Newcastle’s history shaped King County as we know it

January 2, 2015

By Rich Crispo

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In 1853, the area around current-day Newcastle was heavily forested with 10-foot diameter trees, a multitude of streams, and many gorges and valleys. It was also home to wildlife including cougars, bears, raccoons, bobcats and deer.

In that year, a couple of explorers found something that would change that landscape forever — chunks of coal along a creek (later to be named Coal Creek).

The first coal wasn’t mined until 10 years later, but when it began, it was in earnest. In the 100 years between 1863 and 1963, the Newcastle coal mines produced 10.5 million tons of coal.

The coal was of good quality, and the proximity to Seattle made it an important commodity. In 1870, Seattle had only 1,107 residents, but because coal was being shipped to San Francisco and the growth of the port, that number grew to 42,837 by 1890, only 20 years later.

BackTracking

 

In 1880, President Rutherford B. Hayes and General Tecumseh Sherman visited Newcastle during a trip to the Northwest. In 1886, Newcastle also had the only post office and voting district on the east side of Lake Washington, and in the late 1890s, Newcastle was the second largest town in King County with 3,000 residents.

Coal was king, but Newcastle was also a leader in the process of justice. There was a resident justice of the peace who oversaw proceedings from verbal and spousal abuse to assault and battery and murder.

Miners were frequently witnesses and jurors. The process of dispensing justice was so important that failure to appear as a witness or juror could result in a fine 50 times as great as the fine for the crime heard at trial. Jurisdiction was not limited to Newcastle. The court also heard cases from Renton, Bellevue and Issaquah.

Mine operations continued at an uneven pace in the early 1900s as demand for coal varied. In 1916, that all changed with the threat of World War I.

From 1916-1918, the mines at Newcastle produced 1 million tons of coal to support the war effort. After the war, demand dropped.

As 1929 rolled around, cheaper coal became available from Montana, oil burst onto the scene, the Depression crippled economies and a fire in Newcastle’s main bunkers caused the Pacific Coast Coal Co. to cease operations.

Newcastle was a company town and with the selling of the homes, dismantling of some buildings, removal and reuse of equipment, and the pulling up of the railroad tracks, by 1937, the town of Newcastle no longer existed.

The Pacific Coast Coal Co. moved operations out of the area, but did sell and lease land to contract-basis mining operators known as “gypos.”

Gypos went into the existing mines and cleaned out smaller pockets of coal. These smaller outfits worked the mines from 1932 until 1963, when all coal mining stopped.

During that time, they produced 536,000 tons of coal. One of the gypos, the Strain Co., strip-mined an area 80 to 90 acres in size that later became a landfill, and in 1999 became the site of The Golf Club at Newcastle.

Seattle continued to grow and the Newcastle area was a prime location as a bedroom community, so it also grew in population. In 1994, the city of Newcastle was incorporated.

The city has 150 years of history that has included discovery, growth, decline and growth again.

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