Issaquah’s “Lady Mayors”

While Issaquah’s first woman mayor was referred to disparagingly as a “lady mayor,” she set a precedent for other women who would run for — and attain — the office of mayor.

Issaquah Depot

Issaquah History Museums Reopen to the Public

In March of 2020, the Issaquah History Museums closed their doors due to the risk of the COVID-19 pandemic to visitors, volunteers, and staff. Now that Washington State is beginning to slowly reopen, we’re looking forward to welcoming visitors back to the Gilman Town Hall and Issaquah Depot Museum. You can purchased a timed entry ticket for your household group through Eventbrite for Fridays and Saturdays in July and August; additional dates and times will be added after this pilot program. Here’s how we plan to keep visitors safe:

  1. Visitors should be from the same household group (Phase 2) or friend group (Phase 3). The museums are too small for groups to be able to social distance from each other.
  2. Visitors and museum staff will be required to wear masks while visiting the museums and jail, per King County requirements. Museum staff will practice social distancing from visitors.
  3. Frequently touched areas (door knobs, surfaces, etc.) will be disinfected between visitors.
  4. Public restrooms are not available at the museums at this time; please plan accordingly.
  5. Hands-on exhibits may not be available at this time, because the cleaning and disinfecting of artifacts may not always be possible.
  6. The Issaquah Valley Trolley will not be running this summer, due to the challenges of social distancing on the trolley.
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Quarantine Baking: Vintage Recipe Edition

Thanks to the quarantine, you, like our archivist, may now have some time to try out some of Issaquah’s vintage recipes. Click here to try out Vic’s Cream Muffins!

The Case of the Inlaid Knife

Volunteers were preparing to pour a concrete floor at the Auto Freight Building one Saturday in the mid-1980s, when Eric Martin came across a knife. Using his shovel to backfill a hole, Martin felt the shovel hit something other than sandy soil. A knife had been buried there. Martin brushed off the dirt and took the knife home to clean it up. After a good cleaning, the knife joined his personal collection of interesting objects. 

Some twenty years later, Martin happened to visit the Renton History Museum. There on exhibit was a knife that looked remarkably like the one he had picked up at the Auto Freight Building two decades earlier. This knife, however, was labeled ― Native American Trade Knife.

Martin went home and examined his knife again. There were striking similarities between the two items. He brought the knife to the Gilman Town Hall and told staff members his story. Collections Manager Andrea Mercado, together with Museum Director Erica Maniez, began locating experts on trade knives, both locally and via the internet. If the knife proved likely to be a Native American artifact, then it would become part of the museum’s collection. If it was just another knife, Martin would take it back home again.

Internet searches revealed a number of similar knives up for sale on eBay, as well as recreations of the same type offered for sale elsewhere. Knives of this type, often called trade knives or fur trade knives, were produced in Europe as early as the 1700s (and later in the USA) for the specific purpose of trading them for furs with Native American trappers. The design was relatively common for trade knives in the Plains area. Local experts at the Burke Museum and the King County Office of Archaeology both felt that the knife was quite likely used as a skinning knife, or belt knife, by a Native American. It was probably produced specifically for trade with Native Americans; the design on the knife’s walnut handle might have been inlaid by the knife’s owner, or by the manufacturer according to the Native American style. It was conservatively dated to the late 1800s. 

And so the knife, decidedly a local Native American artifact as well as an object with an interesting story to tell, joined other Native American artifacts as part of the Gilman Town Hall’s permanent exhibits, In This Valley.

The 1918-19 Influenza Epidemic in Issaquah

In 1918, an influenza pandemic infected more than 500 million people worldwide.

The Tibbetts’s Journey East

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.


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.