Logging and Rail History

February 20, 2017 History, Logging & Rail0

Have you ever wondered about those huge stumps in your yard? Have you ever hiked or biked one of the many trails on Tiger Mountain that have been re-purposed from railroad right-of-ways (e.g. Caroline Mine, Iverson, or NW Timber)?

In the 1920s, Mirrormont was logged, and rail was the mode of transport to move logs to Wood and Iverson’s saw mill, which was located southwest of the current SR18/Hobart Road interchange.

The history of Mirrormont and its logging past starts much earlier though, in 1864 when the U.S. Congress approved the Northern Pacific railroad land grant. The current oddly shaped rectilinear boundaries of the Mirrormont subdivision can be traced directly back to the NPRR land grant. Through a series of transactions, Frederick Weyerhaeuser of St. Paul, MN, gained control of much of the land granted in the foothills of Western Washington. In 1920, Weyerhaeuser sold the property that would become Mirrormont to Wood and Iverson, a timber company that had been operating out of Hobart, WA since 1912.

Wood and Iverson soon after began construction of railroad right-of-way (ROW) from the mill northward into the Mirrormont area. Their rail line entered our subdivision near the southeast corner at 266th Ave SE. The line contoured along the steep hillside next to SE 159th Place and 162nd Place. Remnants of the graded ROW can still be seen along SE 159thPlace. The main line then traversed northward to the vicinity of the tennis courts, crossed what is now the park and continued north. Much of 255th Ave SE occupies the original railroad ROW. From there the line continued northeast, crossing Tiger Mountain Road and extending past what today is the 15-Mile Creek Trailhead. The trail follows the ROW northeast toward the Grand Canyon of Tiger Mountain.

Additional rail lines branched out from the main line to access log loading areas both east and west of the main line that ran through Mirrormont. The exact locations of those ROW have not been found, but artifacts from the logging era can still be seen. For example, a piece of light-duty rail lies along the north side of SE Mirrormont Place just a few houses east of where that road turns into 247th Place SE. The timber cut from the Mirrormont plateau helped build Seattle and quite likely helped build the two large wood-stave water lines that provide Seattle’s water from the Cedar River watershed. The water lines are made of wood with steel banding, run from the Landsburg intake to Lake Youngs, and are still in use today.

You might wonder how the logging railroad ROW was built and what it might look like today. In the 1920s steam-powered shovels were used to build rail ROW in rugged areas such as Tiger Mountain. These machines were very similar to the hydraulic excavators that are common today, except that wire rope was used to actuate or move the dipper/shovel. Today the grades are still visible as benches or cuts that have been grown over with time. However, if you look closely you can see the regular and smooth alignment of the grading. The grading does not look natural, because the grades are quite smooth. Additionally, where a modern road occupies the ROW, the curves and grade changes are much less abrupt than the purpose-built light-duty roads of our subdivision, which came later. Trains could not travel over sharp vertical or horizontal changes in the railroad alignment. A great example of such alignment and ROW is the trail in Issaquah that goes behind the high school and occupies the former Northern Pacific Railway line. The rail logging era in Mirrormont extended from about 1920 to the early 1930s.

For more information on the rail and logging history of Mirrormont, including maps of the railroad grades, and photos of what the 1920s-era railroads in Mirrormont looked like, see Ken Schmelzer’s 2001 book, Wood & Iverson, Loggers of Tiger Mountain.