Name Game – What to Call The City?

This essay by Issaquah historian Harriet U. Fish was first appeared in the Issaquah Press on July 27, 1977. It also appears in the essay collection, “This Was Issaquah.”

Not many towns have been known by more than one name, as has Issaquah! It has been written many times, erroneously, that Issaquah has had four names in its 115-year history. 

The truth is that the town, itself, has had three names, not four! The first one sort of “happened” as it was picked up from the Indian term for this lush valley of singing birds, swimming fish, wandering game and plump berries. They called it by its sound – the calls and squacks of the many water birds which frequented the boggy land, the swamps, the creeks and the lake before its level was lowered.1

These sounds, as verbalized by the Insians, provided the area with the early name, “Squak.” This was used to refer to the fertile valley floor, the mountain to the west, the creek in the middle, the late at the north end, and the slough still farther north at the lake’s outlet. But the Indian had a guttural click in his speech and it came out of his mouth sounding like “Ishquoh.” The white settlers without that speech ability and click, pronounced it “Squak,” and so the first crossroads of traffic here in the valley, and the very first Post Office at the Pickering Farm, naturally were called Squak.

New Name

The colorful and euphonic name stuck until townspeople, some 26 or 27 years later, felt indebted to Mr. Daniel Hunt Gilman, who, with his partners, were responsible for bringing the railroad to carry the coal to market from this isolated hamlet. So, in 1889, the town’s name became Gilman, in his honor. “Squak” continued to be the name for the surrounding countryside features.

Unfortunately for the village, there was already another settlement in the State of Washington called Gilmer, and this being so close in spelling, our town’s Post Office had to be designated by some other name. And, here is the fourth name which has caused the confusion. Instead of retaining the historically significant name “Squak,” the name given to the Post Office was “Olney,” so anyone addressing mail here sent it to Gilman, Wash (Olney Post Office). The mail reached Gilman in Squak Valley. This we have learned from the records of the third Railroad Agent, Mr. W. W. Sylvester.

Mystery

The mystery of where Olney came from has confounded me, since no one of my contacts has had the answer. There have been many thoughts about it. The name Olnset is famous in Eastern Washington, and in reading the book The Name is Olsent by Roscoe Sheller, I learned that, during the middle of the nineteenth century, a Government Indian Agents assigned to the Oregon Territory, carried the name of Nathan Olnet. I wondered about this as a source. He had married Annette, the granddaughter of the chief of the Wasco Tribe. Theri son, in time, married and Indian of mixed blood, Emme, in Eastern Washington. And so the Olney name became associated with the Indians to come to the Squak area to hunt, fish and help harvest the hop crops. Could the name have come to us this way?

But no, another possible source of the name Olney has been located. Among the papers and possessions of General George Tibbetts, which are treasured by Ida Maude Walimaki, his granddaughter, there is an aged copy of Vol. 1, No. 1 of the Olney Journal, originating from the town of Olney, Illinois, the General’s home town.2

General Tibbetts was the Postmaster for Squak, which the facility located in his traveler’s hotel and store at Goode’s Corner, from Feb. 1879 to March of 1886. The Gilman name for the town was designated in 1889, according to the railroad records at the time the line became active. WIth the transfer of the mail center into town at that time, could it have been possible that Gen. Tibbetts suggested this name when the GIlman-Gilmer situation arose?

Other clues: 1) In the front of a school book, a 5th grade reader, in this same collection of treasures, is written “Olney POst Office, Oct. 20, 1889,” and 2) the presence among historical items fo three postal envelopes addressed to Olney, King Co. Wash. all postmarked in the 1892-1895 years, which throws a bit of a monkey wrench into the timing.

In any event, the dual names of town and Post OFfice became an irritant and source of confused misunderstandings, lost mail, and frustrated lawmen. So, in February of 1899, a formal petition from the GIlman Town Council, requested the Washington State Legislature to designate Issaquah as the name of both town and post office. In fact, the petition was carried to Olympia in the hands of a group of town leaders and representatives. They were that eager to get action, immediately, to straighten out their problems.

——————–

  1. Native Americans in the area spoke the Lushootseed language, and their name for the area in their language was “ishquoh,” a word that means, “the sound of water birds.” 
  2. George Tibbetts was born in Acton, Maine, and lived in a number of other places during his lifetime. Olney may well have been one of those places, but documentation of that fact is missing.

Historic Detail Restored at Issaquah Depot

The Issaquah Depot Museum was built more than 130 years ago, and it offers a number of clues as to the people who’ve passed through it. Lumber purchased to construct the building now forms an interior wall, and still bears the Tibbetts’ & Sons lumber stamp. Somewhere along the way, a child dropped a china dog between the floorboards. And a hobo named Miller left his mark on a freight room door. Along with the silhouette of a man in a stove-pipe hat, the credo “Miller is my name” is written on the door, in some sooty substance.

This past December, conservation professional Peter Malarkey undertook a two-day stabilization of the hobo graffiti, which serves to both preserve and enhance the graffiti. Malarkey’s work on the graffiti was made possible by a grant from 4Culture, and it insures the ongoing preservation of this unique piece of Issaquah’s past.


Interested in checking out the hobo graffiti at the Issaquah Depot?

More information on visiting can be found here.

In our 2015 exhibit and program, Hobos & Homelessness, we explored the often-romantic notions that surround “the Hobo.” The first hobos were Civil War vets returning home by rail, often looking for employment along the way. An economic Depression during the 1870s led to an increase in hobos. As the 19th Century progressed, westward expansion and the growth of the railroad contributed to both the need for migrant labor and the means to get to places where workers were needed. Any of the nation’s economic crises encouraged people (usually men) to join the ranks of those who rode the rails looking for work. During the Depression, many of the people riding the rails were in their late teens and early 20s, and had left home because their parents could no longer support them.

The National Coalition for the Homeless writes that, “While we may today think of a hobo as a laid-back free spirit riding the rails with a bindle for a pillow, the mass migration of these laborers was born of destitution and desperation, akin to the life of the Joads portrayed in John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath”. Rambling Rudy Phillips agreed, reminding us that “For every mile of beautiful scenery and warm sunshine, there are hundreds of miles of cold, dark nights, no food and no one to care whether I live or die.” Life on the move was hard, and dangerous.

Miller’s graffiti is not the only sign of hobo culture in Issaquah. Other hobo graffiti was discovered during the Depot’s restoration in the 1990s. During the Depression, Town Council minutes note, Issaquah’s town marshal was known to let vagrants spend the night in the jail if there were any free cells. An ongoing hobo camp also existed near the water tower south of town, where the steam trains would stop to take on water. Since the trains stopped here, it served as a convenient place to hop on or off the train. Kids growing up in Issaquah in the late 1930s and early 1940s remember walking to school past the hobo camp. The concrete footings from the water tower are still visible along the Rainier Trail.

Many thanks to 4Culture for their support of the graffiti restoration.

Newly-Digitized Press Yields More Than 100 Years of Stories

There is a new tool available for anyone researching life in Issaquah, doing local genealogy, or trying to confirm a fact from the past. Thanks to a generous donation from local philanthropist Skip Rowley, of Rowley Properties, the Issaquah History Museums have made the full archives of The Issaquah Press available online, in a format that is both searchable and free to the user. Interested residents, researchers, and others can view more than 100 years worth of The Issaquah Press via an ArchiveInABox website.

The Issaquah Press started out as The Issaquah Independent, and its first issue was published on January 18, 1900. The weekly newspaper played a critical role as observer and recorder of events in Issaquah and the surrounding area. As Issaquah changed from a booming coal-mine town to a quiet farming community, and then to a growing suburb of Seattle, The Issaquah Press captured the stories and images that made Issaquah unique. Many local businesses, organizations, and individuals can trace important events in their development through the pages of the Press. When the Press closed up shop in February 2017, it was universally mourned.

In March 2018, the Seattle Times donated the full collection of Issaquah Press back issues to the Issaquah History Museums. Each of the 184 volumes consist of several years worth of newspapers bound together within a hardbound cover. Each volume is roughly two feet high and a foot wide. Lacking sufficient space at the Gilman Town Hall, we rented climate-controlled storage space to accommodate the collection.

Once the back issues were appropriately stored, staff began planning for a complete digitization. Selected issues of The Issaquah Press were digitized by a company called Smalltown Papers in the early 2000s. However, more than half of the Issaquah Press collection remained inaccessible — unless the prospective researcher was willing to use an aged microfilm reader paired with microfilm created in the 1980s.

In December 2018, Skip Rowley pledged to cover the cost of digitizing the remaining half of undigitized Press issues. Once the project was funded, Digital Archives Specialist Kris Ikeda began shipping bound Issaquah Press volumes to a digitization facility in Frederick, Maryland for processing. Digitization of the remaining Issaquah Press issues took 8 months, during which time 3,311 editions (consisting of 43,513 pages) were scanned. 

Note that a small percentage of the Issaquah Press remains lost. Issues between 1900 and 1907, and between 1911 and 1918, are missing, their bound volumes lost sometime before the Press was microfilmed in the early 1980s. When you’re researching a particular topic, it can often feel like everything interesting that ever happened in Issaquah occurred during those gaps. We are always on the lookout for Issaquah Press issues that fall into these gaps. I try to keep a half-glass full attitude, and remain grateful for the thousands of issues, documenting more than 100 years, that do exist.

Ready to dive into Issaquah’s past? Follow this link to our ArchiveInABox site, where you can browse, search, and read through our community’s stories.

High Point History

This article by Tom Anderson originally appeared in the Issaquah Press on June 16, 2016. 

The High Point School in 1926. (Courtesy of Eric Erickson)

The High Point School in 1926. (Courtesy of Eric Erickson)

What’s so “high” about High Point?  Many have wondered.

Well, you have to think about travelling to High Point from Issaquah a hundred years ago by rail.  The tracks left Issaquah in the vicinity of the Sunset on-ramp to I90 (Exit 18) at an elevation of about 200 feet.  It’s a steady climb from there to High Point (Exit 20) at 450 feet – about a 2% grade.  It then flattens between High Point and Preston before heading downhill into the Raging River valley between Preston and Fall City.  So, if you were on the train heading east out of town, you would have noticed that the locomotive was working hard on the climb, and then when the grade flattened out, the train picked up speed and you would say to yourself – “Oh, we must have made it to the high point.”  So there you go – “High Point.”

And here is another question many have pondered: “Why does High Point even have a name – it’s not even a wide spot in the road?”  True enough today, but a hundred years ago it was a bustling little town with a shingle mill, saw mill, hotel, store, church, school, and many houses.  What happened?  In short, two things happened: depletion of trees and our insatiable appetite for roads.  The High Point Mill Company cut the last tree it had the rights to cut on Tiger Mountain in 1928.  The mill closed in 1929, but later reopened under new ownership, milling logs brought from elsewhere.  So the mill lingered on, but the heyday was over.  Then, in 1957 the widening of Highway 10 necessitated the complete removal of the mill.  The valley floor is narrow in that vicinity and a wide road consumed most of it.  The hotel survived and was converted to the Sparkling Brook service station.  It, too, had to go when Highway 10 was replaced by Interstate 90 around 1975.

Today, the only non-residential building that remains is the old school house, now used as a church.  It was built in 1911 as a one-room school house.  A second classroom was added as the community grew.  With the depletion of the timber, the growth stopped, and then reversed.  By the mid-1930s only one classroom was needed again.  The High Point Mission Church at that point in time was looking for a new meeting place as they had been using a building owned by the mill which now was needed for other purposes.  And so the tenure of the church in the school house began, using the room no longer needed by the school.  In 1940 the High Point School District merged with the Issaquah School District, and the school was closed.  The church bought the building and it has been used for church purposes ever since.

The High Point Church in 2016. (Courtesy of Tom Anderson)

The High Point Church in 2016. (Courtesy of Tom Anderson)

The church has interesting roots.  The brothers John and August Lovegren emigrated from Sweden with their families.  August bought land in the Preston area and formed the Preston Mill Company, while his brother John bought land in the High Point area and formed the High Point Mill Company.  August was a Baptist, and so the church in Preston was a Baptist church.  Brother John had closer affinity to the Mission Covenant Church of Sweden, and so the church in High Point joined that denomination under the banner of the High Point Mission Church.  The word “Mission” in the name did not denote the church as a mission, but that the congregation had a mission to spread the word.  The churches, although of different denominations, had close ties and friendly relations over the years.

Eventually the church withdrew from the denomination, and officially changed its name to “Trinity Evangelical Church” in 1974.  It continued under that banner until 2013 when it merged with the nearby “I-90 Community Church” which was meeting in the Preston business park.  Today, it continues as an adjunct campus of that church.

Over the years the building has gone through many remodels and revisions.  Happily, the distinctive bell tower remains, keeping watch over what remains of the once-bustling community.

Thomas N. Anderson is a volunteer for the Issaquah History Museums.

Walt Seil Remembers Hard Men, Fair Men, From Another Era

This story originally appeared in the Issaquah Reporter on December 18, 2009.

By Jean Cerar

Waler Seil

Walt Seil in his senior yearbook photo, ca 1941.

Walt Seil was an Issaquah native, as was his father, Edward “Nogs” Seil, before him.

When Walt recorded his memories for the Issaquah History Museums Oral History Video Project, he especially relished telling stories about his dad’s time as the town marshal.

That was during the 1950s and it was a different era. The sign by the railroad crossing on East Sunset announced that the town’s population was 812. Everyone knew everyone else and Marshal Seil provided community policing before the term had been invented.

Ed Seil was a logger and a city water department employee before he was tapped for law enforcement.

Here are some of Walt’s stories about him.

“When they had to have a new marshal, they asked Dad to be the marshal, so he accepted the job. He didn’t know anything about police work at the time, but he could fight and he handled drunks, so that’s what they wanted. There were two grocery stores and five beer parlors in Issaquah at that time. Issaquah was a pretty rough town.

I’ll tell you something. I was coming home from work one night – I was working graveyard shift at the creosote plant [in Seattle] – and I was coming up Sunset. The [Grand Central] hotel was on the left, and the beer parlor and restaurant.

And my dad had a man up against the wall. And there was a woman behind him with a purse, beating my dad with the back of her purse – smacking him – while he was holding this guy against the wall, fighting him, see. And there was another couple there besides.

So I thought, Gee, he’s in trouble. So I stopped the car, got out and went over and asked him, ‘Do you need some help, Dad?’

He says, ‘No. But who’s that car up there in the middle of the street?’

‘That’s mine.’

He says, ‘Get it off the goddamn street!’

Then another time, his dad – my grandpa – who lived down by the creamery (Darigold plant) in Issaquah in a house Dad built for him, caused an incident. My grandpa was close to 90 years old, and always liked to come up and sit in the beer parlor and have a few beers.

Well, there was a woman sitting next to him. And be bought her a beer, see. And then another guy come in and sits on the other side of her. He’s going to buy her a beer, and it made Grandpa mad, see. Ninety years old and he’s going to fight this guy because he’s interfering!

So they called my dad in. He took Grandpa by the neck and walked him outside and he says, ‘I’m going to put you in jail until you sober up.’

My dad did not lock the door; he just put him in there. So Grandpa, he laid down on the bed. We got back on the sidewalk and Dad said, ‘You watch.’

Pretty soon, Grandpa sticks his head out the door, looks around, comes out, looks down the railroad track and then down the railroad track he goes to home!

One night I was down at Dad’s and somebody called him and says, ‘Across the street there’s a big noise going on.’ So Dad says, ‘C’mon, go with me.’ We got in the car and went up there. And here on the outside of the door is a naked woman, pounding on the door! Her husband had locked her out.

Dad got out of the car, went over and took his coat and put it on this woman. Then he knocked on the door and told the guy who he was and the guy opened the door, see. He took her in, and Dad gave him the riot act. Then he turned around; he didn’t put the guy in jail or nothing.

We had lots of things going on at that time.

Dad did a good job. Everybody liked him. And everybody knew not to cross him. He had a quick temper. He got along great.

He always carried a gun, but he never used it.”

Walt Seil died in October 2008 at age 88. He was a long-time supporter of the Issaquah History Museums and a great resource for information about the old days. He was always cheerful and kind to new museum volunteers.

The last time I saw Walt, I was docenting at the Depot. He pulled up in front on his snazzy red power chair and sat staring at the building.

I went out to greet him and asked what he was up to. “Oh, I’m just out looking around the old town,” he said wistfully.

I went back inside and swallowed a lump in my throat, afraid I had witnessed a farewell tour.

Not long afterwards, Walt was gone.

Kateri Brow

This article originally appeared in the Issaquah Reporter on October 30, 2009

By Barbara de Michele

In Native American culture, the raven is a mystical symbol of change.

If you patronize the Issaquah Public Library, you may have noticed a set of three ravens — one on a bench facing Front Street, one “flying” into the library over the entrance, and the third near the children’s section, clasping a set of keys in its talons.

Looking closer, you may have even noticed that the library’s three ravens memorialize Kateri Brow.

Who was this remarkable woman, what role did she play in Issaquah history, and why the three ravens?

Kateri Brow (pronounced Bro) served as superintendent of the Issaquah School District from January, 1987 until her death in 1992.

A little like our current President Obama, Brow faced significant challenges when she took the helm of our local district.

Financially devastated, the district was in severe financial straits.

Unprecedented community growth was pushing the district to hire teachers and build schools for 500 to 1,000 new students per year.

And, in the mid-80’s, the state of Washington embarked on a school reform effort that was turning traditional curriculum topsy-turvy.

Given these circumstances, the school board turned to a most unusual choice to lead the district.

Kateri Brow was a short (about 5’ tall), squat, round-chested woman with a booming voice and a booming laugh.

Born and raised in Neah Bay, Brow was proud of her Native American heritage. She wore her hair long and straight, reminiscent of the hippie era in which she came of age, and she favored flowing shirts over slacks.

In some respects she was a hippie, with her love of acoustic guitar, photography and her forested home on Beaver Lake.

But the Issaquah educators and parents who revered Brow also knew of her shrewd intellect and wry sense of humor, her ability to lead people through difficult decisions, and her integrity.

A Seattle University graduate, Brow arrived in Issaquah in 1971 as a Maple Hills Elementary special education teacher.

Once, in an address before the Issaquah Women Professionals organization, Brow explained her decision to build a career within a single district.

As a student, Brow had carefully researched Washington school districts, looking for the right combination of a progressive community, creative educators, opportunities for professional growth, and a good place to live. Issaquah fit the bill, and she applied for a job which she readily received.

Issaquah would become the place where she would stake her life and career.

Brow made rapid progress from classroom teacher to Special Education Manager in 1973, to Director of Program Planning in 1977, to Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction in 1983.

During these years of professional growth, the Issaquah community increasingly embraced Brow as “one of our own.” Brow’s reputation and stature grew along with the status of her titles.

In late 1986, the Issaquah community received shocking news: the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s office was threatening to take over district operations because of a significant budget deficit.

At a packed meeting held at the Issaquah Valley Elementary School gymnasium on January 5, 1987 the board named Brow as Interim Superintendent, replacing James Swick.

Public confidence in the district hit an all-time low. Voters expressed skepticism over the district’s ability to handle levy and bond funds. Parents removed students and transferred them to other districts and private schools. Fifty-three classified workers and nearly 30 certificated teachers and administrators lost their jobs.

Brow moved quickly to restore confidence, visiting schools, classrooms, PTA and Chamber of Commerce meetings.

At one point she climbed aboard school buses and rode with students and drivers, asking for their input into solving Issaquah’s financial woes.

In a “stump speech” that became rather famous within the district, Brow went from school faculty to school faculty, extolling the virtues of saving every penny of taxpayer’s money.

“Pull the drawers out of your desks and see how many paperclips you can find,” she would tell the assembled teachers.

Her already-established credentials as a master teacher and administrator helped. A strong sense of teamwork began to pervade the district.

Internally, Brow re-structured the district’s finance office. Within a few short months, the board enacted budget controls and oversight measures still in place today. Subsequently, the district’s bond rating was renewed at the highest possible level.

Finally, Brow directed district curriculum leaders to establish a cyclical review system, ensuring that every area of student learning was subject to continuous quality improvement.

In the spring of 1987, the first test of Brow’s leadership loomed large: a levy and bond election. Significantly, voters approved the levy and bond, an amazing accomplishment for the neophyte superintendent.

On May 1, 1987 the board named Brow permanent superintendent, her title until her death from cancer in Nov., 1992.

In her short tenure, Brow received numerous awards and honors, as did the Issaquah School District. Most memorably, in 1988 she was named Washington State Superintendent of the Year.

Across every curriculum area, student test scores rose until Issaquah was at or near the top of all districts in the state.

Students were also recognized for excellence in sports, in the arts and drama. Issaquah became known as an innovator in technology, well ahead of other districts.

Encouraged by Brow, parents established the Issaquah Schools Foundation, an organization that has since raised millions for Issaquah schools and students.

Beyond Issaquah, Brow played a significant role in the development of standards that later shaped Washington State’s school reform movement.

Which brings us back to the Issaquah library’s three ravens, particularly the raven with the keys in its talons.

Brow told the story of how one of her own Neah Bay teachers had shown her a set of keys.

“Learning is like this set of keys,” the teacher said. “Every time you learn something new, you find a way to open another door.”

In Native American culture, the raven is a mystical symbol of change, sometimes whimsical but often profound.

Brow was such a change-maker, opening doors for herself and others throughout her life.

Ruth Kees Recalls Local Land Battles

This article first appeared in the Issaquah Reporter on July 31, 2009.

By Jean Cerar

Although she died May 6, 2009, the stories of Ruth Kees, Issaquah’s longtime environmental activist, live on through the Issaquah History Museums’ Oral History Video Project.

Ms. Kees was interviewed in November 2006. At that time she talked about the fight to save the Issaquah Skyport and the effort to stop the Southeast Bypass.

Issaquah Skyport

When Interstate 90 came through the Issaquah Valley, Ruth Kees started the group, Friends of Issaquah Creek, to save the salmon trapped in weirs built by the highway department on the north end of Tiger Mountain.

“But I could see this was going to be a one-person type of thing so I didn’t carry it very far,” she said. “But then other things started developing, and we got more people [involved]. At that time, the Washington Environmental Council had been formed. So I went to form the Issaquah Environmental Council.”

“Then things got so hot around here. It was a case of paying attention to all the local issues.”

One of the issues was the Issaquah Skyport, which was located on the north side of I-90 where the Pickering Place shopping center now stands.

The Skyport was a popular destination for area residents who liked to watch the field’s parachuting and gliding activities.

In 1987 operator Linn Emrich’s lease expired. A bond issue to keep the Skyport was defeated.

Ruth Kees and her husband Dan were among those leading the fight to stop development on the site “because that whole area is a wetlands,” she said. “It may not be a Class 1 wetlands, but it’s a wetland.”

The Kees’ concern was that development would interfere with the natural replenishment of the aquifer. During her interview, Ruth explained what happens when surface water cannot sink into the ground.

“Well, water always goes downhill,” she said. “This part of the valley is elevated above Lake Sammamish, which is a big pool. It shows where the aquifer level is. Because of the development around here the water is no longer absorbed into the ground. Lately, after a rainfall, Lake Sammamish will go up six feet, and all the docks are underwater. And then it goes back down. It’s definitely connected to getting rid of your surface water. You can’t replenish the aquifer [if the ground is covered with impervious surfaces].”

Kees also pointed out that recent flooding in the Issaquah Valley occurred because the ground could not absorb the water fast enough.

The Kees sued to save the Skyport land. The developers waged a countersuit, a SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) suit. It turned out to be too much for the Kees, who settled.

“It cost us money, that’s what did us in,” she said. “We were $86,000 in debt and we didn’t see any way out. And they kept processing it. They didn’t let anything die. So finally we saved the 12 acres and Pickering Barn. At least that was given to us.”

Southeast Bypass

For 20 years Kees was involved in the effort to block construction of the Southeast Bypass, which would have connected I-90’s Sunset Interchange with the Issaquah Hobart Road via a route along the base of Tiger Mountain.

The Kees’ interview was conducted before the Issaquah City Council voted to kill the bypass project.

“The reason for having the bypass is to take the traffic off Front Street,” she said. “Now, that’s kind of silly, because we don’t get all that much. We get traffic, but then it goes through. And it is not truck traffic. Trucks are forbidden.

“And you put that bypass in and you’re going to have a whole bunch more cars – and trucks – going down this valley, with more smog in this valley. And with our terrain, we’re going to be a little Los Angeles.

“And the noise pollution! People don’t talk about noise pollution, but it affects the nerves of a person. They’ve subjected animals and people to continuous noise, and their blood pressure went up. And their blood pressure never came down! So it causes physiological changes.

“It would also result in this part of the valley being developed, too.

“I think this is one case where citizen [input made a difference]. There were a whole slew of people that all spoke out against it.”

Ruth Kees Recalls the Early Days of Conservation in the Issaquah Alps

This article first appeared in the Issaquah Reporter on December 19, 2011.

By Jean Cerar

Although she died May 6, 2009, the stories of Ruth Kees, Issaquah’s longtime environmental activist, live on through the Issaquah History Museums’ Oral History Video Project.

Ms. Kees was interviewed in November 2006. Following are some of her comments about the effort to preserve Tiger Mountain for the public.

Ruth Kees and her husband Dan built a home at the foot of Tiger Mountain in 1960.

Above them were the 14,000 acres that now make up the West Tiger Mountain National Resource area and the Tiger Mountain State Forest.

“Weyerhaeuser owned every other square mile,” Kees said. “This dates back to the time when the United States was trying to get this area populated.

They granted the University of Washington every other square mile and Weyerhaeuser every other square mile. So Weyerhaeuser had come in and clear cut. And we got involved because they were clear cutting it at the head of Fifteen Mile Creek.”

According to Kees, Weyerhaeuser had replanted, and they wanted to spray to kill competing plants.

However, she wanted to show that hand clearing was the way to go.

“About 200 people came out that weekend,” she said. “It didn’t take all that long to do. And it certainly worked.”

How did she get the people to turn out?

“Well, it was just a case of calling people up and talking to people. And I think it was put in the newspaper back then what was going to happen.”

It was the beginning of Kees’ career as an environmental educator. She would explain that “trees, with the tree roots, hold the soil. And the greenery also keeps the soil from getting [water]-logged, because of transpiration into the atmosphere. In other words, it [takes] a balance of nature. It prevents erosion.”

Kees was an original member of the Issaquah Alps Trails Club, founded in 1979 by Harvey Manning and others to act as custodians and advocates for the area.

“[Harvey] decided that in order to preserve Tiger Mountain, he was going to have to educate people as to the value of the mountain,” Kees said.

“And at that time, too, the ATVs – you know, the all-terrain vehicles – were running rampant around the place. And we got them – or Harvey got them – forbidden to go up on Tiger because they were just ruining all the trails.”

Recalling the early days of the club, she said, “Well, it was educational in that we got new members, and they went on hiking trips. And I think they still do. They guarantee there’s going to be a hiking trip every day. And it’ll take place whether anybody shows up or not.”

“I have to tell this story about Harvey. He always dressed in either wool or cotton. Nothing that was artificial or manmade. And he had a beard and long hair. And one of the later members tells a story that the first time she saw Harvey – she met him on one of the trails – she turned around and walked in the other direction! Because he was such a wild-looking person.”

 Two years after the trails club was founded, its efforts paid off. The Tiger Mountain State Forest was created.

Harvey Manning, Washington State Land Commissioner Brian Boyle, the Department of Natural Resources and Ruth Kees were all involved in the process. As Kees told it, “Harvey Manning evidently got to know Brian Boyle, and Brian Boyle came out and took a look at [the proposed forest]. And the Rolling Log Tavern had something to do with it. [Harvey] took [Brian] into the Rolling Log Tavern and by golly, Tiger Mountain State Forest came into being!”

Logging was not permitted for a while. Then, limited logging was permitted, with the approval of the Tiger Mountain State Forest Advisory Committee of which both Kees and Manning were members.

“Whenever a proposal was made to log a certain part of it, they would bring the proposal before the advisory committee…It wasn’t a square mile that got done, it would be maybe 20 acres logged in an area that could accept logging practices,” Kees said.

Asked if she believed that logging can be carried out in a conscientious way, Kees replied, “Yes, I do. I have tried to see both sides of the story. And with the increase in population, and the need to keep open space, I think that logging can be done. But they should save a little of the old growth, too, which they have done. So we have the big tree that is saved on the northwest corner [of the Tiger Mountain State Forest]. It’s a fir tree. But it’s a huge tree. And it’s probably the only tree that never got cut down. So it’s still there, from days gone by.”

The Squak Valley Hot Shots

The Squak Valley Hot Shots were an all-women’s jug band that grew out of the Eagles Club. Although membership in the group changed over time, the Squak Valley Hot Shots played together from 1957 to 1980. The Hot Shots were a much-anticipated part of the Labor Day festivities; they were also recording artists! The homegrown group produced at least one 45 record in their career, and they played gigs throughout the Puget Sound area. In 1977, they helped the Seattle Sounders celebrate Issaquah Day at the King Dome be performing during halftime. Another hallmark of their career was a 1974 performance at Governor Wes Uhlman’s innauguration ball, in Olympia. Ida Mae Bergsma commented on some of their swankier appointments in a 1976 newspaper article, saying, “It’s not easy walking into a classy place like the Olympic Hotel carrying a wash tub.”

Although their line-up was generally all-female, the band occasionally called upon men to fill in for missing players. One undated clipping from the band’s scrapbook notes that, during an appearance in the North Bend parade, Dave Morgan filled in for Gladys Morgan, and “with his wig, dress and pantaloons, made a fine looking girl.”

Just before the end of 2017, the Issaquah History Museums received a group of unique artifacts pertaining to the Squak Valley Hot Shots. The IHM already preserves a number of photographs and other documents relating the the Hot Shots. Now some of the original musical instruments used by the Hot Shots have joined the community’s collection. Among the instruments donated were a washtub and broom, a washboard and wooden spoon (which also doubled as an identifying sign), an amplified kazoo and maracas.

Want to dig deep into the topic? You can see photos of the Squak Valley Hot Shots, and peruse their scrapbook (kindly loaned to us to  copy by June Nissley Willard) in our online Digital Collections. Members of the Squak Valley Hot Shots included Chattie Adair, Ida Mae Bergsma,  Madge Brundage, Pat Cammon, Mae Daverso, Edna Diedrich, Virvae Reed Dieringer, Jean Gregg, Eleanor Kramer, Irene McDiarmid, Kaye McElfresh, Gladys Morgan, Eleanor Munden, Beryl Nelson, Frances Nissley, Eileen Pennington, Faye Straub, Edna Uber, Alice Varner, and May Williams.

(Below, left: The Squak Valley Hot Shots, circa 1960. Below, right: washboard and band sign today)

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Replace!

Making Hisssstory

By L. Laile Di Silvestro

Issaquah's Baptist Church in 1911.

The original Baptist Church in 1911. It was located on Rainier, just south of the East Fork of Issaquah Creek and across from the Darigold creamery. This postcard was mailed on July 28, 1911. It was addressed to Mrs. Ruby McDonald, Carbonado, Wash. The text reads “Dear Ruby, Does this place look familiar?” It is signed “Mabel.” [IHM image: 72.021.014.080]

Take a walk from Issaquah’s Depot Museum past the city’s historic sites to Gilman Village, and you’ll wander by a relatively nondescript wood-shingled office building on the banks of East Fork Issaquah Creek. The Community Baptist Church of Issaquah once stood in this spot. It was here where Pastor Russell Hendrickson heard a rattling sound while walking to the church on the last Saturday of September in 1961. The sound emerged from under a hedge. Pastor Hendrickson couldn’t see what made the sound, but he was certain he knew what it was.

According to lifelong Issaquah resident Lenore Cutsforth Martinell “Pastor Hendrickson always said he was from Wenatchee and he knew what a rattlesnake sounded like!”

Issaquah isn’t rattlesnake habitat, but it has long been erroneously associated with snakes. Countless books, articles, and sites on the Internet confidently claim that the name derives from the word for snake in Lushootseed, the language spoken by the local Sammamish and Snoqualmie tribes.

The name ‘Issaquah’ actually derives from the Lushootseed word for the sound of water birds, and it was Whidbey Island’s Coupeville that was known as Snake Place (bǝc’ádz=ali) by the natives.

Issaquah wasn’t devoid of snake connections, however. It had its own Snake Valley on the Tradition Lake plateau. Before the plateau was extensively logged, large numbers of snakes gathered in masses to mate throughout the summers. In September of 1864, government land surveyors noted “the ground in this vicinity is almost entirely covered with various species of snakes.”

The surveyors most certainly met the common garter snake (Thamnophis sirtalis). Known as bǝc’ác by the local tribes, the garter snake is one of the most prevalent snakes in the area. The Snoqualmie used it medicinally, but also viewed it as a bad omen that could portend death. Although considered harmless to humans, garter snakes may bite when provoked and can inject a mild neurotoxic venom.

Wilma Nikko Hill, who was born in Issaquah in 1917, encountered them as a child in the field where Issaquah Fitness is now located. “I hated walking through the pasture because I was scared of snakes,” she recalled.

Ruth Hofto remembered one that resided in front of the school in 1916. “That is where we had to hop over a tiny little sliver of water where a garter snake tried to bite at you. He never left that spot.”

The local garter snake may be feared, but it has also earned a fond place in the hearts of many gardeners. The Puget Sound Garter Snake (T.s. pickeringii), also known as Pickering’s Garter Snake, eats slugs and rodents. The Issaquah variety, with its iridescent blue stripe, is arguably attractive as well as helpful.

As for that rattlesnake at the Community Baptist church in 1961, its presence was never confirmed. The Issaquah police and community residents didn’t doubt the Reverend’s tale, however, or the rattle at the end of it. They surmised that a rattlesnake must have arrived in a bale of hay shipped from Eastern Washington.

If you want to check out the site yourself, find your way to 623 Rainier Way N, the location of Issaquah’s original Community Baptist Church. To learn more stories about historic Issaquah, join an upcoming Downtown History Hike!