Remembering historian Milt Swanson and his stories

March 5, 2015

By Rich Crispo

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Whether Newcastle residents know it or not, March 29 is a significant date in the city’s history. On that day, in 1918, Ernest Milton Swanson was born. Milt, as he was known, was born and raised in Newcastle, and is single-handedly responsible for protecting the city’s history.

A founder of the Newcastle Historical Society, Swanson knew more about Newcastle’s history than anyone, because he actually lived it. Swanson died at the age of 95 in January 2014. In this month’s history feature, Newcastle City Councilman, and history buff, Rich Crispo recalls his favorite Swanson stories.

I had the good fortune to know Milt and spend almost every Wednesday afternoon with him during the two years prior to his death. I was thirsting for information about our city and Milt was always willing to share his personal experiences.

By Greg Farrar Milt Swanson, recalling the happiness and the hardship of a lifetime lived in Newcastle, poses in a 2012 photo, sitting among the artifacts of local history that he had collected and stored in a makeshift museum building on his property.

By Greg Farrar
Milt Swanson, recalling the happiness and the hardship of a lifetime lived in Newcastle, poses in a 2012 photo, sitting among the artifacts of local history that he had collected and stored in a makeshift museum building on his property.

Milt was born in a house near the current Coal Creek Family YMCA and lived in the house at the corner of Newcastle Golf Club Road and Lakemont Boulevard since 1922, when his father rented the property from the Pacific Coast Coal Co. Milt told me many stories. Here are two of them:

1.) Did you ever wonder about the slight dips in Newcastle Golf Club Road as you drive over them? The topography along Coal Creek was very different in 1863, when coal production started, than it is today.

South of the creek was a flood plain, and a series of small ravines fed ground water and rain water from the hills to the south into the creek. The first dirt road above the flood plain and along the ravines included a series of bridges made from cedar logs.

Over time, mine waste was dumped along the road, and the ravines and the flood plain were filled in. When it came time to pave the road, the path went right over the existing bridges. Eventually the logs rotted out and the road surface dipped a bit.

The next time you drive along the road, count the dips. Some are obvious while others are subtler.

2.) All of the mine tunnels had air shafts reaching to the surface. One such shaft is located where Newcastle Golf Club Road meets Lakemont Boulevard.

During a heavy rainstorm in the 1960s, a stream of water came down from Cougar Mountain and crossed the covered shaft. The top covering collapsed and dammed up the hole well below the surface. As a result, the hole filled up with water.

A Boeing employee driving his station wagon on the way to work tried to drive across the “puddle.” His car started falling down into the hole, but luckily hung up on the edge.

He called for a wrecker and one came from Renton and stopped on the other side of the puddle. The driver walked around, attached a pull chain, and proceeded to pull the wagon completely into the hole and beneath the water.  The car was removed with the help of another truck.

Shortly after the car was removed, the dam in the hole broke and fell into the abandoned mine far below. The hole was eventually closed using concrete, cedar logs, mine rock and asphalt. That fix has lasted for 50 years and the next time you drive that route look for the circular indentations in the road surface near the curve.

Want to hear more about Milt’s stories and the history of your city? Email me at crispo@comcast.net.

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