Within Newcastle we have the China Creek and China Falls neighborhoods, China Creek Golf Course, and of course, China Creek itself. Did you ever wonder how those names came to be?
When the original mining town of Old Newcastle was established in 1863, the primary source of drinking water was a little creek to the south that began up on Cougar Mountain and emptied into what is now Lake Boren. It was normally a gentle flow of water, but during heavy rains the creek would overflow and created a large flood plane to the north of the current lake. The lake was bigger and deeper than it is today and also was swampy on the east side.
Chinese workers came into the area in the early 1870’s, primarily to work on the railroads, but some came to Newcastle and worked for the mining company. The earliest news item we have found is from 1873 about an attempted suicide by a Chinese worker. There were evidently race issues, and in 1876 40 Chinese workers were driven out of the mining camp. In 1876 and 1877 more than 300 Chinese workers were employed in building the railroad extension from Renton into Newcastle. After the line was completed, many of those men came to work in the coal mines at New Newcastle.
They mostly worked in the bunkers at the picking tables sorting coal by size. They were housed in Company owned buildings until 1885 when race issues arose and all of the Chinese occupied housing was burned. The workers (all men) left the camp and built small huts among the trees near a creek away from the camp. They planted narrow gardens along the creek bank and coops for chickens and ducks. Over time, the creek became known as China Creek.
The creek continued feeding into Lake Boren, overflowing onto the flood plain, and dropping rich silt during the winter. The rich flood plain was used for grazing livestock in the summers. That condition changed in the 1960’s. According to Milt Swanson, Robin Peterson, owner of the property west of current Coal Creek Parkway and north of the lake, began creating a concrete channel for the creek bed.
Mr. Peterson worked for Stoneway Concrete as a mechanic and was able to bring home surplus concrete which he dumped into the bed. He created a stable channel that no longer overflowed during storm events and went directly into the north end of the lake. Eliminating the flooding allowed the lakefront to be developed and we have homes there today. China Creek continues to bring silt into the lake during storm events and the outflow must be cleaned periodically, or local flooding does occur.
Workers from many nations were instrumental in the success of coal mining in Newcastle and the eventual creation of the City, but only the Chinese have a named legacy in China Creek.
If you are interested in learning more about the activities of the Newcastle Historical Society, or would like to share your local history with us please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or come to one of our events.