Welcome back to another edition of my Lost Coal Mines of King County. My new subject is the Cedar Mountain Coal Mine aka West Coast Coal Mine. It has a complicated story to tell and is a history lesson on how time slowly erases the facts.
The town of Cedar Mountain is completely gone. Wrap your head around that. It was stretched over an area that starts at the corner of 196th Ave SE, Jones Road and the Maple Valley – Renton Highway. Close to the Jones Bridge over the Cedar River was the commercial area where all the mining action occurred. The rest of town followed along the river to the south with the village in the photo above located in the next wide spot next to the river.
It was born next to the coal mine of the same name. It had stores, a hotel, bunkhouses, a school, a church, mines, a post office and a railroad station plus houses or cabins. When you drive by this spot it is hard to imagine a coal mine and the town in the photo above. What the Hell?
It is so erased that I have flip flopped on being 100% convinced on Cedar Mountain’s location. Was it at the intersection along the Maple Valley Highway or down in King County’s Belmondo’s Reach Park or to the south on property owned by Seattle Public Utilities. So, I went down one of my rabbit holes to figure it out.
I looked at a lot of maps over & over. Trying to make comparisons year over year of the photo to the old maps & google maps. To add to my dilemma the river has changed course several times since the 1880’s.
At first I found we had two clues. First, the river that flows behind the town, which barely visible at he top of the photo. Second, the railroad which runs through the middle of the town. That railroad right of way is now the Cedar River Trail which sits at least 20 feet lower than the highway. I imagined the soil by the intersection flat to the railroad bed. That made me see the plausibility that it was there at the intersection. I dragged myself out of the rabbit hole with that decision but reserved the right to open the hole up again.
That is why I am updating this post today. Another hunter of Cedar Mountain sent me an email that rearranged my thinking. Alan, who is a ghost town hunter, sent me his theory on where the town itself existed. His case was so strong that I agree with him.
Like me he knew that the trail was the railroad bed and that has not changed. In the photo the railroad has a slight curve to it. At the intersection of 196th and MVH the railroad flows straight. He also looked at the hills around the town and the trajectory of where the photographer was standing. This all points to the blob of land between the trail and river to the south of the intersection. Here is a marked up map he sent me.
To get your head around the area let us start with an overview map where Cedar Mountain the town and the first mine shaft was. (revised with the new information on town location)
Let us move on to what it looks like today. First the intersection looks like these three shots.
When I started researching this mine I quickly realized that it was not a simple straightforward story. As I dug into the data I even found conflicting stories and big chunks missing. To overcome this I wrote a 10 page word document with a timeline, bios on the main players, list of coal companies & list of known mine shafts.
Of course, I have visited the area several times and each time I discover more landmarks. Safety has several times determined what I can explore. The highway is very busy and the river is not to be messed with.
Let us get going on the birth of the Cedar Mountain Coal Mine and the Town:
Martin L Cavanaugh found coal in the area of Cedar Mountain while helping run the first survey lines in Maple Valley. Edith, his daughter-in-law, in a newspaper article stated he found it in 1862. However, this was the same year that Martin came to Seattle overland from Ohio. He arrived in Seattle in time for the 1862 Thanksgiving Dinner on the Duwamish River. Just does not seem possible he was tramping around in November or December of 1862 in the frontier wild lands of the Pacific Northwest. I could go on about how tough that would be but leave it to your imagination.
Another article I found by Edith has her showing the deed from President Grant dated 1870 for their homestead in Maple Valley. In that article (I call this the Thanksgiving article) she states Martin found the coal about that same time. Another source confirms this date is a history article online by Renton’s Candlewood Ridge – Carriage Wood HOA that states Martin as early as 1870 found coal.
Here is a photo of Edith so you can get to know her a little better.
And to add more color on Edith Cavanaugh, this is the house in 2020 she is sitting in for the 1961 interview. Probably that front window next to the door to be exact. Coincidently, she ended up living where the first mine was and had moved from their claim down the river.
Now the story gets better with dirt on who got the claim to the coal. The reference materials did not tell a consistent story. Nothing like a good mystery 150 years ago. Like I said time erases the details and people’s memories are not that reliable either. Taking all the information plus my best guess here is what I think happened.
Martin Cavanaugh lived on the Duwamish & told too many people about the coal he found. By the time he made it to Olympia to file his claim, it was too late. Someone else had already filed the claim. That was the business man James Colman of Seattle. Later Colman exercised his claim on Cedar Mountain Coal by forming a company with additional backer of John Collins and San Francisco investors. He was Manager, Samuel Blair was President & Lawrence Colman (son) Secretary.
Edith Cavanaugh made me think Colman filed soon after it was found. However, in a bio on Colman it said he did it when the railroad came through in 1884. Which was correct? I suspect it is somewhere around mid 1870s. Per the story the Cavanaughs bought their property in 1870 as an alternate to the coal land when they found out they missed out on the claim.
It gets better and here is more to the story. You see James Colman was a mover & shaker in Seattle during this period. He had come to town in 1872 from success with mills in Kitsap County. Then with San Francisco backers, he leased and operated Yesler’s Mill on the waterfront of Pioneer Square. Then Seattle was skipped over for the Puget Sound Terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1873 for Tacoma. He was one of the founders of the Seattle Walla Walla Railroad that was to remedy this snub of the Northern Pacific. Imagine Seattle a growing town with no connection to the world except by boat.
Colman pitched in some of the first money when no one else seemed to be stepping up. They then built from Seattle to Renton between 1874 & 1877 to service the coal fields. They struggled every step of the way and sold to Oregon Improvement Company in 1880. OIC expanded it to Black Diamond and outlying coal mines (going right by Cedar Mountain) about 1884.
He came in as a lifesaver to the struggling home grown railroad. Was his claim at Cedar Mountain incentive to do this? From this chain of events, I am going to surmise that Colman had the claim before or right around 1874 when he started investing in the Seattle Walla Walla Railroad.
Back to Martin & the Cavanaugh family. Martin Cavanaugh bought the Louis Walters homestead (referencing the 1870 deed) which is now where Riverbend Mobile Home Park used to sit on MV-Renton Hwy just west of 76 station. Currently owned by King County due to the Cedar River flooding and an initiative to buy out properties that repeatedly flooded.
Here we have another conflict of information with another research item saying they bought land where Valley View Mobile Home Park is. This got solved when Renton Museum sent me a Metzker 1926 map that has ownership names on it. Their location on the map is where Riverbend MH Park sits.
Here is the 1926 map. See Fred Cavanaugh’s property on the left by the river. Over on the far right next to the numbers 39.94 is where the first mine shaft. The Town stretched from there to where you can see Cedar Mountain spelled out. Later in life Edith Cavanaugh retired to that original mine area.
I was going to get a photo of the mobile home park on my latest visit. HA!!! The county was clearing it out. It was so busy with trucks and excavators plus one lane of the highway blocked off I didn’t dare stop. There was no where to pull over without risking a car accident. Safety does over-ride getting pictures!!!
Instead we have a Google street view from the Cedar River Trail showing the MH Park when it was still in operation.
Next is a snip from Google showing the lay of the land where their homestead was. See how they owned property across the highway too?
Edith said they found coal on their homestead and bought another 200 acres. Hence the big piece of land to the south and up the side of Cedar Mountain. They sublet this land out to other miners until 1947, around the time of Fred’s death. Plus that is when more mining restrictions were implemented. They had 7 veins when the new laws shut them down. I wonder if they purchased more land later or leased it. More to come on this bit of mystery.
Edith said in article that John L Lewis made it hard to do the subbing. I wondered who he was? I found Lewis was a powerful leader in the United Mine Workers involved in a 1919 struggle over wages and a huge miner’s strike. I tripped over this researching another person involved in the mines.
Now to the mines – Cedar Mountain Coal Mine produced coal from 1884 until 1944. The mine over the years produced about one thousand tons. Not really a lot for all those years but it did sustain a lot of people.
The first three shafts sunk by Colman hit a fault and lost the coal seam. They would close from 1892 till 1895 and close again in 1906. The town of Cedar Mountain was a mining town and it did not last much longer. As of 1903 when a woman was struck by a train the town was basically deserted except a few families. (from article in Railroad Reports Volume 17). I found that the post office was closed in 1907 per History Link.
Then a search would ensue over the next couple of decades and would reopen the Cedar Mountain mine and also lead to a very big mine, the New Black Diamond Coal Mine (aka Indian), Which is just around the bend of the Highway towards Renton. (I have written several articles about this mine too)
Starting with the first shaft, which opened when the railroad came in 1884. As mentioned above it was located at the 196th/Jones/Hwy intersection. During one of my boots on the ground days I looked for where the opening would have been. Tough to tell but there are still signs if you know what to look for.
On my first search trip I started up close to the highway on the west side of 196th. I stepped across a ditch and went into a shaded area next to a steep hillside. Did not find anything but blackberries and soggy soil. Yup, the story of mine searching often has dead-ends.
This flat space came from the old road configuration. 196th met the highway slightly to the west and did not cross directly over to Jones Road. The state altered it in the late 1990s so it became one intersection vs two. Maple Valley to the east has grown immensely bringing a lot of traffic on the highway. What a mess it would be if they had not fixed it.
Then we have the blackberry covered bank. This is probably where the mine was. When bulldozers push dirt over mine entrances, briers seem to be the only thing that grow on that compacted soil.
Here is a view from across the street.
To the left of the left arrow sign I found another tell tale sign of the mine, orange, rusty mineral water run off or what I call mine ooze.
On my second trip when I parked behind Edith’s old house, I noticed a block of cement. Eureka!! It is a footing for the bunker to the mine. Edith mentioned how she covered over remnants of the old bunker when she graded her yard.
To orientate us here is a picture of the house which is to the left of the picture above.
Lastly, a close up of the cement. May not be that exciting for some but it demonstrates why I go back several times. One finds things you missed that are important landmarks.
Imagine now looking back towards the house and highway a bustling mine operation. The mine had coal cars being pulled in and out with oxen. People everywhere processing, mining and living in general. Hard to wrap your brain around it.
The next chapter on the Cedar Mountain area we will talk about the next two shafts that Colman’s company developed before they closed in 1906. After that we will do an article on how they searched for years to find the lost coal vein.
If you want to read more about my search for Lost Coal Mines here is a link to my directory of articles.
Shoot me any questions or better yet any information you have to add. This is a never ending deep dig into 100 years of old coal mine history.
Remember Times are a changing. Blink and all will be changed. Literally, a town can disappear!