On February 19, 1959, the town of Black Diamond, about 25 miles southeast of Seattle, incorporates as a city of the fourth class. The town was built in the 1880s and named for the Black Diamond Coal Company (later bought by Pacific Coast Company), which operated the nearby mines. After Pacific Coast Company sells its holdings and leaves town in 1958, a special election is held on January 20, 1959, to determine whether to incorporate. Of the votes cast, 170 are in favor of incorporation and 144 votes are against. Lloyd W. Hagen becomes the town mayor, winning by nearly a 3-to-1 margin over his opponent. Five city council members and a treasurer also are elected. At the time of its incorporation, Black Diamond is home to approximately 1,040 residents.
The Growth of a Coal Town
Black Diamond was established in the mid-1880s to support miners who worked for the Black Diamond Coal Company. Around 1880, the California-based company, already mining in the area, sent experts north to explore whether a better grade of coal could be found. The answer was yes, and the first Black Diamond mine, called Mine No. 14, opened in 1882. By 1885, after a slow start, the company started to mine coal in large quantities. The town was built to house the miners, their families, and necessary services. Most of the workers had moved up the coast from California or had recently arrived in the U.S. as immigrants, primarily from Italy and Wales. The town grew quickly and by the end of the nineteenth century claimed about 3,500 residents.
Mining fell out of favor during World War I but experienced a surge in the early 1930s. Soon, though, coal was being replaced by oil as a primary source of energy. The town's employer, Pacific Coast Company, which had bought the Black Diamond Coal Company in 1904, "disbanded the Company town in order to save money. Power lines were given to the power company, and roads were given to the county. By 1958, Pacific Coast had liquidated their assets and closed down the mines" (Stein, "Black Diamond").
In just a few months, residents gathered for a special election to vote on the issue of incorporation. The election was held on January 20, 1959, and by a vote of 170 to 144, Black Diamond residents chose to incorporate. The date of incorporation was February 19, 1959. A mayor, city council, and treasurer were elected. At the time, Black Diamond had five service stations, three grocery stores, a meat market, a restaurant, three taverns, a bakery, a post office, and a library. The population was 1,040.
First City Council Meetings
On March 3, 1959, Black Diamond held its first city council meeting in a theater called the Black Diamond Show Hall. The new mayor, metallurgical engineer Lloyd W. Hagen, called the meeting to order and requested a roll call to determine if all city council representatives were present. The only woman on the council, Gertrude Botts (1918-2014), had never held public office before but promised to give the job "everything I've got" ("Incorporation Inspires Optimism"). The other council members were machinist Ernest Richardson, coal miner turned forest warden Stan Hubber (1906-1986), construction worker Gomer Evans Jr. (b. 1927), and Louis J. Zumek (1914-1986), who worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. City treasurer was Frank Costi (1910-1986) and the city attorney, Philip E. Biege.
It was a busy first meeting. Numerous committees were discussed and appointments made, including parks, health, library, finance, and more. The city council voted to join the Association of Washington Cities at an annual cost of $62.50. The mayor asked council members to determine whether Black Diamond should continue to contract for police and road maintenance from King County or suggest an alternative. Treasurer Costi was asked to reach out to the P.T.A. for help conducting the 1960 census.
At the city's second council meeting, held March 19, 1959, Costi reported that he had talked to the P.T.A. but they were too busy organizing the school carnival to assist with the census. Other city business discussed included library expenses, maintaining streetlight poles, establishing an official city depository (the Auburn branch of the National Bank of Commerce of Washington was chosen), and fixing bond amounts.
In the mid-1970s, volunteers helped save an important piece of Black Diamond's past -- its train station, which dates to about 1884. The Columbia & Puget Sound Railway (owned by the Pacific Coast Company) used the station on a daily basis until 1925 when regular passenger service ended. A company train then transported men to the mines until 1931. After the station closed in the 1930s, the depot was repurposed, serving as a café, then a library, telephone exchange, and later a storage shed. "When the fledgling Black Diamond Historical Society began restoring the depot in 1976, there was little about it that resembled a railroad station. With all volunteer labor, the dilapidated depot-turned museum opened to a gala crowd of more than 3,000" (Jensen). The Black Diamond Historical Museum opened June 6, 1982, marking the 100th anniversary of the first mine.
As the twentieth century ended, the city's population more than doubled as Black Diamond became a hub for people commuting to jobs in Seattle or Bellevue. In 1990, Black Diamond had 1,422 residents; that number increased to nearly 4,000 by 2000.
Black Diamond's Golden Anniversary
On February 19, 2009, Black Diamond residents gathered at the community center to celebrate the city's golden anniversary. Attendees included several individuals who played key roles in Black Diamond's past: two early city council members, Gertrude Botts and Gomer Evans, who was also mayor from 1973-1978; Phil Biege, the city's first attorney, and Donna Gathier, the first city clerk. Other dignitaries were King County Council representative Reagan Dunn (b. 1971), Black Diamond's current mayor of 26 years Howard Botts, and mayors from surrounding cities.
To mark the occasion, the city produced a calendar for sale showcasing historic photos. Other anniversary events were staggered throughout the spring of 2009: an Easter breakfast, a Cinco de Mayo senior event, and a Memorial Day gathering at the Black Diamond Cemetery. An official emblem was created for a new Black Diamond flag and unveiled during the 50th anniversary. The flag depicted a coal car with the words Black Diamond printed on its side. The coal car is shown in front of a lake with a mountain in the background, paying tribute to the town's setting in the Cascade Mountains.
The Impact of Incorporation
A 2010 oral history project in which 22 residents were interviewed helped illuminate several key issues related to the city's incorporation. The interviews were requested by the Black Diamond Historical Society and conducted by students from the University of Washington's Department of Urban Design and Planning.
According to the executive summary, residents believed the incorporation of Black Diamond was a "seminal event in the town's life. In essence, the incorporation of the town replaced the organizing structure once provided by the Pacific Coal Company. While not universally viewed as necessary at the time, the act of incorporation ensured that Black Diamond as a town would persevere into the present. The early years of incorporation are a period that remains alive in the memory of the respondents. The first city hall was located in the private home of the city clerk. The residents contributed hours of volunteer time to run the town. Town infrastructure and services such as water and sewer, street lighting and maintenance dominated the early years of incorporation. This 'incorporation generation' drew upon the sense of community that they had from growing up in Black Diamond to take the necessary steps to incorporate" (Chalana, 12-13).