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August 18, 2016 – August 24, 2016

Fires Down Below

On August 24, 1894, fire broke out in a coal mine at Franklin, southeast of Black Diamond. The men working below rushed to the main shaft, desperate to escape the smoke and flames. Some made it out, others didn't. In the end, 37 miners suffocated in King County's worst coal-mining disaster, second only in the state to an explosion and fire in the Roslyn mines that killed 45 men two years earlier.

King County's first coal mine was established near Renton in 1853. Ten years later, larger and more accessible deposits were discovered in Newcastle. Rail lines were built to transport coal to Seattle and beyond, and by 1875 coal mining had superseded logging as the county's main industry. Farther inland, more coal was discovered, which led to greater development of towns like Issaquah, Bayne, Durham, Elk Coal, and various communities in east Pierce County.

But the increase in production came with a price. Fires and explosions took the lives of many workers. Four died in Newcastle in 1894. Eleven died in McKay in 1902. Seven died in Black Diamond in 1907. Ten died in Roslyn in 1909. Sixteen died in Black Diamond in 1910. Thirty-one died in Ravensdale in 1915. And countless others died alone in accidents deep down in the dark where the sun doesn't shine.

Watching Bellevue Grow

Bellevue Square -- the first regional suburban shopping center in the Pacific Northwest -- opened 70 years ago this week on August 20, 1946, and the timing could not have been better. Home sales were skyrocketing in Bellevue, and thousands of new families needed a place to shop. Tolls were still being charged to cross the floating bridge to Seattle, which made buying from local retailers all the more attractive to a community transitioning from a small town to a suburban city.

As Bellevue grew so did its neighboring communities, two of which celebrate birthdays this week. On August 19, 1955, Medina was incorporated, in order to stave off annexation by Bellevue and maintain some autonomy. Three days later, Hunts Point followed suit for the same reasons. Both communities were once home to berry farms and orchards, but are now two of King County's most affluent residential areas.

News Then, History Now

Naming Rights: On August 20, 1845, Governor George Abernethy signed the Oregon Provisional Legislature act that created Vancouver District in what is now southwest Washington. Later that year, Lewis County was formed from the western portion of Vancouver District, which then became Vancouver County. The Oregon territorial legislature later changed the name to Clark County, but after the county became part of newly formed Washington Territory in 1853 the name was spelled as "Clarke" County until corrected in 1925.

Sacred Rites: The first Christian religious service in Seattle occurred on August 22, 1852, when visiting Bishop Modeste Demers held Catholic Mass, supposedly in Henry Yesler's sawmill cookhouse. Although many local Native Americans, including Chief Seattle, had been baptized by Catholic missionaries, most of Seattle's first settlers were Protestant. Methodist missionaries David and Catharine Blaine arrived the following year and in 1855 built the town's first church.

Sherman's Stay: On August 21, 1886, General William Tecumseh Sherman -- one of the Union's most renowned military leaders -- arrived in Seattle for a five-day visit. This wasn't the first time that Sherman had been in the Northwest. In 1883, as one of his last acts as General of the Army, he inspected all of the forts in the West, including those in Washington, but this time the retired general was here for pleasure. While in Seattle he enjoyed a steamer tour of Lake Washington and Lake Union, and was the honored guest at a clambake held at Alki Point.

What Poets Say: One hundred and twenty years ago this week, on August 22-23, 1896, members of 22 women's clubs from around the state met to found the Washington State Federation of Women's Clubs, which adopted the popular poem "Four-Leaf Clover" by Bellingham poet Ella Higginson as its official song. Thirty-five years later, the federation named Higginson as Poet Laureate of Washington, making her the first to hold that honorary title.

Loggers' Defeat: During the summer of 1917, IWW members in Spokane led a statewide loggers' strike demanding an eight-hour workday and better working conditions. Throughout the state Wobblies were arrested, in many cases without due process of law. On August 19, 1917, things came to a head with a raid on the Spokane IWW office, the arrest of union leaders, and a declaration of martial law. Defeated, loggers returned to work in the fall, but kept up the fight.

Battling Pete: On August 22, 1957, Yakima Valley native and Olympic boxing champion Pete Rademacher fought for the world heavyweight championship at Sicks' Stadium in Seattle. It was Rademacher's first professional bout, which made it an unprecedented event in boxing history. Be sure to enjoy a video of the match, included in the essay.

Quote of the Week

Here, are the stiffening hills, here, the rich cargo
Congealed in the dark arteries,
Old veins
That hold Glamorgan's blood.
The midnight miner in the secret seams,
Limb, life, and bread.

                               --Mervyn Peake

Image of the Week

The Civilian Conservation Corps began building an observation tower on Mount Constitution, Orcas Island, in in August 1935.

Today in Washington History      RSS Feed

Due to construction of Lake Washington Ship Canal, Lake Washington is lowered 8.8 feet beginning on August 25, 1916, and the Black River disappears.

American Theater in Walla Walla opens on August 25, 1917.

Cecil B. DeMille makes a surprise appearance in Seattle on August 25, 1949.

Beatles play two concerts at Seattle Center Coliseum on August 25, 1966.

Queen Anne Branch, The Seattle Public Library, reopens after renovations on August 25, 2007.

New Essays This Week       RSS Feed

Otho Bell of Olympia and 20 other U.S. soldiers from the Korean War defect to China on February 24, 1954.

"Dok's Dippy Duck" debuts on February 10, 1915.

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