by Pat Filer, AKCHO Awards Selection Committee Chair
For those who appreciate communing with the Great Outdoors – as well as history — historic mine tours provide a personal view of the halcyon days of the King County Coal Belt. Presented by the Black Diamond, Newcastle and Issaquah Historical Societies, residents of all ages from throughout King County and beyond participate in these enlightening and picturesque journeys into a noteworthy aspect of King County’s past.
Although the lumber industry receives the lion’s share of attention, coal was once King County’s largest industry, supplying local markets as well as the rapidly growing town of San Francisco. These areas are a vast source of labor and ethnic history, where many of the miners were recruited from Southern Europe.
The Issaquah Historical Society presents annual Historic Mine Hikes covering mining districts throughout the area. These include Tiger Mountain as well as the Olde Towne neighborhood, Mine Hill and areas near the Issaquah Creek Dam.
Annual tours of the town of Franklin, located above the beautiful Green River Gorge, are presented by the Black Diamond Historical Society. The town thrived for many years, reaching its peak coal production period between 1897 and 1908. Many mining structure foundations remain, as well as the cemetery and other traces of the town’s past. The Society is 42 years old now and board member Don Mason (Also known as The Mayor of Franklin) has been the manager of the Franklin tours for almost that amount of time. The coal mining town of Franklin has been the object of archaeological studies and digs by the Green River Community College starting in 1985 and they produced an extensive, over 300 pages, report on this little ghost town. Don Mason conducts tours with the help of volunteers from the Society and the last tour in March had an attendance of 250 people plus pets.
The Newcastle Historical Society and the Eastside Heritage Center frequently lead tours of Cougar Mountain, Coal Creek, May Creek and other local mining districts. The Issaquah Alps Trails Club and the Newcastle Historical Society began sponsoring a “Return to Newcastle” event in the 1980’s. A “Return” or “Coal Mining History Hike” has been offered on the first Sunday in June ever since – 35+ years now! Those events generated public support for the creation of Coal Creek and Cougar Mountain Parks. Both are now large ‘wildland’ parks with many interpretive trails and signs featuring local coal mining history. King County was the major partner in acquiring land, providing park staff, and developing the trail systems. This also resulted in the “100 Years of Hidden History” book by Richard and Lucille McDonald. In recent years Bellevue Parks and the Eastside Heritage Center and the City of Newcastle have installed signs and provided school tours and indoor power-point programs as well. All of these efforts – a long history of dedicated work – are deserving of recognition.
The tours are led by knowledgeable guides who have researched their respective locales with the assistance and support of the three heritage organizations, who often share inquiries and research.
These long-term efforts of the Issaquah, Newcastle and Black Diamond Historical Societies have created awareness and presented people from all walks of life with a unique and engaging perspective on the era “when Coal was King.”