Upper Skykomish Valley towns lost to time | Taking Stock

By Tim Raetzloff | Apr 19, 2017
Courtesy of: Neil Anderson This photo shows the town of Alpine in the Upper Skykomish Valley in the autumn of 1918. It was taken by Doris Bell, who was the high school teacher in Alpine during the 1918-19 school year. Originally named Nippon, the town was first built to house Japanese railway workers. The town sat a mile from the nearest road. In 1903, a local lumber baron renamed it Alpine. Around 1918, an estimated 200 people lived in the active logging town. Ten years later, the estimated population was 400. The town was evacuated and intentionally burned in 1929. Today, little more than nature remains.

Many of us travel Highway 2 over Stevens Pass. In the winter, it may be to ski; in the summer, for a visit to Central or Eastern Washington.

Do you ever think about what you are passing through, or do you just drive to get where you are going as quickly as possible?

Most would be surprised by the history of the Upper Skykomish Valley. What you see now is forest, and one of the most common places for sighting Harry the Sasquatch. In fact, much of the filming of Harry and the Hendersons was done in the Upper Skykomish Valley. That is what you see now, but 100 years ago it was a very industrial area.

Many of the towns of the Upper Valley are gone. Wellington/Tye, Nippon/Alpine, Martin Creek City, Alvin/Embro, Heybrook and Corea are gone. Berlin/Miller River, Scenic, Halford, and Mill Town are nearly gone – only a few people continue to live in each. Skykomish, Index, Grotto and Baring are mere shadows of what they once were.

Once there was industry here, and many more people than live here now. Historian Warren Carlson estimates that the population of the Upper Valley 90 years ago was 10 times what it is now. The jobs went away and so did the people.

The jobs that were there were industrial. Granite was quarried in Index where rock climbers now scale the sheer face. Baring also quarried granite, and logged. All of the towns had some logging. Saw mills were located at Heybrook, Mill Town and Alpine. Grotto had a cement plant.

Wellington was just railroad. Its name was changed to Tye after the notorious avalanche killed 96 people in 1910. Skykomish was mostly railroad. As a Division Point, it was an important crew and engine transfer location for the Great Northern Railway.

There was mining in various parts of the Upper Valley, and the towns acted as supply points for miners. The exception to the heavy industrial character of the valley was Scenic Hot Springs.

There, a resort piped the water from the hot springs to baths in the hotel. Visitors came long distances on the railroad to enjoy the hot baths in a literally scenic setting. The resort was also noted for hosting dances. The hotel was destroyed in 1929 when the Great Northern Railway realigned its tracks to the “new” Cascade Tunnel.

On May 13, the Skykomish Historical Society is going to host “An Upper Sky Valley History Event” at the historic Maloney store in Skykomish. The 120-year-old store is now a community center for Skykomish. There will be docents who are familiar with each of the towns. I will be there talking about Alpine.

The event will run from noon-4 p.m., slightly unlike the Charles Bronson movie “From Noon till Three,” but in a similarly vintage town.


Tim Raetzloff operates Abarim Business Computers at Harbor Square in Edmonds. What he writes combines his sense of history and his sense of numbers. Neither he nor Abarim have an investment in any of the companies mentioned in this column.

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