November is the month that we remember those men and women who made, and continue to make, the sacrifices necessary to keep our nation free. Milt Swanson was well known as the local historian for the Newcastle area, but did you know that he served in the Coast Guard for five years during World War II? Or that he was awarded the Air Medal for meritorious service as a combat air crewman?
Milt passed away this past winter at the age of 95. I had the good fortune to know Milt and spend almost every Wednesday afternoon with him during the two years prior to his death. I was thirsting for information about our City and Milt was always willing to share his personal experiences (Milt was born in a house near the current YMCA and lived in the house at the corner of Golf Club Road and Lakemont since 1922 when his father rented the property from the Pacific Coast Coal Company). Milt told me many stories. Here are two of them.
Did you ever wonder about the slight dips in Golf Club Road as you drive over them? The topography along Coal Creek was very different in 1863, when coal production started, than it is today. South of the creek was a flood plain and a series of small ravines fed ground water and rain water from the hills to the south into the creek. The first dirt road above the flood plain and along the ravines included a series of bridges made from cedar logs. Over time, mine waste was dumped along the road and the ravines and the flood plain were filled in. When it came time to pave the road, the path went right over the existing bridges. Eventually the logs rotted out and the road surface dipped a bit. The next time you drive along the road, count the dips. Some are obvious while others are more subtle.
All of the mine tunnels had air shafts reaching to the surface. One such shaft is located where Golf Club Road meets Lakemont. During a heavy rain storm in the 1960’s, a stream of water came down from Cougar Mountain and crossed the covered shaft. The top covering collapsed and dammed up the hole well below the surface. As a result the hole filled up with water.
A Boeing employee driving his station wagon on the way to work tried to drive across the ‘puddle’. His car started falling down into the hole, but luckily hung up on the edge. He called for a wrecker and one came from Renton and stopped on the other side of the puddle. The driver walked around, attached a pull chain, and proceeded to pull the wagon completely into the hole and beneath the water. The car was removed with the help of another truck.
Shortly after the car was removed, the dam in the hole broke and fell into the abandoned mine far below. The hole was eventually closed using concrete, cedar logs, mine rock and asphalt. That fix has lasted for 50 years and the next time you drive that route look for the circular indentations in the road surface near the curve.
To all of our veterans and active military; THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE
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.