Baima House is important remnant of Newcastle’s past

October 4, 2013

By Christina Corrales-Toy

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By Bob Cerelli Newcastle's Baima House is one of the oldest buildings in King County. The property's owners, Pam and Gary Lee, have fixed it up as seen in this recent photo.

By Bob Cerelli
Newcastle’s Baima House is one of the oldest buildings in King County. The property’s owners, Pam and Gary Lee, have fixed it up as seen in this recent photo.

If walls could talk, the Baima House would tell quite a story, one that spans more than a century, and includes moments of revelry, sadness and even mischief.

The small, white plank house with blue-colored windowsills sits unassumingly in the middle of a grassy patch on 138th Avenue Southeast, where it stands as one of Newcastle’s last remnants of the city’s bustling coal-mining industry.

Pacific Coast Coal Co. House No. 75, or the Baima House as it is locally known, was built in the 1870s and served as a homestead for miners and their families.

Most of the company-owned homes were demolished in the 1920s, when the Pacific Coast Coal Co. dismantled Newcastle operations and moved away from the town.

The reason the Baima House still stands is because the house was purchased from the company in 1920 by Andriena Baima, according to Pam Lee, the property’s current owner. As one of the few privately owned homes, it was allowed to stay.

The company rented the home to Andriena, her husband Barney and their family in 1906. The Italian immigrants came to the home with five children, and would add two more, both born in the house.

One of the two was John Baima, the main caretaker of the house through the 1970s. His daughter Vickie Baima Olson is an active part of the community, currently serving as the vice president of the Newcastle Historical Society.

Bernard worked in the mines, until his death at the home in 1916, caused by mine-smoke inhalation. Andriena remarried and briefly moved the family to Chelan, before returning and purchasing the Baima House in 1920, Baima Olson said.

Baima Olson’s father graduated from high school in Chelan, and had the opportunity to attend school at Washington State University, but instead decided to return to Newcastle to follow in his father’s footsteps.

“He was always proud to be a coal miner,” Baima Olson said. “I was kind of mystified by that because he did graduate from high school, but he went back to Newcastle and was a career coal miner.”

It is estimated that the house was occupied by either Baima family members, or unrelated renters, from 1906 to 1977.

During that time, the house was witness to births, deaths, celebrations and even a bit of illegal activity.

“I think it was rented at different times to bootleggers, so there are holes in the floor where they would put the still down on the dirt,” Lee said.

The holes are now patched up, but subtle signs of the prohibition-era activity can still be seen by the naked eye, she said.

Lee and her husband Gary purchased the property in the late 1970s after it went to public auction when the Baima family couldn’t agree on what to do with it.

“It was a mess, but it was just something that seemed like a really fun project,” Lee said. “I felt we could see the possibilities.”

The Lees fixed the house up with a grant from King County, and with a considerable amount of their own money.

The Baima House is among the oldest buildings in King County. It is officially listed as a King County landmark.

It’s a unique feeling to have such a historic piece of family history still standing, Baima Olson said.

“It just makes me really motivated to make sure that it is preserved and that it be recognized for the historic value,” she said.

Having the house literally in her backyard makes the history of Newcastle’s coal mining come to life, Lee said.

“Anytime you’re talking about history, if you have something tangible that you can look at, it just makes it become more real,” she said.

The house is currently occupied by renters, but Lee makes sure the occupants are aware of the local treasure they call home.

“I just have to be real careful about who lives there because it’s so precious,” she said.

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