Ghost Town of Cedar Mountain

There is a ghost town in our midst. Some of us drive by her everyday and some have been seeking her for decades. Come with me on my quest to find Cedar Mountain. She is under our urban noses but difficult to find since she was razed decades ago. There are even differing opinions on where this town in the photo was located. In this article I will lay out my theory on where she once stood and share what I found on-site.

What had been a search for lost coal mines brought me to this place known as the town of Cedar Mountain. My very first article back at the end of September included info on both the mines and its mining camp. Link – Cedar Mountain Coal Mine – The Tangled Web. Little did I know how this little spot beside the road held so much lost history.

Now it is time to concentrate on the town and not just the coal mines. I did a lot of tramping around the area and research that is begging to be shared. Lets get at it!!

History and Location Information

It all began in 1884 when the Columbia and Puget Sound Railway (C & PS RR) came through the area on it’s way to Black Diamond and areas east. John Colman exercised his coal claim and the first mine was developed close to the intersection of 196th Ave SE, Jones Road Bridge and Maple Valley Renton Highway (Hwy 169).

The town existed from 1888 to 1907. This was the years it had a post office operating out of the town store. This mine camp/town had a store, a hotel, two saloons, several houses, miners shacks, a sawmill and a one room school. However, even as early as 1903 the town had had it’s hey day and was a faded image of itself.

I found a court case around a woman who was killed on the railroad track close to Cedar Mountain in 1903. You can see the whole article published on Railroad Reports of 1906 at this link. The facts that stand out to me are as follows:

For a number of years prior to the 14th day of March 1903, the defendant, the Columbia and Puget Sound railroad company, operated a railroad through the village of Cedar Mountain in King county. On the above date, and for some few years prior thereto, Cedar Mountain was a deserted mining camp. The entire population of the place consisted of a few families.

As the railroad approaches Cedar Mountain in the direction of Seattle it rounds a curve in close proximity to Cedar Mountain and passes through a cut within of few hundred feet of the post office of the place.

First this confirms that our little town had dwindled quickly from the busy place it had been in the 1889 photo above.

It also brings to the plate that the town of Cedar Mountain was on a curve of the railroad. This is visible in the photo and is also mentioned in this death liability appeal in 1906.

Now why is the curve so important? It is because many believe the town was next to the Jones Road bridge over the Cedar River versus further south. My friend Alan set me straight one day with this little google map marked up. He showed me how it sat south of the Jones Road Bridge on Seattle Public Utilities Property.

Cedar Mtn Town location per Alan B

He said that because the railroad right of way was straight at the Jones Bridge area, it had to be this place where the railroad starts to curve to. He explained his markings as follows:

  • The Red X (Mid left) is where the store was located. In the old photo it is also marked by an X.
  • The yellow box is the corral that is next to the store.
  • The long red lines on the highway and to the right of the road are the rows of houses, hotel and miner shacks. Just think about those buildings next time you drive over this spot on the Maple Valley Highway
  • A couple of red x’s in the upper right are distant buildings.

My Case for this Cedar Mtn Location

Maps and stories of the past tie together to substantiate our location theory. We will start with a current map of the area. It shows how the town spanned both areas. The northerly one, Belmondo’s Reach Park (next to Jones Rd Bridge), was the commercial mining area. The southern one is where the main town existed with it’s store and houses.

Current Map of Cedar Mountain Area in 2021

This theory bucks a lot of what others have been saying for decades. However, the curve in the railroad is our big clue. We know the Cedar River Trail follows the old Railroad bed so it is hard to dispute where the curves are.

Let us start with how the 1889 photo was taken from up on a high hill. The hill is steeper at our southern location when compared to the Jones Bridge area. It also has the correct angle for the photographer’s viewpoint.

From old maps we can see that the road came down a very steep hill at our southern location. Sometime between 1912 and 1936, 196th was regraded to the more gentle slope that now intersects with the Maple Valley Highway at the Jones Bridge. I contend that the photographer was standing up high on that old original road.

The map below shows this original road configuration. Look close to where it has “Coal Mine” written. A little below and between the 30 & 29 section numbers you can see where the road used to come from Otter & Shadow Lakes and meet the valley floor.

1907 Timber Cruise Map – close up of Cedar Mtn Mine and town area

This map above also shows the few remaining buildings of Cedar Mountain. Note how it has a red line marking the railroad grade and double line where an old wagon road meandered along the valley floor. A 1912 map below also clearly shows this old road configuration.

Kroll’s 1912 Atlas King County Cedar Mountain

Check out where Cedar Mountain is written and how it’s dot is next to this road coming down that steep hill. To compare to the current road configuration just scroll up to the google map that I marked with the town and mine locations.

One story written about this time is from Sarah Sermon. Her and Louis, her husband, ran the store at Cedar Mountain. The story goes that they hauled an organ up the steep hill for an evening of dancing at a housewarming party. It was at a new cabin built at the top of the hill by Frank Slusser. What a struggle it was, going up and even worse coming down. (story from book “100 years along the Cedar River” by M C Slauson).

If you look close to the 1912 map, you will see F.C. Slusser’s claim on the east side of 196th across from Otter (Spring) Lake. Then switch back to the 1907 map and there is a dot where his farm was. That party happened there.

This change of where 196th Avenue SE meets the valley floor is part of why people think the town was near the Jones Bridge. All the verbal narratives from the original residents of the town talked about how the road met the valley where the town was. The current generation, not knowing about the old road’s configuration, interpreted those stories as the Jones Bridge location. They assumed that the town was next to the bridge. When in fact the old road was south of there and thus they have imagined the the town in the wrong place.

I also believe that before the founding generation of Cedar Mountain passed away they were also confused. The area has been dramatically changed with the Maple Valley Highway and the 196th Avenue SE regrading. When they visited the area in their later years, they too were deceived by the way the road had changed. This confusion has haunted our ghost town’s location for decades and still persists.

One more final clue is on a fairly current USGS Topographic map of the area. This is from 1995 and has clearly marked on it “Cedar Mountain (site)”. It documents the historic location of the ghost town as the southerly spot versus the Jones Bridge location.

In one of my on site searches I tried to locate the old 196th Avenue SE descent to the valley location. I was not very successful because of the steep hillside and not wanting to trespass on private property. However, I did find what could be the original path 196th followed before it went down the hill. It Is now an abandoned overgrown road that runs parallel to the current 196th Avenue SE, just slightly below the guard rail. Amazing what one can find just stomping around in the bushes.

Enough of the maps and research. Getting in the weeds and hiking around shows how little still exists.

The First Visit – McQuade Connection

The first trip was in September 2020 and before Alan pointed out to me where the town was.

Where Cedar Mountain Town used to stand is a blob of land between the railroad/trail and the river. It has been owned by Seattle Public Utilities since 2012. It was a private residence and shop for many years. Likely it was sold due to Cedar River flooding.

This first trip I was looking for Lot 7 owned by John McQuade. I saw this on an old coal mine map. Part of it was a little island in the river. He by this time had sold his interest in the mine across the river to E.R. Peoples. Some said he was mining again. So, off I went down the Cedar River Trail (aka old railroad).

I know I said no more maps but you have to see what I am talking about. Here is the 1934 map showing at the bottom what I was seeking.

West Coast Coal (Fuel) Mine Map – At bottom is McQuade Lot 7

There is a little gate where the driveway used to go to a house that was demolished when the Utility repurposed the area. Kind of like the old town everything that used to be here is gone. On a part of a knocked down fence is this sign telling us who owns the property.

Signage stating who and what is happening here

As one walks into the property the road is lined by apple trees and rough rail fencing. It leads toward the river where there is some signage about the habitat.

The southern end of the property would have been part of Lot 7 that McQuade owned 80 plus years ago. The river has carved a steep bank along this end and I could only look down at it’s waterflow. It was not safe for me top climb down.

Looking south and down at the Cedar River – was this where Lot 7 was?

Instead I skirting the fence and signage area and went north on a worn path. It wound down towards where the river had split and created an island. The Cedar River has metaphorized from flooding quite a bit over the years. What is happening here is call River Bifurcation. Wiki describes it as follows:

River bifurcation (from Latin: furca, fork) occurs when a river flowing in a single stream separates into two or more separate streams (called distributaries) which then continue downstream. Some rivers form complex networks of distributaries, typically in their deltas. If the streams eventually merge again or empty into the same body of water, then the bifurcation forms a river island.

This river bank is much easier to access and at last I am at the water’s edge. Across from me is the small island. Then I saw some odd structures embedded in the river and gravel bar. What are these things? Did I find part of John McQuade’s last mine operation? Or did miners traverse the river to get to work at the mine? Lot of questions!!

One was across the channel close to the island’s bank.

Metal structure on Cedar River behind Ghost Town site.

The other is buried in the gravel bar I am standing on. The river had piled up rock and debris around it.

Second metal structure closer to the west side of the river.

My trekking pole and bag give one a bit of perspective as to it’s size. Still photos are wonderful but a video is even better. It shows a lot more about the location and how swift the river was here even in September.

I have shown these poles to the Ghost Town Facebook group. The two most likely purposes are either a bridge or parts of the Cedar Mountain sawmill. Most of us think it was a form of crossing that facilitated a ferry or bucket with a cable pulley system.

If you have any information or ideas on these two structures shot me a note. Love a good mystery and Cedar Mountain keeps sending them our way.

Round Two – Ghost Town Search

I had to return again when Alan explained where the old store and town used to stand. This was in early December 2020. What else did I have to do while we were all in COVID quarantine?

The store area has certainly changed in the century since it was demolished. The people who sold to the City of Seattle had planted a long line of evergreen trees to give them some privacy and cut the noise from the highway. Behind that row of trees they had a field. It is lumpy like it was tilled at some point. Check out Alan’s Google photo posted above with the red X and yellow box. See what I mean by a row of trees and the field? Here is a photo from the railroad/trail side. (sorry about the raindrops on my lens)

The site of Cedar Mountain Store from the Railroad turned Trail side

Next a view of this area from the open field.

Looking at row of trees from open field side. The store and other buildings were here in 1890s

I found that one could walk under the trees. Seems someone had trimmed them. Not sure if it was my fellow history seekers, the prior owners or the city who did this. No matter, I walked along them and started seeing odd and old items. Plus some holes in the sod indicated where I figured Alan had been metal detecting and searching.

There is a law that when seeking historical artifacts one must leave them where you find them. I have to say many do not follow this because what they find is valuable. In this case broken items are valueless to them but priceless to us history hunters. Here are a few photos of the bits and pieces that confirm something was here.

Jazzed up by these finds I decided I wanted to go investigate around the metal structures I found in September. They were still there but the river was even higher and had been busy burying them in debris.

One final thing I found walking north along the river bank. A rustic looking shack thing on the rivers edge. Further downstream I met two people pulling debris from this fast flowing distributary. They told me that this part of the river was deep and they were making sure it wasn’t getting plugged up. Made me think the tarped structure was a fishing shack versus a homeless shelter. Still not 100% sure but each time I go it is empty and in disrepair.

Fishing Shack on the Cedar River

Locating the Cedar Mountain Depot Site

My next trip to the Cedar Mountain Ghost Town location was in January 2021. I was working on possible old Railroad Depot locations and my article can be found at Cedar Mountain Train Depot. I had received this photo from the Pacific Northwest Railroad Archive with no exact location for it. It was erected around 1891 and destroyed by fire in 1933. FYI – It is not that small shed in the 1889 photo since this one was built after the photo was taken.

Went up and down the railroad trail bed looking for potential spots that had a hillside and slide like the background of the photo. Still not sure where it was. We mostly think it was up by Belmondo’s Reach Park and the commercial mining area of Cedar Mountain. But?? The jury is technically still out.

Cedar Mountain Pacific Coast Railroad Depot

I took these two photos from the trail just to the north of our townsite. Look at the hillside in the distance. Is that a match?

#3 location – just north of the town site
#3 location wider view of this location – Store would have been where the trees start.

One more thought on this. Remember this photo when I show you what I found along the trail on my next visit. Something I found was in the brush to the left of that yellow tip marker post.

Spring Revisit to Town Site

Now it is spring of 2021. Like a moth to a flame I was drawn back to the area. So, in April I hiked around looking for a magical sign. At first I went down to the metal structures on the beach.

The metal structures are still there

Nothing much changed there except I tried to sort out the chunks of cement and old pipe on the trail. No real rhyme or reason could I find. Also found some old bricks on the river bank to add to the mystery of what was down at the river’s edge.

Next I crisscrossed the field areas looking for the lost graveyard. Nothing found. Just like all the other places I have poked around, a bust.

Figured I would walk down the tree row that separates the trail and the field. This time I walked a much longer distance and to my delight found more pottery. This little piece of ceramic was sort of buried in the dirt under the trees. Was it there all of it’s life? Did the energy of a growing tree push it up to the surface? Or did someone else find it and just put it there for others to find? The questions and mysteries just keep coming.

This little gift under the tree is special. It has a makers mark which means we can date it!!

Piece of white pottery found at Cedar Mountain site.

This first photo has my trekking pole so you can see it’s size and the smaller piece that was with it. My little find is about 6 centimeters or a little over 2″ long. Here is a close up of the makers mark.

White pottery with makers mark reading “Royal Ironstone China – Warranted”

Took me quite a bit of searching to find the company attached to this mark. It is a common one that was often counterfeited. The American makers especially used this without permission from the English crown. In this case there was no special company name included. At last I found it at the Museum of Ceramics web site. They said the following about it:

The East End Pottery Company was the first pottery company to locate in the East End area of East Liverpool, Ohio. Other potteries would soon follow. The company was organized as a cooperative and sponsored by the East Liverpool Board of Commerce. The company was offered a $2000 bonus and an acre of land. Construction of the two kiln pottery was completed in October 1894 with production delayed until 1895. In 1901, six local potteries, including the East End Pottery Company, merged to form the East Liverpool Potteries Company. The venture was short-lived and the merger dissolved in 1903 with the East End Pottery Company resuming production under the pre-merger management.

This date of 1895 to 1901 fits right in with Cedar Mountain’s timeline. What it really does is give us another bit of proof that the townsite was at this southern location. Does that get all of you ghost town hunters excited or what?

I found another piece of pottery and that the blue/green plate was still there too.

Time to go and I started down the railroad turned trail. That was when I noticed things in the blackberries. The state had come along and whacked at the sticker bushes exposing things of interest.

First there was a pile of gravel, rocks and dirt right on the other side of the trees where I found the pottery.

Location of rock pile that used to be under blackberries

In the pile I found what I thought was an old stove door and some electrical items. My trusty fellow history hunters identified the metal as a Railroad Tie Plate and an old electrical Knob & Tube insulator. A big Thank You to Brett H & Mike A for their help and info on these items.

That hole in the tie plate sure looked like a hole on old cook stoves used for moving grates. I was so wrong. From it’s markings, the railroad guys told me that it was used to secure the railroad ties. It is probably dated from the 1940s due to the weight and coded info on it. Here is what they wrote about it:

Probably from 40’s 100 RE is the rail size that this plate was made for. Its a Medium heavy rail popular in the 1940s thru the late 1950s. This was possibly a mainline at one time. Most 1800’s rail is 62 to 75 Lb rail per three feet of length. This was 100 lbs per 3 feet. Modern mainline rail is 136 lbs per 3 ft.

That insulator could be from an old house that was wired with knob & tube style wiring. Or it could have been used on a fence in recent years. Be exciting if it was part of the old store!

For those that are thirsty for information here is Wiki’s recap on K&T:

Knob-and-tube wiring (sometimes abbreviated K&T) is an early standardized method of electrical wiring in buildings, in common use in North America from about 1880 to the 1930s. It consisted of single-insulated copper conductors run within wall or ceiling cavities, passing through joist and stud drill-holes via protective porcelain insulating tubes, and supported along their length on nailed-down porcelain knob insulators. Where conductors entered a wiring device such as a lamp or switch, or were pulled into a wall, they were protected by flexible cloth insulating sleeving called loom.

Then we have the big timbers now revealed. At first I thought they might be part of the old buildings. Was the Train Depot here? Then once I learned about the Tie Plate, I started thinking these might be railroad ties. They were left from the removal of the railroad in the recent past to make the paved trail of today.

Remember that photo from January 2021? See how there was treasure buried in the blackberry bushes.
Timbers peeking out of the blackberry stickers
Railroad Ties? or Building Materials?

That is the end of all I have accumulated about the site of a ghost town in our midst… Cedar Mountain. She continues to slowly reveal her secrets but I bet we will never really have all the cards on the table.

I do plan to go back and see if I can find a bigger dump site – the mother-load of old junk. It must have existed somewhere close to the Store. Those blackberry bushes and tangle of trees to the north would be a good spot to start.

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. Locating Lost Old Coal Mines of King County

Remember Times are a changing.  Blink and all will be changed. Literally, a town can disappear!

Before the Store 1888-89 Photo of Cedar Mountain – now all gone and under Hwy 169 – Courtesy of Renton History Museum

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