North Bend -- Thumbnail History

  • By Jim Kershner
  • Posted 3/05/2014
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10750

North Bend is a town in King County's upper Snoqualmie Valley, the ancestral home of the Snoqualmie Tribe. The site, on the banks of the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River, was astride the old Indian trails over the Cascade passes. The first non-Indian settler arrived in the Snoqualmie Valley in 1858. The townsite was platted in 1889 by William H. Taylor (1853-1941) when he learned that a Seattle railroad wanted to establish a station on his farmland. The townsite's original name was Snoqualmie, but the railroad asked Taylor to change it because another town just four miles away had the name Snoqualmie Falls. So the name was changed first to Mountain View and finally to North Bend, since it was on a bend in the river. North Bend became an agricultural and logging center and was incorporated in 1909. From the beginning, the town attracted tourists because of its spectacular setting at the foot of massive Mt. Si. It has long been a key stop for motorists on the way to and from Snoqualmie Pass, first on the Sunset Highway and today on Interstate 90. North Bend has recently evolved into a prosperous bedroom community for Seattle and its eastside suburbs. As of 2010, the population of North Bend was 5,731.

The Snoqualmie Tribe 

North Bend is nestled between the South Fork and the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River in what has long been known as the Snoqualmie Prairie. For many hundreds of years, the Snoqualmie Tribe occupied the length of the Snoqualmie Valley. The Snoqualmie Tribe's major villages were downstream from today's North Bend, yet the tribe hunted, picked berries, and dug roots at the site of present-day North Bend. The tribe helped shape and managed this large patch of "prairie," by clearing it occasionally with fire.

The site of North Bend was also on the route of the centuries-old Indian trails over the Cascade Range passes. These were the main arteries between the Puget Sound tribes and the tribes of the Yakima region and Eastern Washington. The Snoqualmie and Yakama tribes developed many marriage and cultural ties over the centuries. The Snoqualmies lived relatively undisturbed on the prairie until the 1800s, when explorers and new settlers began to arrive from the Puget Sound country. An early explorer named Samuel Hancock canoed up the Snoqualmie River in 1851 with Indian guides. He wrote that "a more desirable body of land cannot be found in the territory," with thousands of acres of "first-rate arable land," along with plenty of timber and water power" (Hill, p. 2).

The Snoqualmies became involved in the Indian wars of the 1850s, at first fighting against, and later fighting for, U.S. Army forces. Chief Patkanim (ca. 1808-1858) signed the Point Elliott Treaty of 1855, yet the tribe never gained its own reservation. Many tribal members remained in the Snoqualmie Valley and are living there today. Among the earliest non-Indian structures in the Snoqualmie Valley were three wooden forts built by the U.S. Army in 1855 and 1856, to guard against a rumored attack by the Yakama Tribe over Cascade Range passes. These forts were small log blockhouses, with loopholes for shooting. One of them, Fort Smalley, was near today's North Bend at what came to be known as Toll Gate Farm. No attack ever came and the forts were abandoned within a year.

New Arrivals

The first non-Indian settlers trickled into the Snoqualmie Valley beginning in 1858. The first was Jeremiah Borst (1830-1890), a young farmer from New York, who took over one of the abandoned forts near the present-day site of the town of Snoqualmie and used it as his cabin. He was an astute farmer and entrepreneur and gradually acquired huge swaths of the Snoqualmie Prairie. In 1868, he also contracted to do repair and construction work for the Snoqualmie Pass Wagon Road, a project funded by Seattle's prominent citizens. Borst became known as "the father of Snoqualmie Valley" (Hill, p. 19).

A few years later, Joseph Fares (1837-1922) and Lucinda Fares (1838-1886), Borst's niece, became the first settlers to reside near the actual site of North Bend. They built a cabin next to the abandoned Fort Smalley, which they used as a barn. Josiah Merritt (d. 1882), known to everyone as Uncle Si, arrived in 1862 and filed a claim on a large plot near the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie at the foot of a massive, towering mountain. People soon began calling it "Uncle Si's mountain," which eventually evolved into today's name, Mount Si (Hill, p. 24). Uncle Si raised potatoes, vegetables, fruit, and hogs until his death in 1882.

In 1865, a Dane and former British Royal Navy sailor named Matts Peterson arrived and built the first cabin on what is now the site of downtown North Bend. The cabin was a rough affair, with uneven corners and bark still clinging to the logs, but it became a significant North Bend landmark. Peterson and his wife later sold their farm and cabin to Borst. Settlement remained sparse in these early decades, probably because transportation to and from Puget Sound was so difficult. "There were only eight votes cast in Snoqualmie" during the general election of 1869 (Gifford and Watson, p. 31).

William Taylor

William H. Taylor (1853-1941), a key figure in North Bend's history, arrived in 1872. He had come west from Iowa to stay with a cousin who had a cabin near Fall City. Taylor roamed around the region and worked a number of jobs, including clearing trails and roads for Borst. Taylor remembered that when he first arrived, a good part of the Snoqualmie Pass trail was in the riverbed of the South Fork of the Snoqualmie and a traveler had to cross the river "some 17 times between where North Bend is now located and the summit" (Gifford and Watson, p. 32). Travel downstream through the Snoqualmie Valley was not much easier, and was best done by canoe. There were no bridges and Taylor said that if a man on foot "had to cross the river below the Falls, he had to go to an Indian camp and have them put him across, or make a raft, straddle it, and paddle across" (Gifford and Watson, p. 32). Taylor said that he himself had done this many times.

As time went on, Taylor staked various claims in the Snoqualmie Valley. However, he departed for Northern California in 1876 and again in 1878 to work some mining claims. In 1879, Borst wrote to him and asked him if he would like to come back and take over the Matts Peterson farm, in payment for the work Taylor had previously done. In 1880, Taylor returned with his new bride Molly (also known as Mary) and moved into the old Peterson cabin. They started a farm and built a trading post onto the side of the old cabin. Their trading post was near the Snoqualmie Pass trail and became a key stop for travelers -- both Indian and white -- who were traversing the Cascades.

Sometimes, hundreds of cattle were driven over the passes from eastern and central Washington to Puget Sound. Taylor and other area farmers would provide pasturage for a fee, enabling the drivers to fatten the cattle for a few days before going to market. They lived in the Peterson farm until 1886 and then built another house on an adjoining farm they had purchased. In the meantime, Taylor had contracted with a massive new industry that arrived in the valley in 1882 -- the Hop Ranch of the Hop Grower's Association of Seattle. It totaled 1,500 acres near today's town of Snoqualmie, and Taylor made 20,083 cedar hop poles at two cents each. By 1888, Taylor had become such a prominent citizen that he was elected as a King County commissioner.

The next year, 1889, was a crucial year in North Bend's history. Word arrived that the Seattle, Lakeshore & Eastern Railroad was under construction eastward from Seattle, with the eventual plan of meeting up with other lines coming over the Cascade passes. The railroad needed a station at the approximate site of today's North Bend, on the farm currently owned by Taylor. Taylor realized that the railroad would immediately make the Snoqualmie Valley much more accessible and would spark a boom.

On February 16, 1889, Will and Mary Taylor filed a plat with "streets and lots and named the newly born townsite 'Snoqualmie'" (Hill, p. 45-46). He later said he was "foolishly" infatuated with Australia at the time and came to regret giving three of the streets Australian names -- Ballarat, Bendigo, and Sydney (Hill, p. 46). He also donated the railroad right-of-way to the rail company. The first train arrived that summer -- an occasion for a community picnic -- and the little town began to grow.

New Town, New Name

However, the new town of Snoqualmie would not survive under that name for long. Another town just four miles downstream had subsequently been platted under the name Snoqualmie Falls. This new town was near the flourishing Hop Ranch, which had now acquired a hotel, and was close to the river's majestic falls, a major tourist attraction. Taylor had gone to California on a trip and was unable to make the case that his town, Snoqualmie, deserved the bigger, "fancy resort type" depot. The railroad subsequently awarded the bigger depot to the town of Snoqualmie Falls (Hill, p. 46).

The railroad also decided it was too confusing to have two depots just a few miles apart named Snoqualmie and Snoqualmie Falls. So Taylor returned from California to learn that the railroad wanted him to change his town's name. He first chose the name Mountain View, but the railroad apparently didn't like that either. They suggested North Bend, since the South Fork of the Snoqualmie makes a big northward bend near the site (as does the Middle Fork). So the town was finally named North Bend. Taylor was proud of his new, thriving town, but "he never got over having his town name taken away" (Hill, p. 46). To make matters even more confusing, the town of Snoqualmie Falls eventually dropped "Falls" from the name.

A Town and Its Railroad

The fledgling town of North Bend soon had several businesses: A saloon, general store, a cobbler shop and a small hotel. Taylor ran his own downtown store for a number of years. New houses sprouted up around the business district. The North Bend Community Church, which first met in a hotel, soon raised funds for a building on a lot donated by Taylor. A one-room schoolhouse was built in 1890, also on land donated by Taylor.

The Seattle, Lakeshore & Eastern Railroad never did press on to the pass. It ran out of funds just four miles beyond North Bend at Sallal Prairie. However, the railroad fundamentally changed life in the entire Snoqualmie Valley, making it much easier for farmers to get their goods to market and for businesses and residents to get their supplies from Seattle. Ada Snyder Hill, a North Bend pioneer teacher and historian, wrote that "since the district was no longer isolated, we can say that the real pioneer days of the Snoqualmie Valley were ended" (Hill, p. 152).

The railroad also launched what would become a critical industry for North Bend, tourism. For many years, excursions from Seattle "would run every Sunday during the summer" (Hill, p. 46). North Bend's prime location at the base of the towering Cascade Range made it a "sportsman's paradise" (Hill, p. 152).

The Seattle, Lakeshore & Eastern sold out within a decade to the Northern Pacific Railroad, which continued to operate it as a branch line. In 1909, a new railroad era arrived in North Bend when the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad, better known as the Milwaukee Road, tunneled under Snoqualmie Pass and routed its main line through North Bend on the way to Puget Sound.

Hops, Dairy, and Logs

Around 1900, the biggest agricultural operation in the valley, the Hop Ranch, failed because of aphid infestations and low hop prices. The name of the farm was later changed to Meadowbrook Farm and it largely reverted to a more traditional Snoqualmie Valley pursuit, dairy farming. North Bend was now an important commercial and transport hub for the lush farmlands of the upper Snoqualmie Valley.

Agriculture was rivaled by another increasingly important industry in North Bend, the logging and sawmill industry. Logging had begun as soon as the first settlers arrived and found vast amounts of timber in the Cascade foothills. A shingle mill was operating in North Bend within a year of its founding. In 1908, the young town experienced a "lumbering boom" when the Northwest Lumber Company and the South Fork Lumber Company came in and operated two sawmills (Hill, p. 149). At about the same time, the North Bend Lumber Company employed 170 men in sawmills and in a string of logging camps stretching into the Cascade drainages. Logging would become one of the economic mainstays of North Bend for many decades.

Incorporating and Educating 

By 1909, the town had grown to the point that residents began pursuing the next logical step: incorporation. The citizens of North Bend petitioned for an incorporation vote, which was held on February 23, 1909. The results were overwhelming: 60 votes in favor of incorporation, three votes against. The incorporation of North Bend as a town of the fourth class became official in Olympia on March 12, 1909.

In the same election, Peter J. Maloney (1865-1942) was elected North Bend's first mayor. At its first census in 1910, North Bend had 299 residents, making it larger by about 20 people than the neighboring town of Snoqualmie.

North Bend had already grown to the point at which a new school was needed to replace the one-room schoolhouse. In 1908, the school district had built a "fine four-room schoolhouse," which was "the pride of the district" and "the last word in rural school architecture" (Hill, p. 122). However, the town was growing at such a pace that in 1916, the district built a fine two-story brick high school. Then in 1919, the district moved the old grade school building next to the high school and built a new grade school on the old site. In the 1920 census, the population jumped to 387.

Sunset Highway

By this time, North Bend's progress had been spurred by another new development, the construction of the Sunset Highway from Seattle to Spokane via Snoqualmie Pass. In 1913, the state authorized the building of this cross-state route and by 1915, autos were laboriously bumping their way over Snoqualmie Pass, using parts of the old Wagon Road route. It was an obstacle course of mud, boulders, and switchbacks during those first years, but improvements were made almost every year. By 1926, the road was straightened and the switchbacks were eliminated. By 1931, the road was kept open all winter.

By 1936, the entire stretch of the Sunset Highway between Seattle and Snoqualmie Pass was paved, including the section through North Bend. North Bend's prime location at the foot of the western approaches to the pass made it a key stop for motorists through the Cascades. New businesses catering to tourists popped up in North Bend. The "new roadside inns and auto parks gave the travelers a place for refueling, rest and recreation" (Gifford and Watson, p. 75).

Further Developments

Beginning in 1917, many North Bend residents began working for a huge new sawmill operation, the Snoqualmie Falls Lumber Company, not far from the town of Snoqualmie. This mill became known as the Weyerhaeuser Mill and was part of the Weyerhaeuser Timber Company's holdings. Logging and lumber continued to be a key part of the North Bend economy through the next several decades.

By 1930, North Bend's population had increased to 548. The Great Depression hit the agricultural and logging industries hard. However, North Bend experienced an influx of jobs when the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built Camp North Bend in the summer of 1935 a few miles east of North Bend along the Sunset Highway. Camp North Bend housed hundreds of workers doing public works projects in the nearby Cascades.

Meanwhile, town founder Taylor was still engaged in public works projects of his own at the age of 76. He helped design and build a trail up Mt. Si. On May 10, 1931, the trail was dedicated as the William H. Taylor Memorial Trail -- although Taylor himself preferred to call it simply the Mt. Si Trail. Taylor continued to be involved in civic affairs in North Bend and King County all of his life. On his last birthday, at age 87, he was asked to what he attributed his longevity. He replied, "To hard work, and to the fact that I have lived at the foot of beautiful old Mt. Si." Taylor died on January 9, 1941 and was buried at the foot of the mountain he loved.

After the CCC disbanded during World War II, the camp was sold and renamed Camp Waskowitz after Frank "Fritz" Waskowitz (d. 1942), a former University of Washington Football player who died in combat in World War II. In 1947, the Highline School District, between Seattle and Tacoma, began sending students to Camp Waskowitz for outdoor education programs. In 1957, the Highline School District purchased Camp Waskowitz and, as of 2014, still uses it for outdoor education programs. It is "one of only two remaining CCC camps in the U.S. with all of the original buildings still standing" ("Waskowitz History").

Interstate 90 and North Bend

Considerable controversy erupted in North Bend in the 1960s when plans were underway to replace the old highway route with Interstate 90. In 1969, the North Bend town council voted in favor of routing the freeway right through town. It would be built on an earthen wall, a block away from North Bend's main downtown street. The council deemed this plan to be the best for downtown businesses. Yet it soon became apparent that this would create a "Chinese wall" dividing the town, and the local Chamber of Commerce asked that the freeway be built on pillars for easy crossing ("North Bend Changes Mind").

Another group of residents didn't want a freeway through North Bend at all. They advocated routing it around town to the south. At a hearing in December 1969, the "split was clear … housewives for a freeway south of town, businessmen for a freeway through town, on pillars" ("North Bend Changes Mind"). A few month later, the town council was swayed by state figures which showed that little towns "tended to grow, not shrink," when freeways skirted them ("North Bend Changes Mind"). In March 1970, the town council reversed itself and voted for a freeway route outside of town to the south.

When this section of Interstate 90 was completed a few years later, it went around the town to the south. The town did indeed grow, not shrink, over the next several decades. The population went from 945 in 1960 to 1,625 in 1970 and 1,701 in 1980. The logging industry had gone into decline, and the nearby Weyerhaeuser Mill was operating at a fraction of its old size (it would close for good in 2003).

A Thriving Town

North Bend was gaining residents because of its proximity and easy freeway access to Seattle. Its mountain access was also an important draw, and some downtown businesses attempted to capitalize on it in 1970 by remaking their facades with Swiss-style architecture. The Swiss theme never became as pervasive as, for instance, the Bavarian theme in Leavenworth, but "it is still a major part of the visual character of downtown North Bend" (Watson, p. 7).

In 1989, North Bend gained a measure of Hollywood fame when director David Lynch (b. 1946) chose North Bend and the Snoqualmie Valley as the setting for his acclaimed 1990-1991 TV series Twin Peaks and the subsequent 1992 film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. North Bend's Mar-T Café (today's Twede's Café) was used as the setting for the Double R Diner, famous in the show for its cherry pie and "damn fine cup of coffee." Twede's Café still has a sign identifying it as the "Home of Twin Peaks Cherry Pie."

In 1990, the population shot up to 2,578 and then nearly doubled to 4,746 in 2000. As of the 2010 census, the population had grown to 5,731 and North Bend had become a prosperous bedroom community for people who work in Seattle's burgeoning eastside suburbs. Tourists come to shop at the North Bend Premium Outlet Mall and to gamble and dine at the nearby Snoqualmie Casino, opened in 2008 by the Snoqualmie Tribe.

The town and region's historic legacy have been preserved in the Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum, which was founded in 1960 and includes the collections of early teacher and historian Ada Snyder Hill. The museum has been in its present building two blocks from downtown North Bend since 1979. The valley's railroad history is preserved in the Northwest Railway Museum, in neighboring Snoqualmie.

Meanwhile, North Bend is still known for the same things that attracted people in the first place: its lush agricultural land, its rushing rivers and its strategic location at the approaches to Snoqualmie Pass. And hikers still flock to the area's trails -- including to William Taylor's historic trail to the top of Uncle Si's mountain.


Sources:

Ada S. Hill, A History of the Snoqualmie Valley (North Bend: Snoqualmie Valley Historical Society, 1970, fifth printing, 1981); Jan Hagstrom Gifford and Kenneth G. Watson, History of the Snoqualmie Valley (North Bend: Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum, 2006); Jack R. Evans, Little History of North Bend-Snoqualmie, Washington (Seattle: SCW Publications, 1990); Kenneth G. Watson, 28 Historic Places in the Upper Snoqualmie Valley (North Bend: Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum, 1992); "Waskowitz Outdoor Schools History," Highline School District website accessed February 26, 2014 (http://www.highlineschools.org/Page/2147); Clarence B. Bagley, History of King County (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1929); "North Bend, How Our Hundred Years Began," from the website of the City of North Bend website accessed February 26, 2014 (http://northbendwa.gov/DocumentCenter/Home/View/895): Susan Schwartz, "North Bend Changes Mind, Wants I-90 Out of Town," The Seattle Times, March 18, 1970, p. 1.
This essay was revised on January 13, 2017, to include correct birth and death dates for Joseph Fares (thanks to Heidi Anderson).


Related Topics:   Cities & Towns

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