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Monohon -- Thumbnail History

HistoryLink.org Essay 7780 : Printer-Friendly Format

Monohon was a mill town located in eastern King County on the southeastern shore of Lake Sammamish. The town was named after Martin Monohon, who homesteaded on the site in 1877. By 1911, Monohon had grown into a lively little community of 300 people. On June 26, 1925, the town was destroyed in a fire. This account of Monohon, prepared by Sammamish Heritage Society historian Phil Dougherty, is a reprint of his article, "The Mystique Of Once-Thriving Monohon" (Sammamish Review, August 20, 2003, p. 19), and appears here with the kind permission of the Sammamish Heritage Society.

The Town That Was

The town of Monohon was located in the vicinity of present-day East Lake Sammamish Parkway SE and SE 33rd Street, in the southern part of Sammamish, near the small Sammamish Lakeside Plaza strip mall. Although some early maps misspelled the town’s name as Monohan, the correct spelling was, in fact, Monohon. We know this because the town was named after Martin Monohon, who homesteaded 160 acres on the east side of Squak Lake (now Lake Sammamish) in 1877.

In 1889 the railroad completed a track along the eastern shore of what was still called Squak Lake. The Donnelly Mill moved its site from the town of Donnelly on the southwest shore of the lake (near today’s Timberlake Park) to Monohon, and a new company was established with the then-princely sum of $50,000. This new company was named the Allen & Nelson Mill Company, and the mill there would be Monohon’s anchor for the next 36 years.

Timber for Seattle and Alaska

Once the mill was up and running, logging operations along the eastern shore of Squak Lake (Lake Sammamish) quickly began in earnest. One of the mill’s first big jobs was to provide lumber for the city of Seattle to rebuild the downtown core that was destroyed in the Great Seattle Fire of June 6, 1889.

By the 1890s, Monohon was establishing an identity. After a small population boom in the early 1890s, growth slowed during the economic slump of the mid-1890s, but began growing again by the end of the decade as the mill’s business increased. Initially lumber sales were primary local. However, according to the article "Whatever Happened To Monohon?" by Eastside historian Eric Erickson, "by the approach of the turn of the century (1900) the mill’s lumber sales reached as far east as Minnesota and north to Alaska and the Yukon," undoubtedly fed by the gold rush to the Yukon and a year later, Alaska.

By 1906, there were 20 homes in Monohon. In 1906 the mill was sold to C. P. Bratnober, John E. Bratnober, and C. S. LaForge. The new owners kept the mill running under the old Allen & Nelson Mill Company name, however. Bratnober was a major player in the Seattle-area timber industry for at least the first few decades of the twentieth century. New machinery was installed in the mill, such as a modern water system for fire protection and a burner with wire-capped domes. The mill could cut timber at a capacity of 120,000 feet daily. A steam-fitted derrick was used for the largest logs. The loading track had the capacity of about 20 cars, and it was possible to have all 20 cars loaded at one time. Eventually the mill would come to own 120 acres of property along Lake Sammamish and up the hill. The adjoining land around Monohon was used for farming and for summer homes.

A Thriving Little Town

The sale of the mill to Bratnober was extremely beneficial for Monohon. In just a few years beginning in 1906, 30 more homes were built, which brought the number of residences to 50. Many homes were set close to the lakeshore, although houses built back in the hills going toward Pine Lake were also considered part of the community. By 1911 the town boasted a population of 300 and the town’s post office contained 125 letter boxes.

Monohon had other businesses in addition to the mill. The Butschke Bros. operated a wood-turning shop. The Monohon Canvas Boat and Canoe Manufacturing Company produced canvas boats and canoes, allegedly the only firm in the state of Washington to do so.

Monohon had a two-room schoolhouse with two teachers and an average attendance of 50 students. Church services were held in the schoolhouse on Sunday afternoons. Reverend Williston of the Methodist Church of Issaquah performed the service, probably coming to Monohon on horseback or perhaps by horse and buggy on what was then a narrow track of dirt road from Issaquah. (In the earliest years of the town, the road ran closer to the lake than East Lake Sammamish Parkway does today.) Or perhaps he took the train -- Monohon had a railroad depot. Eventually, a youth club called The Busy Bees helped construct a building for church services.

A Model Mill Town

As the first decade of the twentieth century drew to a close, Monohon continued to rapidly grow and to acquire more services. In 1908, a two-story, 36-foot-wide by 78-foot-long meeting hall was built for the Monohon Building Association. By the end of 1909, the mill had completed a new water system for the community -- a big deal in the days of well water and outhouses. The mill also built a 20-room hotel in Monohon called the Lake View Hotel.

Other amenities included a telegraph station, summer homes, and a dock used as a shipping point for lumber and dairy. History also records that the Lake View Club, a literary group, met in Monohon during this time. By this time, the town had so many attractive qualities that it earned the attention of an area magazine: The June 1909 issue of The Coast declared Monohon "a model mill town."

The mill was, of course, the major employer in Monohon. In "Whatever Happened To Monohon?" Erickson writes, "the 1910 census shows 94 employees working at the mill in jobs ranging from blacksmith, carpenter, car loader, engineer, filer, gagger, lather runner, lumber piler, sawyer, slab loader, teamster and the usual assortment of foremen, bosses and managers."

An interesting description of Monohon was published in the October 1911 edition of the R. L. Polk King County Directory:

"Population 300. A town on Lake Sammamish and Seattle division NPRy 38 miles by rail southeast of Seattle, [at the time there were no roads to connect Seattle to the eastern shores of Lake Sammamish] county seat and banking point, 4 miles north of Issaquah, express and telegraph station. Ships lumber and dairy products. Pac Tel & Tel Co. Mail daily. Allen and Nelson Mill Co; C. P. Bratnober Pres., C. S. LaForge Sec., saw and planing mill, loggers and general merchandise, Bennett Logging Co. LaForge, CS Postmaster. Monohon Canvas Boat & Canoe Manufacturing Company, Sunderhauf & Kingsbury Proprietors."

Growing and Diversifying

Monohon continued to grow during the 1910s, though the pace slowed a bit as the decade went on. By 1911 the Allen & Nelson Company was operating a pig raising operation in conjunction with its farm and barn. The Norwegian Club of Monohon had also formed by this time. And -- in a nod to the progressive labor movement that was particularly strong in Western Washington during the 1910s -- in March 1918, the Allen & Nelson Company started eight-hour workdays at the Monohon Mill. Before then, 10-hour days had been the norm.

By 1925, Monohon had about 60 homes. The town briefly made the news on March 11 of that year when King County sheriff officers, acting with a search warrant, raided a ranch located between Lake Sammamish and Pine Lake in search of moonshine whisky. In 1925, Prohibition was in effect in the United States, and it was illegal in this country to make or sell alcohol. Deputies found 50 gallons of moonshine whisky at the ranch, which was located between the present-day (2006) streets of SE 15th Place and SE 20th Place, and 196th Avenue SE and 203rd Avenue SE in Sammamish.

Monohon's Great Fire

Sadly, this story may have been one of Monohon’s last hurrahs. On June 26, 1925, the town was destroyed by a fire that started in a pile of sawdust in a restroom in the sawmill. All that remained in the community after the fire was a large steel sawdust burner and perhaps 10 company homes and the horse barn building. (Witnesses said the only reason those buildings survived was because of a last-second wind shift as the fire consumed Monohon.) Everything else -- mill buildings, Lake View Hotel, meeting hall, post office, railroad depot -- was burned. The only bright spot was that there were no fatalities or injuries in the fire.

The mill rebuilt, but the town never came back. There are a few maps and plat records from the 1930s and 1940s that reference a "New Monohon," but there was no new Monohon.

A year before the 1925 fire, the mill had changed its name to the Bratnober Lumber Company. Bratnober partially rebuilt the mill and resumed logging operations. But the mill’s bad luck continued. Only a couple of years after it reopened, the Great Depression struck. During the early 1930s, the national economic collapse forced the mill to close for three and a half years.

Later the mill was later sold to several different companies. It was repeatedly damaged by fires, including a noteworthy blaze in 1944 that destroyed the entire sawmill. After the last mill fire on the Monohon site in 1980, the mill was closed for good. All that remains of this once thriving community are about three or so Allen & Nelson mill homes that were spared by the 1925 fire.

Sources:
Clarence B. Bagley, History of King County, Washington, Vol. 1 (Seattle: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1929), 770-771; Eric Erickson, "Whatever Happened To Monohon?" Issaquah History Online website accessed May 19, 2006 (http://issaquahhistory.org); HistoryLink.org online encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Deputy Sheriffs Find Moonshine Whisky At A Ranch Near Pine Lake On March 11, 1925" (by Greg Lange), http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed May 19, 2006); Interviews of Eric Erickson by Phil Dougherty, Sammamish, Washington, June 2003.


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Lake Sammamish and Monohon, ca. 1910
Courtesy Sammamish Heritage Society


Monohon School, 1920
Courtesy Sammamish Heritage Society


Monohon station, 1910
Courtesy Sammamish Heritage Society


Roads east of Lake Sammamish, 1924
Detail from Automobile Club of Washington map, Courtesy Issaquah Historical Society


 
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