The Coals of Newcastle – A Hundred Years of Hidden History
by Newcastle Historical Society (Author), Eva Lundahl (Editor), Margaret Laliberte (Editor), Diane Lewis (Editor), Kathleen L. McDonald (Foreword)
From 1864 to 1963, Newcastle, Washington was the center of a busy coal mining industry producing nearly 11 million tons of coal from a crisscross of tunnels under present day Cougar Mountain, Coal Creek Natural Area and The Golf Club at Newcastle. There were two main town sites as well as large mining structures, buildings and homes. A railroad ran from the mines to Renton and Seattle, and there were roads extending to Lake Sammamish, May Valley and Lake Washington. Very little evidence of the once bustling coal mining town of more than 1000 people remains. This book tells the story of the mines, coal companies, transportation and the people of an almost forgotten era.
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Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park and Coal Creek Park together encompass the heart of an old 19th century coal district. Many people driving past on a daily commute may not know they are near the site of the old Newcastle coal mines. Coal miners and prospectors worked these mines from 1863 to 1963, removing nearly 1 million tons of coal, as well as 4 million tons of waste rock.
The towns of Newcastle and Coal Creek, separated by one and a half miles of thick forest, grew up around the mines, and in the 1880s they comprised the second largest community in King County. As the county’s earliest sizable industry, Newcastle coal mining caused Seattle to grow from a small village in the 1860s to a major port city in the 1880s.
In 1863 coal attracted investors from California and the East Coast, who put the miners to work digging surface deposits and excavating shallow tunnels. Originally workers bagged the coal and took it to Lake Washington to barges. By 1872 coal was dumped into cars, pulled by horses to Lake Washington, barged across the lake, pulled to Lake Union, barged again, then pulled to coal bunkers on Elliott Bay. In 1870 the Seattle and Walla Walla Railroad laid tracks to Newcastle. The train took coal to Seattle quickly, which in turn made the railroad profitable.
With explosives and handpicks Newcastle miners created huge, underground caverns ventilated by air shafts. Tram cars pulled by mules hauled coal out, where workers sorted out the waste rock. Miners showered at a company wash house–which was so much easier than bathing at home, that their wives demanded a “ladies night” at the showers.
Coal dust in the dry mines–potentially explosive–was the biggest danger. The mines were continuously sprayed with water, but an 1894 explosion killed four miners. Two months later, fire threatened the area from underground. Coal Creek was diverted in the mine to put out the fire, leaving smoke hanging over the community for months.
Coal production stayed high through World War I. However, immediately following the war, strikes were common. A fire destroyed part of the mining equipment, and the mining operations closed. Independent miners continued to mine until the 1960s, often with a danger of cave-ins from working too near the surface. Today the earth occasionally slides into a forgotten tunnel, and locals sometimes think the smoke clinging to the valley on clear days comes from fires still smoldering in the abandoned mines. Remnants of mine shafts, concrete foundations and tailings dotting the parks are disappearing into the forest of Cougar Mountain.
Article by Amy Brockhaus
Courtesy of Greenways
Information discovered at Tacoma Cemetery suggests a relative “Teresa Mullarkey” died at age 11 months in July 1885. At that time her family lived in Newcastle where her father John D Mullarkey worked in the coal mines. I think it possible she might be buried in the Newcastle Cemetery.
Can you tell me if internment records exist ?
Check with David Abernathy who has done a genealogical study of the Newcastle Historic Cemetery. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
Can you please verify the 1870 date in the third paragraph? If the tracks were laid in 1870, why would they be barging the coal in 1872? I’m wondering if that’s a typo. Thanks!
Hello! Your “Ask Us” link is not working, so I will try and get a message through here. I am the King County Parks Archaeologist and I am putting together a National Register Historic District form documenting the mining and military features at Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park. I would love to visit your collections and potentially make copies of photographs/maps to include with my historical documentation to the state. Is the historical society open on Mondays? I’d love to come by on November 19th or 26th? How do I get in contact with someone at the historical society to set up a meeting? I look forward to meeting you. Thanks!
Hello Brandy, Are you still the King County Parks archeologist? I am with an organization called savecoalcreek.org that is looking for information on Native American uses of the Coal Creek watershed. Can you point me to any sources of information?
Just in case you didn’t get the e-mail from Kent Sullivan:
My friend and colleague Matt McCauley and I are excited to announce our new website, KirklandHistory.org. The content is pretty much as you would expect — history on topics related to Kirkland, Washington.
We will be publishing shorter articles regularly, with longer pieces coming less often. On the right side of every page there is a link you can click to receive a notice every time we publish something new.
The first longer feature is the story of the NP/BN/BNSF’s Lake Washington Belt Line and the many industries it served in Kirkland from 1905 – 2009. This ~7 miles of former railroad is now known as the Cross-Kirkland Corridor.
Many thanks to Ryan Zimbelman for his expert help in designing the site. Ryan is busy at the moment creating a series of animated maps that help show the changes in railroad spurs and the industries that they served in various parts of Kirkland. The first one is live on the Feriton page within the LWBL feature.
Kent Sullivan and Matt McCauley
P. S. Matt and I are enthusiastic members and participants of the Kirkland Heritage Society. If you have an interest in Kirkland History, please consider joining! Their museum in the basement of Heritage Hall will be open next weekend, during SummerFest.
Working in these mines was EXTREMELY dangerous. No mine safety laws existed on any level of government, and capitalism was expanding; labor unions had a violent history at that point in time, and industrial deaths in the mines were common. My grandfather was the superintendent and secret labor leader in rural King and Pierce Counties, and I remember him talking about the “slaughterhouses” that the mines could be, with many of his own men dying. When my grandfather died in 1956 at 78, he had 17 full men’s suits in his closet that had been left to him by men who had died in the mines in which he worked; each man gave him his suit of clothes as he died after a severe mine explosion or cave-in.
Newcastle Washington is listed on my great-grandmother’s Canadian marriage certificate as where she was originally from. I was just curious if there might be more information in the city about her family? I don’t have the information in front of me but Hughes is the last name, I believe her father’s name was William, hers, Eline or Nellie.
I am curious how the coal cars made a 90 degree turn at the base of the incline?
p.s. the capt ha is difficult to answer…. do you use numbers? Do you spell it out? If so, is a hyphen required? Or is it one word?
Is there a map of the Company Houses showing their number (e.g., Baima House is No. 75)? If so, how may I obtain a copy?
Trying to contact
Jerry G Lee
2211 Legacy Park Loop
Tuscaloosa, AL 35404
205 534 0249
My mother was born in Newcastle 25 December 1924 and due to the snowing, her parents had to send for help from a local veterinarian. The doctor’s name on her birth certificate was “L.M. Seaton”.
Doing family history, my mother’s line is started, but HER father’s has NOTHING.
On her birth certificate on Christmas Day, 1924, her father is Robert Paul Adams and his occupation is listed as “miner”. His age is “27 yrs.”.
Are there any records in existence from 1924?
My great grandfather, William J. Priestley from Ireland lived in New Castle for around 1877 to at least 1880. He suffered from black lung disease in his later years.