Enumclaw Becomes a Town: 1879-1913

While neighboring settlements were developing on the Plateau, Johannes Mahler delivered a couple in his lumber wagon from Slaughter (Auburn) to a swampy place in the forest.

Enumclaw History Index


While neighboring settlements were developing on the Plateau, Johannes Mahler delivered a couple in his lumber wagon from Slaughter (Auburn) to a swampy place in the forest where the city of Enumclaw now sits.  English immigrant Frank Stevenson had worked as a coal miner from Pennsylvania to Iowa, where he met and married Canadian-born Mary Fell.  The couple moved on to California and then up to Washington in 1879, ten years before it became a state.

Frank built a one-room cabin behind what is now the city hall, and then set about clearing twenty acres of dense forest for farming.  At the time, fir and other trees were often burned and cedar was split for boards and shakes.  While Frank worked the land, Mary's chores included riding her horse on the trail to Osceola for the mail and to Wilkeson for supplies.  (Wilkeson was linked by rail to Tacoma, but was larger than the port city at the time.)  Mary crossed the White River at Boise Creek on James Johnson's ferry while her horse swam.

1884 was a good year.  Crops were successful and enabled Frank to build a more substantial house.  Two other Enumclaw pioneers, John Griffin and Arthur Blake arrived.  On October 1, five years after the Stevenson's arrival, Frank filed a radial plat for Enumclaw with the King County Auditor, although John Blake convinced him to amend it.  Concentric circles might have been appropriate for a medieval city like Paris, but they would have been impractical in a frontier town.1 

Stevenson saw his future as developing a town rather than as farming, and began by giving Mary's father a free lot to build a saloon and Blake and Griffin one for a general store. Then he built a hotel, catering to railroad personnel and newcomers needing a place to stay while they looked for property.  Later, the Stevensons also donated land for the school and the Presbyterian and  Catholic churches.

The Northern Pacific Railroad was planning a route through the area to connect eastern Washington with Tacoma, and competition among the settlements was strong to have a siding on the line where goods could be loaded and unloaded.  The Stevensons offered free land to the company, recognizing that a siding for freight promised a future that would more than pay for the property.  Their offer was accepted and their prediction was correct.  The siding and a trestle over the White River were built, and the link completed to the Northern Pacific's western terminus in Tacoma.  Now that the railroad connected Enumclaw with the rest of the country, both population and the business community expanded.  By 1887, the population of Enumclaw had grown from 2 to 218.2  (more on railroads later)

Washington entered the Union as the 42nd state on November 11, 1889. In that same year, Elijah Goss founded the White River and Shingle Company in Enumclaw at the site of the future Weyerhaeuser mill.  But in 1896, a fire destroyed the planing mill, and Goss sold out what was left to the Hansens, a Swedish immigrant family who already had other mills operating in the area. (more on logging later)

Many of the farmers in the Enumclaw area discovered that growing hops brought in sudden cash and lots of it.  Much of that money was spent in the growing town, encouraging more businesses to open.  But the bubble burst with an infestation of hop lice and collapsing prices in the worldwide Panic of 1893.  (A year later, the Improvement Company of Enumclaw closed its doors.)  Though a few hop farmers weathered the crisis, many switched to dairy, an agricultural mainstay that has remained to this day.  

In the mid 1890s, Enumclaw boasted two stores, two hotels, two saloons, a drug store, a meat market, a feed store, a blacksmith shop, and a livery stable. 

By the turn of the century, Enumclaw had a population 483, according to the first U.S. census here.3  In 1902, the Enumclaw Chamber of Commerce was founded, the same year that the Enumclaw Telephone System started, with seven subscribers.  But soon area farmers joined the cooperative, paying $3 a year for the line and supplying their own poles.  Anyone could listen in on others' calls, and often did, as this new technology linked isolated families around the Plateau.4

One outgrowth of agriculture in and around Enumclaw was the creation of cooperatives, for which the town soon became famous.  Farmers' Mutual Insurance Company, the Cooperative Creamery, the Berry Cooperative, and Rochdale Store are four early examples. (more on cooperatives later)

With the proliferation of other businesses in town, Enumclaw needed a bank and in the first decade of the 20th century, it got two, the State Bank of Enumclaw in 1904 and People's Bank six years later.5 (more on banks later)

In 1913, the townspeople voted on a proposal to incorporate as a city.  Buckley had taken this step seventeen years earlier while Enumclaw had rejected it more than once.  However, on January 27, the measure passed by a narrow margin, and thus we are celebrating our centennial now.



    1.  Nancy Irene Hall.  In the Shadow of the Mountain.  The Courier Publishing, Enumclaw, 1983, and republished by Heritage Quest Press, Orting, 2004. p. 47.

    2.  Nancy Irene Hall.  In the Shadow of the Mountain.  The Courier Publishing, Enumclaw, 1983, and republished by Heritage Quest Press, Orting, 2004. p. 205.

    3.  Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900.

    4.  Poppleton, There Is Only One Enumclaw. 1995. p. 34.

    5.  Banks in Enumclaw  "In days goneby, banking was local".  Wally's World.  Enumclaw Courier-Herald.  July 16, 2012.



The Histories of Enumclaw

Introduction--Enumclaw:  The First 6020 Years

Early Enumclaw:  6000 Years Ago to the Mid-1800s

Early Enumclaw:  The First European Americans Arrive

          The Adventures of Allen Porter's Wagon

Enumclaw's Early Plateau Neighbors

           Schools and Districts


           Enumclaw's Railroads

Enumclaw Becomes a Town:  1879-1913

          Enumclaw Cooperatives


          Historic Houses In and Around Enumclaw

Incorporation through World War II:  Enumclaw from 1913-1945

          Logging and Lumber

          Enumclaw's Affair with Alcohol and Tobacco

          Tom Smith, Enumclaw Town Marshall

Growth and Prosperity:  Enumclaw from 1945-2008

          History of the Garden

          Searching for a Town's Identity

Recent Past to the Present:  Enumclaw from 2008-2013

          A History of Banks in Enumclaw

          Enumclaw News Over the Years

          Picnics, Parades, Fairs, and Festivals

Enumclaw's Next Two Decades:  2013-2033

          The Limits of Growth

          Alternative Futures

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JT Fangio January 30, 2013 at 12:50 PM
John, This continues to be a great read. I look forward to reading each installment, while drinking my morning coffee, every Wednesday. A great way to start the day. Keep up the terrific work. JT Fangio
John Locatelli January 30, 2013 at 06:48 PM
Hi John--- I've been on practically every road in Enumclaw delivering flowers and it is really fun to find out the origin of some of the street names.
John Anderson January 30, 2013 at 07:52 PM
There are some interesting stories about street names in Enumclaw. According to Basil McHugh (Enumclaw city engineer from 1920-1935) in "Pioneer History of Enumclaw by the Progressive Women's Club" (1941), Wells Street was named because of the well up there with pure water, as compared to the swampy stuff two blocks downhill. Actually, it should have been called Well Street, since there was only one. Franklin Street was not named after Ben, but after Frank (Stevenson). And your street, home of Young's Flowers, was originally Coal Street, since it headed out to Coal Creek. But either somebody couldn't spell or liked the look of Cole Street better. Haven't yet seen a reason given. Anybody know?
John Locatelli February 01, 2013 at 06:38 PM
Hi John---the odd orientation of the original town (streets run SW-NE) as compared to the rest of the town (S-N) makes for interesting flowers deliveries. I assumed that this orientation was due to the direction the rainroad tracks ran. But----from your post it seems that the town was platted before the railroad was laid. Why then for the odd street orientation?
John Anderson February 01, 2013 at 07:31 PM
Can you imagine what delivering flowers would have been like had Frank Stevenson's original plat not been amended, at John Blake's bidding? His first plan had concentric circles for streets, with spokes radiating out from the town center. As far as the odd orientation goes, Frank gave free land to the railroad for a siding, and they accepted, so he knew where the railroad was going before it happened. BTW, some of the few Enumclaw students walked the railroad bed to Birch for school. You can do the same now on your bike. Here is what it looks like today: https://vimeo.com/28260942


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