Newcastle Historic Society makes city’s past more visible

September 6, 2012

By Erin Koehler

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Did you know that a United States president once visited Newcastle?

Rutherford B. Hayes, the 19th president, visited Newcastle on Oct. 11, 1880 — nine years and one month before Washington became the 42nd state. He was the first president to travel west past the Rocky Mountains. The President was accompanied by the famous Civil War general, William Tecumseh Sherman, then the Commanding General of the U.S. Army — and the pair took a train from Seattle to the Newcastle and Renton coal mines and gave a brief speech at each place.

Because of coal, Newcastle’s history played an important role in the development of Seattle’s economy — a fact that a dedicated group of Newcastle residents is working to preserve and recognize.

The Newcastle Historic Society, begun in the late 1970s, well before Newcastle became a city in 1994, has the purpose and mission to protect the local history, as well as educate the community about its past.

Courtesy of the Renton Historical Society
A group of miners pose in front of the Coal Creek mine in 1869. The water level-style mine went 2 miles into Cougar Mountain.

“I believe our community history is fascinating because it is part of the pioneer story that built our country,” said Pam Lee, the society’s leader. “Newcastle’s history is older than our neighboring cities and it needs to be remembered.”

Newcastle was one of the region’s earliest coal-mining areas and its railroad link to Seattle was the first in King County, according to records. The railroad ran from near the site of today’s CenturyLink Field to upper Coal Creek. Coal had been discovered in Newcastle in 1863 and the railroad helped transport coal via Seattle and its piers to the chief market in San Francisco. Newcastle was named after Newcastle upon Tyne in England, a well-known coal-mining town.

Why do people become members of the Newcastle Historic Society?

“Several of us who are involved in the Historic Society live on historical properties and want to learn more about them,” Lee said. “Some have had family who lived here and want to know more about their lives. Most people just enjoy learning about the history of their community. We also have a good time getting together!”

Currently, collections of historic photos, memorabilia and other information are stored in people’s homes, but Lee looks forward to the day when it can be displayed properly in a permanent way.

Lee encourages anyone interested in Newcastle history and in helping to make the city’s history become more visible to join the society.

“I believe it is important to celebrate our rich history and what is unique about our little community,” she added.

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