Fall City -- Thumbnail History

  • By Alan Stein
  • Posted 3/11/2013
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 10345
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Fall City, an unincorporated community in King County, is located about 30 miles east of Seattle along the Snoqualmie River a mile below Snoqualmie Falls. The community grew up around the landing spot at the point where the river was no longer passable, and expanded as a railroad and then the highway over Snoqualmie Pass reached the area. When the highway route later bypassed the town and the area's timber industry declined, Fall City developed into a bedroom community with a rural flavor and historic neighborhoods.

Early Days

For centuries, the Snoqualmie Tribe populated the upper and lower Snoqualmie River valleys, where salmon were plentiful. Tribe members believe that Snoqualm, or Moon the Transformer, created the world, and created Snoqualmie Falls as a fish trap where the salmon are prevented from swimming upstream. To them, the falls are sacred, as is also the site where Moon created the first man and the first woman.

In the 1850s, Snoqualmie Chief Patkanim (1815-1858) -- who earlier had been hostile toward Hudson's Bay Company representatives in the Puget Sound region -- welcomed Americans to the Snoqualmie valley. In 1855, Chief Patkanim ceded the valley and tribal sites to the United States, opening the way for homesteaders. The valley's first settler, Jeremiah Borst (1830-1890), made his home above the falls in 1858, and helped build the first road through Snoqualmie Pass.

In the lower valley, the Snoqualmie River was traversable by water only as far as its confluence with the Raging River, almost a mile below the falls. The spot became known as The Landing. In 1869, brothers Edward and George Boham, along with James Taylor (1838-1892), passed by on their way to hunt for gold in the Cascades, and thought The Landing would be a perfect spot to set up a trading post. They filed claims upon their return, and became the first settlers of what would later become Fall City.

Building a Community

Soon other homesteaders arrived and began clearing land to set up small subsistence farms. Building cabins was not a problem -- timber was plentiful. In 1872, the small but growing community got its own post office, located inside the Bohams' trading post. George Boham was named postmaster. Along with the post office, the community got a name -- Fall City, most likely due to its location near Snoqualmie Falls. It is unknown who selected the name, or why they didn't make the more obvious choice of "Falls City."

Beginning in 1873, new homesteaders were able to build homes out of milled lumber after Watson Allen opened a sawmill on nearby Tokul Creek. Soon, other logging operations opened up in the area, creating plentiful employment. Hop farming became popular, although an aphid infestation wiped out the hops industry in the 1890s, causing a shift to dairy, chicken, and orchard farming.

A Transportation Nexus

In 1885, a group of Seattle businessmen announced plans to build the Seattle, Lake Shore, & Eastern Railroad east from Seattle across Snoqualmie Pass. Jeremiah Borst, who had purchased the Bohams' claims in 1875, saw this as a perfect opportunity to benefit from his investment. In 1887, he and his wife Kate (1855-1938) filed a plat for the town of Fall City and waited for the railroad to arrive.

Two years later it did, but a half mile south of town. But that same year, King County built a bridge over the Snoqualmie River on the north edge of town at the end of Taylor Street (later the Preston-Fall City Road) and improved the road leading to the Fall City cemetery and the train depot beyond. Getting to and from Fall City became much easier than by riding a flatboat up the river.

Eventually, the railroad was only built as far east as North Bend, but it did bring plenty of tourists to the area on their way to see Snoqualmie Falls. In the 1920s, Fall City received a slight benefit from the construction of the Milwaukee Road rail line north of town, but by this time the auto age was in full swing. The Yellowstone Trail and later the Sunset Highway brought plenty of traffic through the sleepy little town, giving rise to the community's tourism industry through hotels, restaurants, and gas stations.


The first schools in Fall City were one-room buildings, but by 1900 there were enough children to necessitate the construction of a two-story schoolhouse. Within a decade, it too had become too small, and in 1915 work began on the Brick School located on the west end of town. The building served as both grade school and high school until after World War II, when Snoqualmie Valley schools were consolidated and Fall City teens began attending Mount Si High School in Snoqualmie.

Another big change came to the community in 1946, when U.S. Highway 10 (later I-90) was rerouted between Issaquah and North Bend, bypassing Fall City completely. The hit to the local economy as a result of fewer travelers driving through town came at a time when there was also less work to be found in the logging industry. But Fall City persevered, mostly as a bedroom community for people working in and around Seattle who preferred the tranquility of rural living.

Around Town

In 1944, Fall City readers got their first library, located in two rooms of the United Methodist Church. In 1957, local residents helped move and convert an old house into the town's new library. A new building was constructed in 1967. It was replaced in 1986 by a larger space in a former bank, and in 2008 a new 5,000-square-foot library was opened.

Beginning in the 1950s, Derby Days grew out of the annual Cub Scout soap box derby into a much-anticipated summer event filled with parades, dances, hydroplane races on the river, games, carnival rides, and more. In the 1970s the event's name was changed to Fall City Days, and it continues to attract large crowds every year.

Although Fall City has never incorporated, the town has still had to tackle issues related to infrastructure and growth, just like any city. In 1979, the Fall City Water District was created when the previous, privately-owned, water company could not meet the needs of the community. Of special concern was having enough water for fire protection. Fall City's Fire District 27 was created by voters in 1946, and has been volunteer-run ever since.

History Maintained

Fall City is home to many families who have lived in town for generations -- some tracing their roots back to the pioneer era. In 2002, the King County Landmarks Commission designated Jerry Borst's original 15-block plat (minus the business district along River and Taylor Streets) as a Historic Residential District. Within the district are 32 buildings that the commission named as representative of early twentieth-century rural character.

Fall City is also home to seven King County Landmarks -- the Fall City Hop Shed, the Prescott-Harshman House, Masonic Hall, the Neighbor-Bennett House, Raging River Bridge No.1008E, the McKibben-Corliss House, and the Charles and Minnie Moore House. Masonic Hall and the Neighbor-Bennett House are also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Sources: Ada S. Hill, A History of the Snoqualmie Valley (Snoqualmie: Snoqualmie Valley Historical Society, 1970); Margaret McKibben Corliss, Fall City in the Valley of the Moon (Fall City, 1972); Jack E. Kelley with Ruth Pickering, Jack's History of Fall City (Fall City, 2006); Preserving the Stories of Fall City (Fall City: Fall City Historical Society, 2010); "About Fall City Library," King County Library System website accessed July 15, 2016 (http://kcls.org/about-fall-city-library/).
Note: This essay was corrected on July 15, 2016.

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