, the settlement of Edgewick had a population of 25 men, women, and children living in a dozen buildings. 

On Wednesday, February 24, 1932, abnormally wet and warm weather invaded Washington state.  Chinook winds and heavy rainfall began melting the snow pack in the Cascade Mountains causing widespread flooding and destruction. In addition to multiple avalanches and landslides, rivers in Western Washington were running at capacity. Many had overrun their banks, forcing inhabitants to flee from low-lying areas to higher ground. From the Canadian border south to Oregon, highways, bridges, and railroad tracks were damaged by washouts and slides. Telegraph, telephone, and power poles were downed, disrupting services to many areas of the state. The Washington State Highway Patrol reported that the flood damage was the most serious in years.

A Wall of Water

At approximately 10:00 a.m., Friday, February 26, 1932, a wall of water and mud, 15-feet high and 150-feet wide, swept down Boetzke Creek, fed by runoff from Mount Washington (elevation 4,000 feet), into Boxley Creek Canyon and headed toward Edgewick. Within minutes the torrent passed through the town, leaving thousands of tons of debris, including trees, stumps, large boulders, pieces of houses, and several vehicles. The flash flood whisked six houses off their foundations and carried them down Boxley Creek toward the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River, some three-quarters of a mile away. There had been no advance warning and several of Edgewick’s citizens were trapped inside their homes. 

William R. Blades (1884-1980), age 48, and his brother-in law, Ervin R. Balder (1902-1986), age 30, were near the bank of Snoqualmie River when they heard a roar and saw the torrent racing toward Edgewick. They ran up a hill, narrowly escaping the avalanche of mud and debris. Gust Balder (1860-1937), age 72, and his wife, Mary, were in the yard of their home when the flood hit the settlement. They ran for the protection of an outbuilding but were caught in the surge and carried away. Ira Moore, Justice of the Peace, had been ill and his wife, Ermina, was caring for him in their small house when the deluge took it away. Elwood H. Clagett (1899-1980), age 32, and his wife, Mary, were walking up the path to the Moore home, where his car was parked, when the wave struck.  Clagett was cast aside and later found unconscious upon a knoll. As Blades and Ervin Balder worked their way back toward Edgewick, they found Gust Balder lying beneath the wreckage of an outbuilding. He was alive but seriously injured. Tragically, Blades found that his house, with his wife, Margaret, and two baby daughters inside, had disappeared in the torrent.

The Head Count

Immediately after the disaster, the citizens gathered for a head count and determined seven of their number were missing. By nightfall, rescue parties, digging through rubble and waist-deep mud, recovered five bodies that had been carried hundreds of yards down Boxley Creek. They were identified as Ira J. Moore, age 56, Ermina C. Moore, age 53, Margaret M. Blades, age 24, and her two infant daughters, 2-year-old Rosemary, and six-month-old Josephine. The victims, found tangled in the logging debris, had been crushed to death, not drowned. Missing and presumed dead were Mary Balder, age 52, and Mary E. Clagett, age 33.

On Saturday, February 27, 1932, search parties, aided by caterpillar tractors, began tearing apart massive piles of slash and boulders looking for the missing bodies. It took a week before the remains of Mary Balder was finally recovered. Mary Clagett was never found. Meanwhile, Gust Balder and Elwood Clagett, hospitalized at Snoqualmie Falls Hospital, were recovering from their injuries. The remains of the Edgewick flood victims were buried at Mount Si Memorial Cemetery at North Bend in King County. 

Assigning Responsibility

An inquest, held by King County Coroner Dr. William J. Jones, determined that the deaths had been caused by extraordinary events. An investigation by King County Sheriff Claude George Bannick (1876-1957), on the other hand, determined that the flash flood had been caused by the construction of a bridge by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pacific Railway (The Milwaukee Road). The railroad had installed a culvert beneath a 175-foot berm over Boetzke Creek to carry runoff from the mountainside through to Boxley Creek. Heavy rainfall and melting snow on Mount Washington caused rocks and logging debris to clog the culvert, creating an artificial dam. The water pressure became so enormous the dam burst, sending a wall of water and mud cascading down the mountain, obliterating everything in its path. As a result of the investigation, the citizens of Edgewick filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court, Seattle, asking for damages. 

On Thursday, November 3, 1932, a universal settlement was reached with The Milwaukee Road totaling $35,000 for lives lost and property damage. William R. Blades received $7,500 for the loss of his wife and two infant daughters; Gust Balder, $3,750, and Elwood H. Clagett, $4,000 for the loss of their wives. Twelve other plaintiffs received varying amount of money for property damage.

Casualties

Mary Kampa Balder (1880-1932)

Margaret Mary Balder Blades (1907-1932)

Josephine Elizabeth Blades (1931-1932)

Rose Mary Irene Blades (1929-1932)

Mary Elizabeth Etheridge Clagett (1898-1932)

Ermina Carver Heyburn Moore (1879-1932)

Ira J. Moore (1875-1932)


Sources: "Six More Are Reported Drowned When Rains, Melting Snow Brings Disaster," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 27, 1932, p. 1; "Eye-Witness’ Story Bares Edgewick Flood Horrors," Ibid., February 27, 1932, p. 1; "Rescuers Seek Two Victims in Edgewick Slide," The Seattle Times, February 27, 1932 p. 1; "Water Cut Rail Lines, State Roads," Ibid., February 27, 1932, p. 1; "Deaths in Freshets Reach 14," Ibid., February 28, 1932, p. 1; "City, Farm Hopes Rise as Waters Drain Away," Ibid., February 28, 1932, p. 1; "Ira Moore Rites to Be Held Tomorrow," Ibid., March 4, 1932, p. 9; "County Asked to Pay $830.85 Flood Damage," Ibid., March 14, 1932, p. 15; "Estate Claims Hinging on Time of Couple’s Death," Ibid., October 29, 1932, p. 2; "Railway to Pay $35,000 Claims in Flood Deaths," Ibid., November 3, 1932, p. 16; "9 Deaths in Slides," Centralia Daily Chronicle, February 26, 1932, p. 1; "Streams Are Full," Ibid., February 27, 1932, p. 1; "Floods and Slides Take Toll of 13," The Ellensburg Evening Record., February 27, 1932, p. 1; "Many Washington Towns Under Water While Others Are in Danger of Flood." The Oregonian, February 28, 1932, p. 1 ; HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Boxley Burst destroys the logging community of Edgewick on December 23, 1918" (by Alan Stein) http://www.historylink.org (accessed November 6, 2012).

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