Fire partially destroys lumber mill at Monohon site on May 23, 1944.

  • By Phil Dougherty
  • Posted 8/24/2005
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7402
On May 23, 1944, fire destroys part of the Issaquah Lumber Company mill. It is located in eastern King County on the eastern shore of Lake Sammamish at the old Monohon site. One employee is injured from smoke inhalation and damage is estimated at $35,000.

After the disastrous 1925 fire that destroyed the first mill -- along with the town of Monohon -- a smaller mill was built in its place on the same site. The town of Monohon was never rebuilt, but the new mill was fully operational by 1928. It was located on the east shore of Lake Sammamish almost due west of where the Sammamish Plaza Shopping Center is today (2005), near the intersection of East Lake Sammamish Parkway and Southeast 33rd. The mill was closed from 1929 to 1933 because of the Great Depression, successfully operated under two different managers for the rest of the 1930s, then was briefly dismantled at the end of 1939.

In July 1940 the mill was purchased by Eric Erickson and Carl Pearson and renamed the Issaquah Lumber Company. (This was actually Issaquah Lumber Company number two, as the original Issaquah Lumber Company mill south of Issaquah had been destroyed by fire two months earlier.)

Activity at the mill increased after the United States entered World War II in December 1941. The mill added a night shift and employed women for the first time. The mill produced aircraft carrier decking and planks for building wooden barges.

The Issaquah Lumber Company was closed for repairs on Tuesday, May 23, 1944. Notwithstanding the close, a full crew of more than 20 men was on duty that morning, doing repair work on the head saw and operating the planer. Sometime during the late morning, fire broke out in the sawmill portion of the mill, under the head saw. The cause of the fire was never determined, though it may have been related to work or testing being done on the head saw.

The fire flared fast. Floyd Erickson, son of one of the mill's co-owners, was at the mill when it broke out. Floyd's son Eric says, "My father just had time to run to his car which was parked on the dock. As he drove off, the fire singed the paint on the back of his 1940 Ford Sedan" (interview).

The sawmill burned quickly, and one employee, 35-year-old Albert Bergman of Issaquah, was overcome by smoke -- "smoked," in the parlance of the day -- fighting the fire. Bergman made a full recovery. Fire departments from Issaquah, Redmond, Bothell, and Kirkland were soon on the scene fighting the fire.

Although the 1944 fire was a serious fire, it was not a repeat of the devastating 1925 fire. Hot dry winds had exacerbated the 1925 fire, whereas weather conditions at the mill site were almost completely opposite on May 23, 1944: low heavy clouds hovered, scattered light rain fell, and the temperature was near 50 degrees. Thanks to the cool damp weather and an aggressive fire fighting response, the fire was primarily restricted to the sawmill itself and an adjacent lumber storage platform, both of which were built on pilings over Lake Sammamish. The sawmill was destroyed, half of the lumber storage platform was destroyed, and two rail carloads of finished lumber were also lost to the fire. But saved were the planing mill, boiler room, kiln dryer, and two drying sheds, all located on the shore of the lake. A great deal of finished lumber was also saved; part of this lumber was saved when a railroad switch engine and crew backed through billowing smoke and moved an additional two railroad cars of finished lumber threatened by the fire.

As an interesting aside, the planer inside the planing mill that was saved in the fire is still in use today (2005) at the Issaquah Cedar and Lumber Company in Issaquah.

There were several lumber mills at the Monohon site between 1889 and 1980, and during that 91 years there were four major mill fires and several minor ones. The 1944 fire is noteworthy because it's the only fire that resulted in a casualty, even though it was relatively minor, and area old-timers often mention the 1944 mill fire when they are talking about the history of the Sammamish Plateau.


Sources: Eric Erickson, Issaquah Lumber Company History, (Issaquah: Issaquah Historical Society, 2002), 46-51; Eric Erickson, "Whatever Happened to Monohon?" June 2000, Issaquah History Online website accessed July 25, 2005 (http://www.issaquahhistory.org); "Issaquah Lumber Plant at Monohon Destroyed by Fire," Issaquah Press, May 25, 1944, p. 1; Phil Dougherty interview of Eric Erickson, July 19, 2005, Sammamish, Washington.

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