Real Road Trips: The Historic Trip

Hit historic back roads for a closer look at some of the oldest communities in Seattle’s backyard
Niki Stojnic  |   May 2014   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION
road trip ideas from seattle magazine
The confluence of Tolt and Snoqualmie rivers, outside Carnation

A well-concealed (OK, probably entirely unknown) perk of being married to a historic preservationist is that the opportunity to travel off the beaten path to fascinating places under the guise of work comes up often. It also brings a new appreciation for places that aren’t so exotic or far-flung but are nonetheless fascinating. For his latest project, my husband Spencer has been surveying historic roads in five counties in western Washington for the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation; these are what remain of some of the very first roads that connected towns all over the state, and they are tailor-made for history-loving road trippers short on time but long on curiosity.  

Travelers: Writer/editor Niki Stojnic, husband Spencer Howard, dog Isis
Purpose: Track historic byways
Days on the road: Two days
Total miles: Approx. 110 (total mileage of historic roads for all five Western Washington routes, 139)
Vehicle: Subaru Outback Sport
Navigational aid: Can’t live without Google Maps on the iPhone, with paper maps as backup.
Most essential road-trip gear: Coffee, water, sunglasses for those unexpectedly bright spots (even on a cloudy day), hiking boots
Best detour: Rockridge Orchards Winery, Cidery and Distillery (rockridgeorchards.com) in Enumclaw; Old Goat Farm Garden and Nursery (oldgoatfarm.com) in Graham, which is open one weekend of the month, April–October
Rookie error: Leaving late
Big takeaway: You don’t have to go far for a road trip through state history.

Mining to Mountains
We headed southward from West Seattle, starting our trip on the Pierce County leg, where historic State Routes 162 and 165 once connected coal mining and farming towns, some of which disappeared after the mining industry packed it in during the early 1900s. Today, the roads connect surviving and thriving towns, including Orting, Wilkeson and Carbonado.

Our first stop was in McMillin, at the Foothills Trail (foothillstrail.net), about 40 miles from our starting point, to stretch our legs and the dog’s; cyclists take advantage of this scenic 18-mile route, where a railroad bridge along the way hints at its former use as a Northern Pacific Railroad line established in 1877. You can check out the National Register–listed McMillin Bridge, a concrete-through truss bridge built in 1934 that, at the time, was the longest of its type in the United States. A few miles farther up SR 162, we spotted the cupolas of the Woolrey-Koehler hop kiln, built in 1869, part of a then booming hops industry in the valleys surrounding Seattle. Farther along the road, take a break for a picnic by the Voight Creek Hatchery.

Wending our way along SR 162—south and then northwest, through tiny South Prairie and then dipping south again to continue on to SR 165, we came upon historic Wilkeson. The town’s sandstone quarry, in operation since 1886, is where materials for much of the state Capitol complex were unearthed. On charming Church Street, we found a gem of a distillery, just 2 years old, called Carbon Glacier Distillery (533 Church St.; 360.989.9700), where proprietor Keith Quimby happily serves up samples of its Quimby & Jack’s gin, Moose Shine whiskey, absinthe and B4 vodka. The distillery will be releasing a new bourbon as well as a Pump Trolley whiskey, to coincide with the town’s Wilkeson Days festivities (townofwilkeson.com) in July, which also feature handcar and lawn mower races. Ask about distillery tours. After sipping the strong stuff, hit diner-style Skeek’s (535 Church St.; Facebook, “Skeeks In Wilkeson”) next door for pizza, espresso and ice cream, and pick up some coffee beans for the road at Buono Coffee Roasters (529 Church St.; 360.829.1237; buonocoffee.com). Just past this cluster of shops, take a short detour left onto Railroad Avenue to get a look at what remains of the town’s coke ovens, which were built in 1885 to turn coal into coak (a cleaner fuel) for the Wilkeson Coal and Coke Company.

Just a few miles down SR 165, we came upon the former coal town of Carbonado. There are a few historic buildings here; one of the best is the Carbonado School Gymnasium at Division and Third streets, a beautiful 1929 Beaux Arts brick gymnasium listed on the Washington Heritage Register. Grab a bite at the Carbonado Saloon (101 Pershing Ave.; 360.829.4347; Facebook, “Carbonado Saloon”) for burgers, beer and a slice of the town’s history. According to owner/manager Amber Pries, the building, which was built circa 1920, has worn many hats and been moved multiple times around the coal town.

To head to the next historic route, we backtracked northward along SR 165 for a scenic climb up and out of the valley and along non-historic State Routes 18, 167 and 410 for about 40 minutes. We stopped on the way, soon after passing Auburn, along the Green River, at Flaming Geyser State Park (parks.wa.gov), which features a (smaller than the name implies) flame in a concrete basin, and a nearby bubbling mud hole, both fueled by a methane gas pocket 1,000 feet underground.

Hops Farms to Dairies
Onward to historic State Route 203, which marks a dramatic change from the coal towns and Mount Rainier views of SR 162 and 165 to rolling green farmland with a heritage in the dairy and hops industries. Many handsome old barns dot this road, which passes through the historic town cores of Fall City, Carnation, Duvall and Monroe, all situated along what was the route for the Great Northern Railway, which also roughly parallels the Snoqualmie River. The Great Northern has since been turned into a hiking/biking path, the Snoqualmie Valley Trail.

In Fall City, the Last Frontier Saloon (33813 SE Redmond–Fall City Road; 425.222.5640) and Fall City Roadhouse and Inn (4200 Preston–-Fall City Road SE; 425.222.4800, 425.222.4040 [inn]; fcroadhouse.com), is a notable 1916 building that holds court at the corner of historic Preston–Fall City Road SE and SE Redmond–Fall City Road. Formerly known as The Riverside Tavern and the Colonial Inn, the building was made famous when its image was seen in the TV series Twin Peaks. Dine or sleep over before heading back out.

We made a pit stop at local chain Mercurys Coffee Company (33378 SE Redmond–Fall City Road.; 425.222.4889; mercuryscoffee.com) on the way out of town. Just a couple of blocks on the same road, on the way back to SR 203, tiny Quigley Park has interpretive information about the history of Fall City.

Don’t miss another hop-drying shed, built in 1886, in the 27-acre Fall City Community Park, across the Snoqualmie River along SR 203 as you drive out of town. The shed was used to dry hops for what was billed as the largest hops ranch in the world at the time. The hops industry in both the Puyallup and Snoqualmie River valleys withered at about the same time the coal industry did, in the early 1900s, thanks to a pest infestation that decimated the hop plants.

The next stop along SR 203 is the town of Carnation, formerly known as Tolt, until the Carnation Dairy Company (yes, that Carnation) moved into town and renamed it. From here, you can hit Remlinger Farms (remlingerfarms.com), which opens in May. Look for U-pick strawberries in June, and raspberries and blueberries later in the season. Photo Courtesy of Washington State Archives: Traveling along historic State Route 165 in the 1910s

Keep going to Duvall, where SR 203 becomes the town’s Main Street, and shopping, books and eateries abound. For a taste of the local farming legacy, try the Duvall Farmers’ Market, which opens on May 1 (Thursdays, 3–7 p.m., Brown Street SW between NE Richardson and NE Ring streets) and where, in addition to local produce, you’ll find crafts such as homespun yarn and wool goods from C.H. Wool’s locally raised sheep, along with jewelry and baked goods. And while sightings of coffee shacks are ubiquitous on a road trip, just before arriving in Monroe we came across The Art of Milk (22426 SR 203; 206.595.6182), a roadside shop selling raw milk, a family business run by a former Darigold farmer.

Driving into picturesque Monroe, Old City Hall caught our eye. This lovely two-story 1908 brick structure proved to be a good place to start exploring: It’s now home to the Monroe Historical Society and Museum (monroehistoricalsociety.org). Pick up a self-guided walking tour brochure for Monroe’s historic sites, including the Carnation Condensery, which later produced cloth from flax as part of the World War II effort—and then went up in flames.

It was at this point, however, that we had to curb our impulse to check out just one last barn or old brick building and finally head for home. The trip refueled our excitement over many cool discoveries in our backyard and left us with a plan to see what other stories these historic state roads have to tell

Detours and More
At State Route 522, you can head back to Seattle, or continue north for more historic touring, along SR 530, which takes you through Arlington (about 10 miles southwest of Oso, site of the tragic March mudslide) and Stanwood (via SR 522), where historic barns are the main feature as well as views of the Olympics and Cascades. Hitch a ride on the Edmonds ferry to reach historic State Routes 104, 307 and 3, which run through Kingston, along the Hood Canal and to the postcard-perfect town of Port Gamble. The fifth route is in Island County, whose historic State Route 20 covers Coupeville and Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve, with a mass of county roads in between. Route maps are available to print out or download on your phone via the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation website (dahp.wa.gov/transportation-preservation).

Want more road trip ideas? Go back to our main story: Five Real Road Trips that will Inspire You to Pack Up the Car and Go