Northern Pacific Railway Documents Come For A Visit

I’ve committed the worst sin of the blogger: failure to post. It’s not because there aren’t plenty of things to write about. Between the transcription of oral histories from 20-35 years ago (more on these very soon), cataloging the letters of Minnie and Jake, and managing the fascinating treasures that just wander in the door, it feels like we are always making new and fascinating discoveries about Issaquah’s past these days. I will try to be better about sharing them with you!

Today I’m going to tell you about the fascinating treasures that wandered in our door two weeks ago. A member of the Western Division of the Northern Pacific Railway Historical Association stopped by to talk about a project they are working on. They are in the midst of sorting through the Jim Frederickson collection of documents, which consists of hundreds of boxes of old Northern Pacific paperwork. They offered to share with us the documents that relate to the Issaquah station, so that we could scan them.

The documents deal with capital projects along the rail line, usually requested by businesses within the community. Most of them are rail spurs or track extensions, put in to connect the business more easily with the Depot, allowing them to ship and receive more efficiently. The files are filled with official Northern Pacific forms (Form 4947 Roadway Completion Report; Form 1363 Requisition Form; Form 1932 Final Completion Report, Form 1924 Details of Charges to Authorities for Expenditures; Form 7104 Field Completion Report, and so on and so on) and correspondence from one official to the next. They also contain maps for each project, which provide snapshots of the community at specific periods of time.
What fascinates me about the collection is the chance to peak into administrative operations. The station agent at each post along the Northern Pacific rail line acted as the railroad’s representative in their community, relaying information back and forth between community members and railroad executives. In the case of some transactions with large companies like the Issaquah and Superior Coal Company, one set of information and instructions might get passed from the mine executives to the local supervisor to the station agent to the NP manager, then to the district manager, and on to the main office in St. Paul, with stops along the way for the addition of estimates or engineer sketches. Reading through these documents is like listening to a game of telephone.
The documents also contain correspondence and reports prepared by local figures: copies of the incorporation papers for the Northwestern Condensery, signed by Dr. William Gibson, reports on construction by railroad section foremen Jack Legg, references to work crew supervisor George Alf, and notes and reports written by a number of different station agents over the years. These will be helpful in refining our time line of station agents in Issaquah. They also provide an insider’s assesment regarding the economic health of the various businesses. For example, station agent George Hackett confides to his superior that the Nuekirchen Mill is lagging behind in paying it’s bill because it has hit on hard times, being two weeks behind on its payroll and shipping fewer loads of lumber than previously. Several capital projects were also impacted adversely by the slow collapse of the Issaquah & Superior Coal Company, which began with the advent of World War I.
The language of the early 20th Century businessman is also of interest. In one back-and-forth conversation regarding the intricacies of NP accounting, one NP official reached such a state of exasperation with another that he wrote, “You fail to grasp my meaning.” In another exchange between the local rail superintendent and the roadmaster, the superintendent writes, “You have informed me twice that the track at Issaquah Coal mines had been surfaced. The Superintendent of the Mines was in today and stated positively that nothing had been done to the track whatever. I would be glad to know why instructions have not been complied with.”
In total, we probably scanned and saved more than 200 documents, dealing with 20 different construction projects. Below are three of the documents that were scanned (you can click on the document to see them at full size).


From left to right are:
1. January 1, 1914 letter from Issaquah station agent G.H. Worley to NP Superintendent Craver, regarding the Issaquah and Superior Mine.
2. August 28, 1915 letter from NP Superintendent Craver to St. Paul, regarding the Issaquah and Superior Mine, and it’s decline.
3. November 14, 1911 letter from Issaquah station agent George Hackett to NP Superintendent Craver, regarding the delay in obtaining payment from the Neukirchen Brothers.

The Case of the Unknown Lake

This week we received a request to help us identify the photograph above; the inquirer was planning to use the image for a magazine article and thought that it was probably Pine Lake, but wanted confirmation to be sure. I sent the image out to our members mailing list and we received a variety of replies. Although several people thought it was indeed Pine Lake, others were sure that it wasn’t. Because the photo caption stated that it was the opening of trout season, one person explained, it was not likely to be Pine Lake, which is too warm and shallow for trout. Another long-time resident on the Plateau thought it was unlikely to be Pine Lake because Pine Lake did not have a boat launch of that size. A third person said that it couldn’t be Pine Lake in 1962 (the year sited) because at that time, the area around the boat launch was heavily treed.

Other replies suggested a variety of lakes that it might be instead of Pine Lake. I compiled all the answers and sent them back to the author, not sure what he would make of them. It turns out he’d sent the image to a few other people for ID, and the Federal Way Historical Society (and the Federal Way maintenance staff) were unanimous in their agreement that the image is Steel Lake.

This turn of events is not unusual. Efforts to identify photos in our collection often result in multiple choice options when one person is identified with three different names by three different people.

The first lesson? Label your pictures! Twenty years from now there may be heated debates over who, where, or what is pictured in your snapshot!

The second lesson, for museum staff, is to record our line of thinking in the museum catalog whenever we make an educated guess. For example, the image to the right has the following catalog entry:

Eric feels and I (Erica) concur that this was not located in Issaquah. Although there was a Wilson Tibbetts who had an automotive agency, we don’t know of any G.I. Wilson. Also, the building behind the Wilson building has “Reliable Auto” painted across the side.  There were no businesses in ISQ by this or similar names, although there was a Reliable Auto Parts in Seattle for some time. Issaquah had very few commercial buildings that were two-story. Our guess is that this photo was actually taken in Seattle.

It would have been quicker to note “Not in Issaquah,” but fifteen years from now, someone looking at the catalog might be left to wonder, how do they know it’s isn’t Issaquah? who decided this? where is it, if not Issaquah?”

Along in the same vein are the identifying notes for the image at left:  Young couple with small baby…. Erica’s note: since this came in the same batch as photos of Jacob & Mary Wilfong, and appears to be taken in the same setting and on the same day, I suspect that this is Paul Wilfong and Hazel Wilfong holding their daughter.

Again, rather than just labeling the image with my suspicions, I recorded my line of thinking. This way, if it is discovered in five years that I am a mentally unhinged and/or legally blind, other staff members know that they need to go back and re-examine this (and many other) conclusions I’ve made.

But don’t panic. I’m pretty sure my faculties and eyesight are within the normal range. So far.

Researching Monohon

Monohon was a small town on the banks of Lake Sammamish. The town was centered around a lumber mill, which burned down in 1925. Today, the Waverly Heights development is located there. Over the years we have received visits from a number of people who live in Waverly Heights and want to know more about their community’s story. Last month another Waverly Heights resident named Ethan made a research appointment to learn more about Monohon for a second grade school project. Ethan was interested in the major landmarks of Monohon — the depot, lumber mill, and railroad tracks. I showed Ethan and his mom our research files and several different maps of the area while his dad and little brother looked around the museum.

It’s always fun for me to help people track down the information they are looking for, and even more fun when the researcher is developing an interest in local history at such a young age. Kudos to the Sunset Hills Elementary teacher who asked students to research the history of their community!

Ethan sent us this picture of his completed project, along with a note of thanks: