Gold Bar incorporates on September 16, 1910.

  • By Margaret Riddle
  • Posted 9/10/2014
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10930

Gold Bar officially becomes a municipal corporation of the fourth class on September 16, 1910. Three months earlier on June 12, local voters approved a measure to incorporate the small Snohomish County logging, railroading, and mining town. They also elected the town's first mayor, first treasurer, and first five councilmen. The papers of incorporation, which were filed with the county auditor on July 18, are formally filed in the office of the Secretary of State on September 16.

The Skykomish Valley

Gold Bar is located on the Skykomish River some 14 miles east of Monroe and a little less than six miles east of Sultan along U.S. Highway 2. It has a history similar to that of other towns in the Skykomish Valley, which include Monroe, Startup, Sultan, and Index (all in Snohomish County), and Baring and Skykomish in King County. For centuries before first contact, the valley was home to the Skykomish People, who lived along the banks of the south fork of the Skykomish River. There were seven villages between what are now Monroe and Index, including a large permanent village where Gold Bar is today. Although the 1855 Point Elliott Treaty assigned the Skykomish to the Tulalip Reservation with other area tribes, a large number of Skykomish Indians were reported to be still living in the Gold Bar area as late as 1900.

The discovery in 1858 of gold in British Columbia and what would become Okanogan County in Washington brought hordes of prospectors to the Pacific Northwest, where they sought promising locations in other parts of Washington Territory as well. The earliest arrivals to search for gold along the banks of the south fork of the Skykomish River traveled between isolated settlements by water and primitive roads, which over time were widened and improved. As communities developed, steamboats began carrying passengers between towns to as far east as Gold Bar. The prospectors may have been first, but they were few in number compared to those who found the valley a perfect place for farming and logging.

The announcement in 1889 of the coming of the Great Northern Railway spurred rapid development in the region. It had taken an exceptional feat of engineering to push tracks west through the Cascade Mountains, but once that was achieved, work continued rapidly to complete the line, and the last spike was driven at Scenic on January 6, 1893. Men from railroad construction camps had bolstered the populations of existing Skykomish Valley towns and helped create new ones. In 1892, Gold Bar was the site of one such camp. Throughout the 1890s, the primary businesses in the valley were logging, railroading, mining, and agriculture.  

Gold Bar Grows

Although its name came from small gold discoveries made in the area, Gold Bar's primary profits from mining would come from copper and arsenic. The town's most prominent early settler was Otto Lewis (1861-1926), who had been postmaster at Wallace (now Startup) before moving with his family to Gold Bar in 1898. Purchasing a large amount of land, Lewis built a home, donated land for a two-story schoolhouse and a church, and developed the Gold Bar Lumber Company, which soon became the town's main employer. He also built company houses for workers, some of which still stood in 2014. In 1906, he sold the company to a buyer from Alaska, and the Lewises moved to California.

By 1899 there were enough settlers in town to establish a post office under the name "Goldbar," spelled as one word, and Otto Lewis became its first postmaster. Post-office listings for the town continued to be spelled as one word until 1951, although by 1905 maps, early histories, and Polk's city directories listed the town's name as two words -- Gold Bar -- as did the 1910 incorporation papers.

During the first decade of the twentieth century, the population of Snohomish County increased by about 150 percent. Problems with transportation, utility service, access to markets, and social welfare became more complex, and with what seemed like open-ended growth potential, Gold Bar, like other communities in the county, began considering incorporation. The town had been platted on September 18, 1900, by the Gold Bar Improvement Company. By 1905 Gold Bar had become primarily a logging town, with telephone and telegraph service and good transportation links. The Gold Bar Lumber Company, Wallace Lumber and Manufacturing, and the Bunker Hill Mining and Smelting Company were the town's main industries.

In 1910, Gold Bar's population was about 400. On July 12 that year, a small number of men voted in a special election -- 44 in favor and 9 against -- to incorporate the Town of Gold Bar as a fourth-class municipality. They elected hotel owner William H. Croft (1855-1934) as the town's first mayor and C. T. Stevens as treasurer. R. E. Forker, Frank R. Thompson, Thomas Perry, B. Engeldow, and M. S. Prichard were voted in as the first councilmen. The incorporation documents were filed with Snohomish County officials on July 18 and with the Secretary of State on September 16, 1910, making the incorporation official.

Gateway to the Cascades

Over the next two decades, Gold Bar continued to prosper. Mechanization increased farm productivity, and the railroad had become a steady presence, maintaining extensive shops and a railyard in the town. A state fish hatchery was added nearby, one of three in Snohomish County, and the logging industry continued to be strong through the 1920s. As in the rest of the nation, businesses in Gold Bar struggled and many closed during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

But the hard times also brought public-works projects to Snohomish County, including Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) work that helped develop recreation as an important new source of revenue. With a growing number of automobiles and better roads to drive them on, CCC projects helped draw attention to the area and provided easier access to the scenic beauty of the Skykomish Valley and the Cascade Mountains. Here visitors could find some of Washington's most popular spots for camping, hiking, kayaking, fishing, and white-water rafting. Hotels, small stores, saloons, and restaurants lined the highway leading to Stevens Pass, boosting small-town economies along the way.

The Wallace Falls State Park Management Area, a 4,735-acre camping park, lies just two miles north of Gold Bar and is a popular tourist location, with access to the Wallace River, Wallace Lake, Jay Lake, Shaw Lake, and the Skykomish River. There is a well-traveled and easy hike that goes through old-growth coniferous forests and leads to a spectacular 265-foot waterfall. As the last large community situated on U.S. 2 route before travelers from Washington's populous west side reach Stevens Pass, Gold Bar styles itself the "Gateway to the Cascades".

In 2010, the U.S. Census counted Gold Bar's population at 2,075. Two years later, Mayor Joe Beavers declared that the town was in serious financial trouble, largely due to the expense of responding to lawsuits, recall petitions, and record requests brought by a small group of citizens. In the eyes of some, Gold Bar was on the brink of bankruptcy, but to others the situation seemed less dire. In the end, the optimists prevailed, the issues were resolved, and the town remained a convenient access point to some of the state's most scenic areas.


Sources: "Order of Incorporation of Town of Gold Bar," September 16, 1910, Municipal Articles of Incorporation, Records of the Secretary of State, Washington State Archives, Olympia, Washington; David A. Cameron, Charles P. LeWarne, M. Allan May, Jack C. O'Donnell, and Lawrence E. O'Donnell, Snohomish County, An Illustrated History (Index: Kelcema Press, 2005), 23, 184-185, 278, 317; An Illustrated History of Skagit and Snohomish Counties: Their People, Their Commerce and Their Resources ed. by William Sydney Shiach (Chicago: Interstate Publishing Company, 1906); HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Sultan is incorporated on June 28, 1905" (by Margaret Riddle), "Index -- Thumbnail History" (by Louise Lindgren), and "Skykomish -- Thumbnail History" (by Alan Stein) http://www.historylink.org (accessed August 25, 2014); William Whitfield, History of Snohomish County, Washington (Seattle: Pioneer Historical Publishing Company, 1926), 608; "For Sale, Real Estate. Here Are Some Facts About Gold Bar," The Seattle Times, August 22, 1912, p. 20; "City of Gold Bar on Verge of Going Busto? Mayor Says Town Cashbox Is Just About Empty," Sky Valley Chronicle, November 5, 2010 (http://www.skyvalleychronicle.com/); "Wallace Falls State Park," Washington State Parks website accessed August 30, 2014 (http://www.parks.wa.gov/289/Wallace-Falls); Margaret Riddle telephone interview with Glenrose Williams, September 1, 2014, Gold Bar.

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