The upper Green River valley was filled with lively, two-bit railroad towns, logging camps and assorted flag stops which never amounted to much. Despite their diminutive size and remote locales, they somehow still manage to loom larger-than-life in the minds and memories of those who came in contact with them.
From west to east, the notable places along the Green River were Lemolo, Eagle Gorge, Garibaldi (later Baldi), Humphrey, Maywood, Nagrom, Green River Hot Springs (later Hot Springs), Lester, Weston, Kennedy, Borup, New Stampede, and Old Stampede. Often transitory, these towns were subject to what the railroad demanded of them, or what timber could be cut. Most began either as railroad construction camps or as a later invention, the train order station.
Train order stations were small depots and associated sidings located every four to seven miles along the line. They served as control points for the railroad as well as a home for a few hardy telegraph operators. Orders were received from the dispatching centers at Ellensburg, Seattle or Tacoma, with the flimsies (telegraph messages, so-called for the light tissue paper they were printed on) hooped up to passing train crews. Clustered around the depots or down the line in some isolated place would be a section house, home to the section foreman and his family. Nearby would be a bunkhouse for a small gang of laborers, as everything was done by hand. Switches clogged with snow were swept out by men with brooms, spikes were driven home with mauls.
Lemolo was such a station, as were Eagle Gorge, Maywood, Kennedy, Borup, New and Old Stampede. As the years passed these stations were closed and operations were consolidated in fewer and fewer places. By 1970, the Northern Pacific had only one such station remaining in the valley -- Lester.
The closing of stations did not necessarily mean the demise of a particular community. Maywood was reborn in later years as a logging camp. Kennedy maintained a section house long after its station closed, as did Old Stampede. Others, such as Garibaldi, were never home to a station, but were home to section houses. Later still, Baldi, as it became known, was a logging camp.
Some towns were more transitory than others. Cole, located between Borup and New Stampede, served as a boarding camp for railroad work gangs filling trestles in the 1890s, only to quickly be re-taken by the forest once the crews moved on.
Forcamp, located west of Lester, was home to a logging camp and incline logging railroad. It too was reclaimed by the woods after the trees had been cut and the loggers left. Morgan's Mill, shown on early maps to the west of Lester but probably located in the Friday Creek vicinity, also vanished as soon as the mill shut down.
Weston, a booming place during the construction era of the 1880s, was superseded by Lester when facilities were consolidated at the latter point in the early 1890s. It was eliminated completely as a point on the Northern Pacific when the Lester to Easton was double tracked in 1914. As part of this line change, the Green River was crossed by a high viaduct, eliminating Weston and the old Weston Loop, which had been used to gain elevation while maintaining a 2.2 percent grade.
Eagle Gorge, later known as the largest logging railroad hub on the upper Green River, began in the early 1880s as a construction camp on the Northern Pacific. It was headquarters for not only contractor's crews working to grub, grade and lay the high iron, but also for the Northern Pacific's engineers overseeing the work.
Some of the reasons for the names of these small hamlets lie within the realm of conjecture. Green River Hot Springs, home to a large sanatorium at the turn of the century, began as Kendon, a name bestowed upon it by the Northern Pacific in 1886. Baldi began life as Garibaldi, the Italian patriot, perhaps in deference to the many Italian immigrants who worked in the Northern Pacific’s section gangs. Others had names that, if not shortened by residents, were changed, through no formal process but time and custom.
Humphrey began life as Canton. Tacoma Public Library’s Washington Place Name Database states, “The place was named Canton in 1891 by the Northern Pacific Railway for hundreds of Cantonese laborers who were employed to build the Stampede railroad switchbacks and later the Cascade tunnel. In July, 1908, the railway changed the name to its present form, for William E. Humphrey of Seattle, a U.S. Congressman who also served eight years on the Federal Trade Commission.”
The origin of Lester's name is less clear. The popular conception of the naming of the town is that it began life as for local loggers by the name of Deans, but that it was later changed to Lester in honor of Northern Pacific telegraph operator Lester Hansacker. The Northern Pacific's telegraphic call letters for Lester, “Dm,” perhaps for "Dean's mill," seem to support this. But Harvey E. Dean began the Dean Lumber and Mercantile Company (with Elmer G. Morgan) at nearby Hot Springs in 1893, not at Lester. To confuse the issue further, the Northern Pacific began building a shop and yard at Lester almost simultaneously, and perhaps in advance of, Dean’s incorporation.
Like the towns and their names, the people of these tiny hamlets were transitory as well. A survey of R. L. Polk & Company's Oregon, Washington and Alaska Gazetteer and Business Directory from its 1907-08 edition to its 1921-22 edition showed dramatic fluctuations in the population on the upper Green River.
Eagle Gorge was home to 150 people in 1907-08, replete with two lumber companies. H. B. Young, an Northern Pacific telegraph operator, was earning some extra income as postmaster. Circa 1913-14 both the Gale Creek and Page lumber companies were still going strong in Eagle Gorge. They were joined by a third, the Green River. The town's population, however, was down to 100 and the post office had been discontinued. Things were looking up for Eagle Gorge in 1917-18. The population had blossomed to 400. The Bear Creek Lumber Co., successor to Gale Creek, had moved onto Bear Creek, changing their name in the process. The Green River and Page lumber companies were both still active in the town. Mrs. H. E. McDaniels served as postmaster. The final year surveyed from Polk's, 1921-22, indicated another decline in the town's fortunes. The population was down to 250 and Page Lumber Company was the only mill left in business. Another telegraph operator, 47-year-old ex-New Yorker named George A. Fenner, who had been in Washington ten years, served as postmaster.
Hot Springs, circa 1907-08, was home to 225, with two doctors, Clayton Bartlett and J. S. Kloeber (who was also postmaster). Manufacturing was represented by Harvey Dean's mill and Fred W. Kloeber, a fence post contractor. The town was suffering by 1913-14. Its population was but 65, and no businesses were mentioned. It appears as though that in the intervening years the sanatorium had burned down. By 1917-18, the town had virtually vanished, and was listed in Polk’s simply as “Discontinued Post Office.”
Lester, according to Polk’s for 1907-08, had a population of 250. Mrs. J. A. Smith kept a hotel, Anderson and Nelson a dairy business, and Elmer G. Morgan ran the Morgan Lumber Company, a general merchandise store, and also served as postmaster. In the 1913-14 directory the population had risen to 300. Morgan was still in charge of the general store and post office, and Mrs. Smith running her hotel, but Anderson and Nelson had vanished from the picture, as had Morgan's mill. About three years later, in the 1917-18 period, the population had dropped to a mere 100. The hotel was in the hands of 50-year-old Irish émigré Catherine Overton, Anderson and Ingalls were selling meats in town, with Morgan still running the store and post office. Finally, in the 1921-22 directory, Lester was shown as having a population of 400, but no businesses were listed for the town.
Only one town on the upper Green River managed to escape this rise and fall, a place with the somewhat whimsically inspired name of “Nagrom.”
Nagrom first appeared in Polk's Directory in 1913-14, with the entry, “Post Office started 1911, telephone and telegraph.” By the 1917-18, Polk’s pegged the population at 400. I. B. Shoemaker was the first doctor listed on the upper Green River since the Hot Springs sanatorium burned down. Nagrom’s chief employer was the Morgan Lumber Company, which also operated a mill and a general merchandise store. Robert W. Hallam, secretary of the lumber company, served as postmaster. By 1921-22, the population had crept upward, with an estimated 450 residents.
The Powers That Be
The upper Green River Valley is located on the west slope of the Northern Cascade Range in King County, its western end approximately 43 miles east of Tacoma. This valley surrounded on three sides by relatively high mountains, forms a basin of approximately 148,000 acres. The valley is seven to 12 miles wide and about 20 miles long. Elevation ranges from 900 feet at the City of Tacoma water intake at the west end [near Kanaskat] to 5700 feet at Pyramid Peak.
The first powerful organization to operate in the area was the Northern Pacific Railroad. Seeking tidewater at Tacoma, it worked to pierce the Cascades in the late 1880s. Working west from Pasco, its contractors and crews tunneled under Stampede Pass and descended into western Washington along the banks of the Green River. To support this project, the forests of the upper Green River valley been cut down to supply the railroad's construction. In the middle 1880s there were at least 100 miles of main line to be built from Cascade Junction in the west to North Yakima in the east. Each mile of right-of-way consumed more than 2,000 ties. This was exclusive of sidings, spurs, a switchback atop Stampede Pass, a branch to the Roslyn coal fields, depots, enginehouses, water tanks, trestles, tunnel lining, cribbing, snowsheds, and an endless list of ancillary buildings. A huge volume of timber was removed from the adjacent slopes, so much so that at one point the work had to be stopped for lack of construction materials. The Northern Pacific’s arrival opened the virgin timberlands for commercial logging.
Federal government, in the form of the fledgling U.S. Forest Service, became the next great power in the upper Green River valley. The General Land Law Revision Act, passed by Congress in 1891, contained a provision allowing the President to withdraw forest reserves from the unreserved public domain. More than 13 million acres were designated forest reserves by President Benjamin Harrison, including 2,250,000 acres for Washington's Pacific Forest Reserve, created in 1893. The purpose of the legislation was to close the reserves from wanton settlement and development, a design which ultimately failed.
Grover Cleveland's response to western disregard of the intent of the Act was to establish 13 new reserves in 1897. He set aside more than 21 million acres, including eight million in Washington. This created the Washington Forest Reserve in the northern Cascades, and the Mt. Rainier Forest Reserve (which included the Pacific Reserve) in the southern Cascades.
Cleveland, a Democrat, maneuvered boldly in the face of public outcry in what were then Republican strongholds. He could not maintain his position for long, and before the year was up the Organic Act settled the issue. It was an about face from the intentions of the General Land Law Revision Act of 1893, and permitted mining, agriculture and timber cutting on land in reserves deemed suitable for such purposes.
William McKinley gave Special Agent Gifford Pinchot the job of setting up an administrative plan for the reserves. From their creation until 1905, the reserves were administered by the Department of the Interior's Division of Forestry. After 1905 they were transferred to the Department of Agriculture's Forest Service. Three years later Pinchot set up district offices with one staff member apiece. (This terminology was changed to region at a later date in order to avoid its being confused with ranger districts). The office for Region Six, serving the far northwest, opened in Portland, Oregon, in 1908. The same year the Washington Forest Reserve was split in two, with the Washington National Forest as the northern portion, and the Snoqualmie National Forest, extending from the Skagit to the Green River, as the southern portion.
According to U.S. Forest Service histories, “The Snoqualmie National Forest started out with five districts, but by 1910 the Green and Snoqualmie River drainages were combined, making a total of four by 1910. They were Darrington, Silverton (later Monte Cristo), Skykomish and Lester (later North Bend). Headquarters were at the respective towns.”
The actions of the Federal government – the Northern Pacific’s great 44 million acre land grant of 1864, and the subsequent establishments of forest reserves, established the Northern Pacific and the U.S. Forest Service as the largest land owners and the first policy makers in the upper Green River valley.
The dense temperate rain forest which characterizes the western slope of the Cascades was heavily damaged in the upper Green River valley even before the arrival of the Northern Pacific. What the railroad had not turned into ties, Mother Nature burned. According to the Forest Service’s Rand Kapral, reports indicate the area had burned around 1309, 1543, and 1709. “Approximately 18 [percent] of the drainage was the victim of a fire in 1867. . . . A well-documented fire burned the Upper Green in 1902. This was a fire or series of fires caused by the railroad. About 30,000 acres burned as a result.” Despite the Northern Pacific and Mother Nature, there was still billions, if not trillions, of board feet remaining. Testaments to the sheer size of those early Cascade forests were virgin trees large enough to carve a room in. There was timber left to cut in the upper Green River valley and E. G. Morgan was going to cut it all.
Elmer G. Morgan was born in Illinois and was about 21 years old when he arrived in Washington Territory in 1887. His first recorded adventure as a timber merchant began on March 25, 1893, when he, Harvey Dean and I. G. McCain “voluntarily associated ourselves together for the purpose of forming a corporation under the laws of the State of Washington.”
The three Hot Springs residents founded the Dean Lumber and Mercantile Company. Dean Lumber and Mercantile’s stated purpose was to “carry on a general saw milling business at Hot Springs in King County; to buy, sell and manufacture all kinds of finished and rough lumber and to manufacture and generally to sell and deal in all kinds of finished mill work, doors, windows, sash and all classes of manufactured wood ware; to make, buy and sell and generally deal in shingles; to own, deal in, buy and sell all kinds and manner of goods, wares and merchandise, and to keep, own and operate retail and other stores in connection therewith, and to buy, own, sell and deal in logs, timber and generally do a milling and mercantile business.” Their $12,000 capital was divided into 240 shares at a par value of $50 per share.
When they increased their stock from $12,000 to $18,000 just six months later it revealed just how much the young Morgan had at risk. He, Harvey Dean and W. M. Dean held the majority of the stock, 240 shares split three ways, with I. G. McCain holding a mere two shares. For the 27 year old Morgan it was a $6,000 dollar investment.
This association must have gone well enough, for in 1896 Morgan and Dean, along with L. J. Pentecost of Tacoma, formed the Dean Lumber Company. The company was capitalized with $24,000 in 240 $100 shares. The new company would not only run a mill and general store, but was to “purchase in fee or by lease and to hold, sell and lease all such real estate, including timber lands as may be reasonably necessary for fully carrying out the purposes herein expressed." The mill operators had become land owners.
It is likely that Morgan's first venture had cut all the available timber within easy reach of their mill at Hot Springs mill, then shut down. The Dean Lumber Company moved west, starting its new mill at Maywood, 5.2 miles west of Hot Springs, 7.2 miles west of Lester.
A move to the east was likely blocked by Harry Eyer, R. H. Notley, J. F. Saudey and G. W. Foss, of Lester. These men pooled $4,000 in 1895, forming the Lester Shingle Company. They were no doubt hard at work cutting everything they could get their hands on. The shingle company followed part of the now established pattern in its articles of incorporation, declaring itself founded to carry out general lumbering and run a general store, but added the twist “drive logs, build railroads, buy and sell timber lands, and transact such other business as shall in any way pertain to the purposes of said Corporation as herein specified.” Whether they succeeded as railroad builders is not recorded, but they were the first in the valley to aim for it, and many would follow in their tracks over the years to come.
The Gay Nineties were pivotal for Morgan. In 1893 he was about 33 years old, had met and married his wife Edith, a Canadian émigré who had arrived in Washington in 1890, and begun a family. At least two sons, Charles E. (born in 1893) and Elmer Jr. (born in 1895) would go into the lumber business with him. He and his associates had also prospered where far larger concerns had failed. The Northern Pacific Railroad lapsed into its second and final bankruptcy in August, 1893, and would not emerge from receivership until 1896 as the Northern Pacific Railway. In the last year of the 1800s, E. G. Morgan came into his own.
While still acting as secretary for Dean Lumber he founded his own Morgan Lumber Company on March 26, 1899, “to carry on a general saw milling business near Lester.” His partners in the new venture were E. A. Boatman, Harry Eyer, John Lindberg and G. Lindberg. The five men divided 240 shares valued at $50 each. Given the inclusion of Harry Eyer of the old Lester Shingle Company, and the disappearance of Harvey Dean and his mill after the turn of the century, Morgan appears to be the sole mill operator east of Eagle Gorge, having outlasted or co-opted all other forces in the far reaches of the upper valley.
Three years later, on December 27, 1901, the shareholders of the company voted to increase the capital stock from 240 shares to 400 shares, maintaining the $50 per share par value. Since 1899, they had nearly doubled the value of their investment.
For the next decade the company grew and prospered, besting the short records of both Dean and the Lester Shingle Company, and undergoing a dramatic change in ownership. The only original shareholder remaining by 1911 was Morgan himself. Wilber W. Clabaugh now served as vice president of the company; he was also notary public in Lester. Twenty-six-year-old Robert W. Hallam, a naturalized Briton, served as secretary. W. E. Jones and 46-year-old Edward Hocking, like Morgan himself also from Illinois, served as trustees. Hocking also ran the company's mercantile store. Both Hallam and Hocking had been in Washington since 1890, nearly as long as Morgan. That year the five men voted to increase their 400 shares of stock to 1,500, with a par value of $100. The Morgan Lumber Company, begun with $12,000, was now worth $150,000, at least on paper.
By 1911 they had cut everything at Friday Creek, then Maywood, and were on the move again. Securing merchantable timber from the giant Weyerhaeuser holdings, the Morgan Lumber Company prepared to build a new mill in the woods a mile or so from Maywood, 5.7 miles west of Lester. For the lumber company it would be a pivotal year, for the 45-year-old Morgan it would be his last mill.
The First District
The Northern Pacific completed its Cascade Branch from Pasco to Tacoma via Stampede Pass in 1888. The line had been separated into two divisions by 1911. The eastern approach, from Pasco to Ellensburg, was part of the Pasco Division, headquartered at that city. The western approach, from Auburn to Ellensburg, was part of the Seattle Division, headquartered at Seattle. The superintendent of the Seattle Division in 1910 was F. E. Weymouth, in 1911 it became John E. Craver. The chief dispatcher was H. M. Moran. At the Northern Pacific Headquarters Building on Pacific Avenue in Tacoma were Bert E. Palmer and then Ira B. Richards, serving in turn as General Superintendent, Lines West of Paradise, Montana. Henry Blakeley was the company's General Western Freight Agent and Benjamin L. Crosby was the division engineer.
The First District of the Seattle Division was 105.4 miles of main line with train order stations at Bristol, Nelson's, Upham, Martin, Stampede, Borup, Weston, Maywood, Humphrey, and Palmer Junction. In addition, there were agencies at Ellensburg (Agent J. Y. Edwards), Thorp (George P. Mounce), Cle Elum (E. H. Gillett), Easton (I. C. Lamb), Lester (E. E. Kirwin), Eagle Gorge (H. E. McDaniel), Kanaskat (O. D. Finch) Ravensdale (George H. Worley), Covington (J. A. Schmirier) and Auburn (John W. McKee). Train order stations existed to control the movements of trains, agencies not only functioned as train order stations, but sold passenger tickets and helped local businesses with freight.
All of these individuals helped to shape and guide the Northern Pacific through the early part of the 1900s. Their decisions and actions influenced the lives of Washington's residents and businesses in ways both small and large. Their interactions with the Morgan Lumber Company concerned the building of just one spur, on one district, on one division of the Northern Pacific. The result was a town of 450.
Spelled in Reverse
Spring, 1910, found Morgan’s forces nearly finished cutting the available timber at Maywood. Their next site had already been selected. For this, Morgan had arranged a lease of Weyerhaeuser timber lands, and also looked to cut from National Forest stock. The site for his new mill had also been selected. All that remained was gaining access to the outside world.
In the days before the Civilian Conservation Corps came to Stampede Pass, the main street of the logging towns was not a road but a railroad, the Northern Pacific. Access for Morgan, to get new equipment and ship his finished lumber, meant a railroad spur. To get this, he wrote the superintendent of the Seattle Division.
March 21, 1910
F. E. Weymouth, N.P. Seattle Division Superintendent, Seattle
This year will finish our saw mill operations at this location and we have planned to move to a point about one mile East of Maywood Station. We have about one hundred million feet of timber bought and paid for at that location with a prospect of as much more as soon as Government titles are established.
We will put in a modern Plant with much greater capacity than our present one and we ask you for a spur on the North side leading from your main line near your “one mile to Maywood” board. We will want trackage facilities that will give us a chance to handle our product advantageously and submit herewith a pencil sketch of about what is required aggregating about 2470 ft. with three switches.
This location is on straight track where there is almost no grade and so far as we can see is free from objectionable features.
As we have an immense amount of work to do there in construction of buildings and logging roads we ask that this application be acted on at the earliest possible date as we should by all means have the track so we can use it not later than June 1st.
Weymouth replied on March 28, urging Morgan to find a new location, or at least agree to a spur running from the Maywood siding. Morgan went out of his way to dissuade Weymouth of this. He sent the superintendent a reply on March 30.
“We see no way to continue operating without the spur in the location we ask for. Mill locations cannot be made without some geographical advantages and the site selected is the only one in that part of the Country on account of the lay of the land which makes a large pond possible.
“This site is leased by us from the Weyerhaeuser Timber Co. who in years to come expect to use the same site to cut their immense timber holdings North of and tributary to this site and your road. Our lease from them is executed in such a way that we deliver the site back to them for such uses after a term of years unless we ourselves can handle their holdings. We explain all this simply that you may see something of the importance of the location.
“It is safe to say that the revenues to your road from this location will run into the millions of dollars. Your suggestion that we connect with the Maywood Siding would be practically impossible as it means a long cut through a bad raise of ground and the bridging of Smay [C]reek. A suggestion for us to undertake such a piece of work is just about equal to an invitation to retire from business.”
The letter, clearly aimed at getting Weymouth's attention, worked. It was forwarded to Division Engineer Palmer on April 5, along with a note which read in part, “It would certainly seem to me that we should get the track connections coupled up to siding in preference to attaching to main line, even if the Railway Company was obliged to bear part of the expense.”
However, Palmer would not be put off. He sent Weymouth his reply on April 11.
“It would be perhaps best to go over the whole matter again with Mr. Morgan, and see if it is not possible for him to change his views as to connecting with our existing tracks at Maywood. It should be explained to Mr. Morgan that this is not something that has only recently come up, but we have consistently refused to cut our main line at various points in the Green River canyon. After you have gone into this farther, to have it definitely understood by Mr. Morgan that we cannot make this connection and he still insists, suggest your return the papers for further consideration, although I would be careful to give Mr. Morgan no assurance that the track would be built.”
Apparently, Weymouth failed in this assignment. By July Morgan had taken the train down to Tacoma, appearing in person before General Superintendent Palmer to argue his case. It was apparently an effective presentation, for Palmer relented, agreeing to put in a new connection six thousand feet east of the east switch at Maywood as soon as Morgan’s existing connection was removed. This was not much of a gain since Morgan would likely have abandoned it after the move.
With the course of action now settled, the matter was sent back to Division Engineer Crosby, whose task was to with determine the cost. His estimate, dated December 9, called for 4,408 feet of new track, and included every possible item and every possible cost associated with purchasing, building, shipping or removing that item.
Some of these included: clearing two acres at a cost of $100; 2,250 cubic yards of grading for $675; moving four telephone poles for $30; raising two telephone poles at $8 in material and $15 in labor; a set of Number 11 switch ties for $36.65; four sets of Number 9 switch ties for $130; 2,092 second-hand cross ties at .31 cents each, or $648.52 total; a 90-foot pile bridge, which included freight on 113.4 tons track metal from St. Paul at $5.55 per ton, or $629.37 for shipping; 27 kegs track spikes, $4 each for $108 total; one switch lamp, lock and chain at $5.40; laying out and surfacing 4,408 feet of track for $440.80; placing six switches for $150; two sets cattle guards for $6. The cost of the spur would be split in half, with Morgan paying $3,477.50 and the Northern Pacific paying $3,475.67, the entire project costing $6,953.17.
On December 30, 1910, Morgan sent off a note on what he regarded as the time line for opening the spur and mill the following year. “We would like to start active operations on the Mill site near Smay Creek on March 1st next. Weather conditions will have something to do with the work but we think it will not be much later than March 1st. We would be please to have arrangements made so that we can know just where you have located the tracks and so that we can commence work on the grading as early as the weather will permit.” This would prove to be very wishful thinking.
Nearly a month later the Northern Pacific finally took its first formal action on the entire matter. The Superintendent of the Seattle Division filed a Requisition for Authority for Expenditure. The request was the first step to getting the purse strings in St. Paul loosened. It would grant approval of money for a physical plant improvement. The end product of this process was the Authority for Expenditure, which authorized the outlay of funds for any given project, large or small.
In submitting the request, the superintendent was allowed to summarize the reason for the request. The author usually did his best to play up the potential benefits of the project. On January 20, Weymouth wrote, “[The Morgan Lumber Co.] expect to connect their logging road with our tracks and procure the logs from the woods in the vicinity, cutting them up at this point and shipping the finished product over our line. They expect to get out about 50 cars of lumber per month, 25 of which will move via Billings . . . and 25 via Minnesota Transfer.”
It was this latter item that probably cinched the deal. The Northern Pacific would make a dollar in switching fees for every car delivered and every car shipped, a sum which would have paid for the improvement in about three years. If Morgan could indeed ship 25 cars a month each to Billings and the Minnesota Transfer in St. Paul, the spur would be money in the bank. A single car to billings represented a haul over half the Northern Pacific system, a car to St. Paul rode the whole of the Northern Pacific. As an entire train in those days was scarcely more than 30 cars and any freight going as far as Spokane was considered long-haul, the Morgan Lumber Company could be thought of as a fairly good customer. St. Paul's approval was not long in coming.
On February 16 the Seattle Division's new Superintendent John E Craver wrote Morgan of the approval. Two days later Morgan responded. Though weather conditions would be unfavorable for at least a month more, it was apparent he was anxious to start the work. “As soon as we can get permission from your Company we will commence grading for the Maywood Mill Spur. We hope to be able to commence this work in March and be ready for the connection you speak of about May 1st.”
As usual, his estimate of the time the project would take was far from the mark. Only in early July was the grade anywhere near readiness. Access to the spur was still blocked by low telegraph lines. He relayed this last item to Craver, who forwarded it Pacific Telephone and Telegraph. To speed the process, Morgan volunteered the two extra-height poles required to lift the lines over the track.
Another week crept by before Morgan was ready. Then, on July 24, he made his next move. The Northern Pacific’s agent at Lester informed Craver that the “Morgan Lbr. Co. has deposited six hundred dollars here account side-track guarantee at Maywood and all material is on ground ready for track laying on Wednesday. Telephone [C]ompany has not yet received their poles. Mr. Morgan asks that they be hurried up also wants assurance that track laying will not be delayed.”
Money had the right effect. Eighteen months of correspondence would go by the wayside in the next two weeks. The day after receiving word of the deposit, Craver telegraphed Roadmaster Charles Sauriol at Lester that the Northern Pacific now had “deposit in hand for Morgan Spur near Maywood. Rush the work.” Two days after this, Sauriol, with all of the material to support the construction of a mile of railroad, was on the move. He telegraphed Craver “Am putting Morgan Mill switch east of Maywood today. Morgan people can get no benefit of track until telephone people raise wires over siding, long poles are now on ground, please advise.”
July 29, 1911, saw the completion of the spur. Sauriol wired, “New spur for Morgan Lbr. Co. one mile east of East switch at Maywood has a lighted switch lamp on it, please bulletin, Spur can not be used until telephone wires are raised. Sauriol.” Craver sent this on to Chief Dispatcher H. M. Moran. It went out to road crews as Bulletin 550, warning the rails were in but the wires were low.
Bulletin 550 remained in place barely a week, until Sauriol sent word to Seattle on August 3. “Wires over Morgan's Spur 1 mile east of Maywood have been raised order 550 of July 29th can be canceled.” Across the top of the telegraph Moran scrawled “Bulletin 550 annulled.” Sauriol wired the next day, reporting his progress. “Morgan's Spur one mile east of Maywood is in service for 500 feet from main line only.” There were only 3,908 feet to go. The roadmaster covered this distance in less than a week, laying about 800 feet of track a day. Finally, on August 9, it was done.
“TO ALL CONCERNED:
Connection with the logging tracks of the Morgan Lumber Company has been put in at a point 4,000 feet west, time card direction, of mile post 67, main line, First District, or mile post 67.8 from Ellensburg. Track opens at the west end and is now ready for use. This will be known as ‘NAGROM’ and will be a [less than car load] point as well as [car load]. Be governed accordingly.”
“The name was devised by the division superintendent of Northern Pacific Railway,” wrote the University of Washington’s Edmond Meany in his history of Washington state place names, “and is Morgan, spelled in reverse. It was for E. G. Morgan, president of the Morgan Lumber Company which operated a sawmill there.” Nearly a century later, there is no debate over whom Nagrom was named for.
The Three C's, the Rise of the Truck Loggers, and the City of Tacoma
For the next 13 years the Morgan Lumber Company operated its mill at Nagrom. Then, in 1924, after a quarter-century heading the company, Morgan closed its doors. The reasons for it remain lost to the individuals that knew them; perhaps Morgan was ready to retire to sunnier climes and an easier life. It could be that the boom and bust cycles of logging finally caught up with him. Timber prices had climbed dramatically during World War One and fallen just as fast after the Armistice. Even the giant Weyerhaeuser was operating in the red by 1920.
The sharp recession of 1921-22 cannot have helped the situation. Regardless of the reasons behind the end of the Morgan Lumber Company, the mill and the town went on. Shortly after the closure, the Howe-McGibbon Timber Company was operating the same mill and the same logging railroad Morgan had left behind. This was the rule, not the exception, in logging in the upper Green River valley.
The years after World War One brought dramatic changes to the upper valley. Those with the greatest impact were all brought about by the actions of the Federal government. During World War One, troubles in the woods wreaked such havoc on the lumber industry that the U.S. Army, in the form of the Spruce Production Division, was sent into the woods to ensure a steady supply of material for beleaguered factories. The Spruce Production Division created a revolution in Northwest logging. The introduction of soldiers in the division, according to U.S. Forest Service sources, “saw the passing of railroads to the use of logging trucks which had become the common method of transport by the 1930s.”
Truck logging, however, required roads, something the upper valley was noticeably lacking in. Work programs of the Great Depression changed that. Created by Congress on March 31, 1933, the Civilian Conservation Corps gave work to men between the ages of 15 and 24 and paid them $30 per month. The U.S. Forest Service chose and oversaw the jobs and ran the camps, while the U.S. Army clothed, fed and housed by the men.
The Civilian Conservation Corps established Camp 1745 at Friday Creek in the North Bend Ranger District. Located just east of Lester, the men of the camp built the first real road net in the upper valley. C. J. Conover of the U.S. Forest Service summarized this work in 1942, writing, “Roads from Martin via Stampede Pass to Lester and down to Baldi and from the forks near Friday Creek to the Greenwater via Twin Camps. Also from Twin Camps nearly to Green Pass via Pyramid and spurs to the west and north around Kelly Butte. This was probably the most important work done, making the country accessible by road for the first time. A small ‘side camp’ at Twin Camps was built for work near there . . . 56 miles of telephone line was built along the roads. Snags were felled on 30 miles of fire breaks around Lester, 24 bridges were built at Humphrey, Meadow Mountain, and Stampede. Fourteen other buildings were constructed, including the fire warehouse on the lot leased from the Northern Pacific at Lester . . . . The company moved to Speelyl Creek on October 16, 1934, and the camp was abandoned.”
Though disbanded in 1942, the Corps had irrevocably changed the face of the upper Green River valley, moving it from an isolated outpost to an accessible National Forest. Not only loggers, but people in seeking outdoor recreation would take advantage of their work. It would lead to heated disputes between several jurisdictions with different priorities and missions in the years to come.
In the meantime, the Corps’ had opened the upper valley to truck loggers. “During the war years and following,” wrote W. R. Clevinger in a study of logging in Washington’s Cascades, “there was an increase in the number of small logging enterprises in the Cascades. These independent loggers, called ‘gyppo loggers,’ could afford to purchase small tracts of timber in the high country that the larger operators could not profitably extract. They were able to successfully bid on damaged timber on state or National Forest lands and to log old cut over areas to remove marketable snags, windfall, etc. The era of big, semi-permanent company camps gave way to the more independent contract loggers that operate throughout the National Forests today.”
Finally, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built Howard Hanson Dam at Eagle Gorge. This project had huge repercussions up and down the valley of the Green River. In the lower valley it made areas like Kent and Tukwila safe from flooding, and thus ripe for development. In the upper valley the dam’s backwaters inundated Eagle Gorge and Baldi. It also began the City of Tacoma's movement to restrict access through land acquisition along the valley floor.
Tacoma filed for water rights on the Green River in 1910, completing a dam and intake in the vicinity of Kanaskat shortly thereafter. From this point on Tacoma’s official policy was one of limited access. This was not always an easy chore with whole towns located in the Green River watershed, but it was not impossible given the limited access points prior to the arrival of Civilian Conservation Corps.
The exclusion policy took the form of gates at key access points, a practice which was hotly contested by watershed residents and King County. After a series of court battles, Tacoma proceeded along court guidelines and began to purchase land along the river itself. Small landowners were bought out and moved. It came to a dramatic conclusion with the purchase of nearly all of the Lester town site from the Northern Pacific Railway in 1967.
Where larger landowners were concerned, Tacoma entered into cooperative agreements which restricted access to all but appropriate personnel. This arrangement worked well enough for entities such as the Northern Pacific and the large timber companies owning lands in the area, as well as the U.S. Forest Service, at least from 1914 to 1964. In that later year, the U.S. Forest Service's mission was changed to require that all of its lands be open for multiple uses, including recreation. From 1964 to 1984 the Forest Service moved on with what was in truth a tacit approval of the status quo ante, when finally a new Memorandum of Understanding was arranged with the City and the watershed to the west of Lester was closed again.
Author: John A. Phillips, III. Title: Spelled In Reverse. E. G. Morgan and a Town called Nagrom.
© March 20, 2002