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Issaquah’s Municipal History

Prepared by Linda Ruehle
Issaquah City Clerk/General Services Director
Updated September 16, 1999

History Of The Name Of Issaquah:

The Issaquah area was first called “Squak,” a Native American name that referred to the calls and squawks of the many water birds, which frequented the boggy land, swamps, and creeks of the valley. Several years later, the citizens changed the town’s name to Gilman, in honor of Mr. Daniel Hunt Gilman, who was responsible for bringing the railroad to the area. Gilman was incorporated in April 1892 as a Fourth Class Town.

For a short while, the town of Gilman’s Post Office was called “Olney” (because of another settlement in Washington named “Gilmer” being too close in spelling to Gilman). Finally to eliminate the confusion of two names, the town received its permanent name in Feb. 1899 when the name Gilman was changed to Issaquah through State Legislative action. Although the exact meaning is debated, “Issaquah” is an anglicized version of the Native American spoken word “Ishquowh”, which means the sound of water birds.

History Of The Town And City Expansion:

Population varied from 500 to 1000 people during the entire period from introduction of the railroad in 1888 to the 1940’s when the floating bridge was opened, except for periods of several years when the coal mines were in full operation. This was a pretty stable and self-supporting population, consisting mostly of branched-out families who owned land and businesses locally. In 10 years, from 1951 to 1961, it grew more than 50%, to over 1800, by the influx of new residents and annexations.

Despite slow but steady growth, Issaquah remained a relatively isolated community until the opening of the Lake Washington Floating Bridge in 1940 and the construction of I-90 in the 1960s, making Issaquah and the surrounding area a suburb of Seattle. The old isolation had at last disappeared, no barriers remained, and the town of stable, home-employed families watched from its seat in the present to see the past drawing rapidly away. Issaquah’s current population as of June 1999 is 10,130.

Town/City Council (Class of City and Form Of Government)

In 1899 the Town Council decided to meet only once a month, after having been on a twice-a-month schedule for six years. (It had started out doing business every week during the first year of its existence in 1892).

On January 4, 1960, Ordinance No. 733 was passed which set the regular meetings of the City Council on the first and third Monday evenings of each month at 7:30 PM in the Council Chambers of City Hall.

Today (September 1999) regular City Council meetings are still held on the first and third Monday of each month at 7:30 PM in the Council Chambers of City Hall South (135 E. Sunset Way), which was the former Fire District #10 Fire Station and Offices, and remodeled by the City in 1986.

Issaquah is a non-charter, Optional Municipal Code City (“Code City” for short) with a Mayor/Council form of government. The Mayor and seven City Council members are part-time positions, and are elected to serve 4-year terms. (Council terms are staggered to provide continuity.) The City Council is the legislative branch of the government that mandates City policy; whereas, the Mayor (executive branch) has administrative responsibilities to carry out the policies established by the Council.

The Council President and Deputy President are elected by the City Council at the first regular Council meeting of each calendar year. They are commonly referred to as the “Council Leadership.” The Council President and Deputy President determine the Council Committee assignments. The five Committees, which are each comprised of three Council members, review specific issues and make recommendations to the full Council. The Committees are as follows: Land Use, Major Development & Regional Affairs, Operations, Services, and Utilities. Committee meetings are published in the City’s monthly Calendar of Events (available from the City Clerk’s Office).

When Town Became A City & Classes Of The Town & City

In March of 1959, the official population of the Town of Issaquah was 1,673. A petition was filed with the Town Council that requested reorganization of Issaquah as a city of the third class. The petition was verified as containing over one-fifth of the electors casting votes at the last municipal election. The Town Council resolved that the advancement to a city of the third class was desirable and that an election for that purpose was called. It was passed unanimously by the town council and approved by the Mayor on September 14, 1959. (Resolution No. 730)

On September 20, 1971, the City Council passed Resolution No.71-9, declaring its intention to change the City’s classification as a municipal corporation of the third class to a “non-charter code city” and to retain its present plan of government, that is, the mayor-council plan of government.

The City Council adopted Ordinance 1094 on January 3, 1972, changing the classification of the City to a Non-charter, Optional Municipal Code City (which was also approved by the State of Washington).

History Of Town Halls and City Halls

When Gilman was the name of our town, the business district, the stores, the dentists, and a few saloons, were on Main St., which was later changed to Andrews St. A small building on Andrews Street was the “Gilman” Town Hall from the latter 1890s until 1900, and then the first “Issaquah” Town Hall until 1928. The official abstract of the property, which was assembled as part of the title search for ownership transfer, starts back in 1873, when a patent for homesteading was issued to Ingebright Wold by the United States Government and signed by U.S. Grant, President. In 1893 a deed with a consideration of $175.00 was executed by Ingebright Wold to sell that plot of land to David W. Davis.

In 1898, Mr. Davis and his wife Dinah, sold the property to the Town of Gilman, for $225.00. Whatever building was there became the Gilman Town Hall and continued to be town property until 1931 when it was sold by the Town of Issaquah to Paul Bliach for $210.00. Thus, Gilman and Issaquah had a Town Hall for 32 years and lost $15.00 when they sold it during the depression.

In 1928, the City offices had been moved to a new city hall building on Mill Street (now Sunset Way) right next to the railroad tracks. This building was formerly known as City Hall North (after City South was built in 1986). City Hall North had been remodeled in 1972, and several times thereafter.

In October of 1972, the City of Issaquah purchased the old Gilman Town Hall for the headquarters of the Issaquah Historical Society.

History of City Departments

In May, 1971, when Linda Ruehle was hired by the City, the only departments were:

  • The City Clerk’s Office (Noreen Martin was City Clerk)
  • The Police Department (Hank Bauman was acting Police Chief),
  • The Utilities Department (Ingi Johnson and shop crew)

The Fire Department was made up entirely of Volunteers (including Fire Chief Gordon Crosby). The first full-time, career Fireman was Doug Lindsay, hired in January 1972.

There were no Parks, Planning, Building, Public Works Engineering, or Finance Departments. Most of the “departments” were formed between 1972 and 1978. Many started with “one-person” departments:

  • Kerry Anderson, first Parks Director, Parks Dept.
  • Gary Kuzinski, the City’s first Planner, Planning Dept.
  • Bob Rohrbach, first full-time Building Official, Building Dept.
  • Jerry Osterman, first Finance Director; then became City Administrator
  • Ralph Klei, first full-time City Engineer (later: PW Engineering Dept.)
  • Tony Singleton, first full-time Fire Chief (Fire Dept.)

The City grew from about 18 employees in early 1971 to about 170 today (September 16, 1999), which does not include approximately 100 seasonal employees.