Enumclaw -- Thumbnail History

  • By Mildred Andrews
  • Posted 11/23/1998
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 381
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The city of Enumclaw, located about 25 miles southeast of Seattle, came into existence in 1885. That year the Northern Pacific Railroad routed its transcontinental mainline through Frank and Mary Fell Stevenson's homestead, accepting their offer of cleared, level land for a siding. At the time only a few settlers lived on the high plateau that nestles in the foothills of the craggy Cascade Range near the volcanic peak of Mount Rainier. Confident that a community would grow, the Stevensons filed a plat with the King County Auditor on October 1, 1885, built a hotel, and gave away lots for a saloon and a general store.

Under the Volcano

A local settler reportedly coined the community's name, after a railroad official urged the choice of something with an ending other than "-ville." According to legend, Indian warriors had fled from "Enumclaw," their word for the thunderous roar from a nearby peak that they honored as sacred ground. Today, some of their descendents live on the Muckleshoot Reservation, which lies directly below the plateau on State Route 164. Archaeological digs have documented their ancestral presence, dating back 6,000 years.

Local promoters downplayed the potential for volcanic disaster, remaining pointedly silent about the eruption of Mount Baldy that rises directly above the town. An article in the January 11, 1895 Buckley Banner described it as "boiling and sputtering," with explosions "like the roar of a cannon" and a "crater alive with a terrible heat."

The plateau developed as a farming area. For some farmers, growing hops (used in beer-making) brought prosperity: In the 1880s and early 1890s the area experienced what might be called a hop craze. But then a local infestation of hop lice and a drop in the world commodity market caused many farmers to turn to dairy, and dairy farming remains a major industry. Farmers found ready markets for their produce with railroad workers and in the mining communities of Franklin, Cumberland, and Black Diamond that border on the plateau.

Enumclaw first appears in U.S. Census figures in 1900, with a population of 483, including immigrants from Scandinavia, Slovenia, Italy, France, and Germany. Thanks to effective lobbying and an outpour of volunteers, county roads linked the community with Thomas (between Kent and Auburn). The puncheon (log) roadway was rough and seasonably impassable due to mud, but it put Enumclaw on the map. On the downside, the Northern Pacific bypassed the town with a cutoff routed through Palmer.

Cooperating on Cooperatives

Danish immigrants took a lead as organizers of agricultural cooperatives, including Farmers' Mutual Insurance Company (now Mutual of Enumclaw) in 1898, the Cooperative Creamery (now Darigold Farms) in 1899, the Rochdale Department Store in 1905, and the Enumclaw Grange as a unit of the Washington State Grange in 1909. Prime movers included George Bruhn, S. L. Sorenson, and Otto Tamm.

In 1897, a consortium of six Swedish immigrants, including Charles M. Hanson and his three sons, purchased the White River Lumber and Shingle Company, which became the town's major employer. In his History of King County, Clarence Bagley writes, "the two outstanding factors in the economic life of Enumclaw have been the operation of the Hanson Lumber Company and the remarkable development of cooperative enterprises." He observes that the location of the mill on the east edge of the town could be considered "a fortuitous occurrence" but that the development of cooperatives "are achievements for which the people of this region may take credit" (Bagley, 826). He credits Enumclaw with the distinction of having more cooperatives than any other community in the Pacific Northwest.

Plateau residents constructed few public building outside of Enumclaw. Rural community activity focused around school houses scattered throughout the area. By the 1910s, Enumclaw became the center of school district consolidation, as evidenced by the substantial, three-story brick J. J. Smith Grammar/High School erected in 1910 and named for a prominent physician who served as state senator.

Also in 1910, the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad routed a branch line through town, establishing Enumclaw as the major distribution and supply center for area agricultural cooperatives and mining and lumber operations.

In 1913, following its incorporation, the city purchased a fresh water spring from the White River Lumber Company for a public water supply and replaced coalgas lanterns with electric streetlights. The Enumclaw Good Roads Association effectively lobbied the state to extend the pavement along the narrow winding road to Auburn, from where the Interurban Railroad made frequent runs to Seattle and Tacoma.

City leaders promoted conversion from wood frame to brick buildings, a move that would ensure a more permanent business district with protection against fire. The city set its own example in 1922 by building the neo-classical Municipal Building, designed by renowned architect Harlan Thomas to resemble Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. During the 1920s the business district was transformed to the point that it would be easily recognizable today.

In 1929, citizens of Enumclaw and Yakima met at the summit to celebrate the long-awaited opening of Naches Pass Highway with a mock wedding of the blushing bride, Yakima Peaches, to the groom, Enumclaw Cream. Proclaiming their city "the gateway to Naches Pass and Mt. Rainier," Enumclaw boosters prepared to welcome tourists to admire their beautiful homes and modern business district (Andrews, 51). Today, the city continues to court the tourist trade, billing itself as the "Gateway City" to myriad recreational opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. It also hosts the annual King County Fair.

The Local Economy Evolves

The 1950s witnessed significant changes in the local economy. The once-dominant railroads gave way to trucking. Mutual of Enumclaw Insurance Company launched a period of rapid growth, expanding its product line and extending its services into neighboring states. The home office became a major local employer. Another important development was the merger of the White River Lumber Company with the Weyerhaeuser Corporation.

The transformation of the Puget Sound region, which began with the Boeing boom during World War II, did not affect Enumclaw in the early stages. Away from the mainstream, the town did not become a bedroom community, but instead had its own employment base in the lumber and insurance companies. As developers began to cast their eyes on south King County's last remaining rural area, residents greeted them with caution.

From the mid-1980s to 1998, the city's population doubled to 10,000 and the plateau's to 40,000. Commuters and retirees moved to new housing enclaves on the outskirts of town. The city has nonetheless restricted population growth, because of a limited drinking water supply. Agricultural zoning has subdivided the plateau into larger-than-usual lots for single-family dwellings. Consequently, upscale country homes have proliferated. Their owners boast rural amenities like riding horses, pet llamas, emus, and lavish gardens. They share the plateau with older family dairies and farms, some of which are operated by farmers of the fourth and fifth generation.


Mildred Tanner Andrews, Mutual of Enumclaw Insurance Company: A Century of Service (Enumclaw: Mutual of Enumclaw, 1998); Clarence Bagley, History of King County, vol. 1, (Chicago and Seattle: The S.J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1929), 692, 815, 826; The Buckley Banner, January 11,1895, 1; Enumclaw Courier-Herald 50th Anniversary Special Edition, November 1, 1950; Nancy Irene Hall, In the Shadow of the Mountain: A Pioneer History of Enumclaw, (Enumclaw: Courier-Herald Publishing company, Inc., 1983); Louise Ross Poppleton, There Is Only One Enumclaw (Enumclaw: Oiooketibm [1980] 1995); Women's Progressive Club, Pioneer History of Enumclaw, Typescript, 1942, Enumclaw Public Library (Enumclaw).

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