The Monte Cristo Mining Company files a plat to begin developing a community on February 24, 1893.

  • By David A. Cameron
  • Posted 1/02/2008
  • Essay 8405
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On February 24, 1893, the Monte Cristo Mining Company files a plat in Cleveland, Ohio, for the town of Monte Cristo, located in Snohomish County, Washington.  The corporation, located on its mining claims at the junction of Glacier and Seventy-six creeks, files a plat creating the most inaccessible town in the county, at the highest elevation (2,900 feet).  With the railroad expected to arrive by late summer, several hundred permanent residents are anticipated, with many more men working in the mines and prospecting for new veins of ore deep in the Cascade Mountains.

Two Plats in a Tricky Setting

Although the mines were in Washington and the corporate headquarters for the Everett syndicate were located at 36 Wall Street in New York City, the principal individuals who created the Monte Cristo mining industry all had ties to Cleveland, Ohio. Both Charles Colby (1839-1896) and Joseph Colby resided there, as did Colgate Hoyt (1849-1922), and Cleveland was the city where John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937), owner of the railroad being extended to Monte Cristo, spent his formative years. Thus it was in Cleveland that Joseph Colby of the newly formed Monte Cristo Mining Company filed their plat. 

Ten days later a second plat was filed in Washington under the government townsite law. This was filed by a separate group of men, and for several years resulted in legal action between claimants and owners of structures already on the land. Thus there were two separate sections to the town, the company townsite above and along the narrow peninsula between the creeks, and the lower section, a narrow band of lots from the creek confluence and flat of the rail yards and on both sides of the South Fork Sauk River. This was formed at that point by the creeks coming together and was spanned by a sloping wooden bridge off the peninsula toward the depot below -- a tricky challenge for winter bobsledders.

Lots actually had been promoted and reserved since the first of the year by the Colby group, with large down payments required and prices not cheap. Along Dumas Street, the main thoroughfare of the community, undeveloped prime real estate with no improvements or services might be had for $800, or approximately $17,500 in current value. (A miner’s daily wage was $2.50 per day, minus board and room.) By the time the plat was filed, 84 of the 236 lots had already been sold. Most of the less desirable ones farther up the hill and some distance away from the rail yards stayed in company hands.

A Community Based on Mining

The first listing of businesses and residents comes from 1894. At that date the town had the expected number of saloons, hotels, boarding houses, and mercantile establishments, but also the Star Dairy, a meat market, and a laundry. Other professions included barbers, shoemakers, a baker, a tailor and a dressmaker, plus druggists and a doctor -- employed by the Monte Cristo Mining Company. There was a Presbyterian church briefly, with law and order in the hands of a constable and a deputy sheriff. Newspaper publisher James Bartholomew also served as justice of the peace and manager of the telephone company. Only one known issue of his Monte Cristo Mountaineer has survived. School District No. 70 was established that year, its one-room building erected not far from 76 Creek in the upper corner of the townsite.

Many residents lived in hotels and boarding houses, while others rented small frame homes. Most miners stayed all week at the bunkhouses near their work, as the mines (with the exception of the nearby Rainy) all entailed long and arduous walks up to their mountainside locations. Fatalities occurred due to snow slides and avalanches. Daylight hours were few during the long winter season when most of the mines curtailed production and town residents left for easier climes. Concentrator workers, tramway and company office employees, teamsters, assayers, and telegraphers all lived close by and walked the short distance up and down hill to work.

Structures in the town were cheaply made of lumber from the early sawmill (later converted into the train depot). False fronts, board and batten construction, outhouses, and planks on the muddy streets were the norm, although the concentrator building did have a dynamo to provide some electric lighting. Water came via a pipeline on 76 Creek to a storage tank at the top of the townsite, as the concentrating process utilized large amounts. Water service for the town was gravity supplied via cast iron pipe down the street.

A New Town

A major rain, flooding, and washout cut off access to Monte Cristo in November 1897, and railroad owner John D. Rockefeller declines to rebuild, forcing the mining firms into bankruptcy. Rockefeller takes over the mines and reopens them in the summer of 1900. By this time most of the town businesses were in new hands. The population also was smaller and less diverse in their occupations. A new element was provided by Japanese contract laborers for the railroad, who lived in quarters below the railroad yards and had their own traditional bathhouse.

Mining towns usually did not last long, perhaps only a couple of decades or less, depending upon how wide-ranging and deep the ore deposits were. At Monte Cristo they were quite concentrated and shallow. Add the many feet of wet winter snow and the lack of enough manpower to keep roofs clear, and the mortality rate for buildings was high. The winter of 1896 was especially severe, as was 1909. By World War I most of the town was gone, save for the Royal Hotel on Dumas Street.

Sources: Gwenda Blair to David A. Cameron, October 14, 1991 and February 15, 1992, in possession of David A. Cameron, Index Washington; Edna Breazeale Interview with David A. Cameron, Bayview, Washington, October 18, 1974; David A. Cameron, Charles LeWarne, M. Allan May, Jack C. O’Donnell, Lawrence O’Donnell, Snohomish County: An Illustrated History, (Index, WA: Kelcema Books LLC, 2005), 125-126; Elof Norman, The Coffee Chased Us Up (Seattle: The Mountaineers, 1977), 19, 51-54; Snohomish County Directory, (Seattle: R. L. Polk & Co., 1895), 338-348; C. H. Taylor to Hill & Whittington, March 25, 1893, Monte Cristo Mining Company letterpress book, 1892-1903, photocopy of a transcribed copy lent to David Cameron by Forrest Johanson, in possession of David Cameron, Index, Washington. (Note: the originals of the Monte Cristo Mining Co. letterpress books are today archived in the Monte Cristo Mining Co. Records, Collection 0799, Special Collections, University of Washington Libraries, Seattle, Washington.)

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