The Historic Yellowstone Trail
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Fall City to Seattle
Before the Yellowstone Trail switched to the Sunset highway from Spokane to Seattle in 1925, the route from Fall City to Seattle went through Redmond and Kirkland. From Kirkland you then hopped onto a ferry across Lake Washington to the foot of Madison St. then up the hill into Seattle
This drive from Snoqualmie Falls to the site of the Kirkland ferry dock is about 20 miles. Even though the last 7 miles are now completely developed, most of this route is pretty much the same as it was 100 years ago.
January 20, 2016
We began our trip at the bottom of Snoqualmie Falls which is a couple of miles east of Fall City. There is a new visitor parking area where you can walk to a view point to see the bottom of the falls or take a trail that follows in the path of the Cascade Wagon Road to the top of the waterfall. This part of the road was used by the Yellowstone Trail until the big cut near Tokul Creek was completed about 1917.
This hill is the first real hill climb automobiles had to conquer on the way over the pass from Seattle. This photo shows the original road going up the hill. Here is a now and then photo of the road at the bottom of the hill. Looking at the far end of the road in this photo the road turns right and immediately starts to climb. After a few more photos we headed for Fall City.
This photo is of the old road along the river. About a mile before town, the original road curved to the left around the hill and down into town. In 1925 the hill was cut and the new road went straight through. You can see these alignments in this photo
Just before Fall City the route crosses over the Snoqualmie River. Three bridges had been constructed over the years. The first bridge was completed in 1889 and was made of wood. This bridge fell into the river in 1900 and had to be rebuilt. In 1915 when the Yellowstone Trail came through, the first concrete bridge across the river was beginning construction and was completed in 1917. This bridge was used until 1980 when it was replaced with the current bridge.
The Fall City Historical Society has done an excellent article on these early bridges. You can read the article at this link. Page 7 of the article is especially interesting as it solves the myth of the cremated remains that were placed inside the bridge during the construction.
When the Yellowstone Trail came through Fall City, it brought plenty of traffic, giving rise to the community's tourism industry through hotels, restaurants, and gas stations. Fall City has 4 of these landmarks still standing from the early years.
1. Riverside Tavern. This building was built in 1925 at the junction of the Sunset Highway and the Yellowstone Trail as the Riverside Tavern. In 1933 a second story was added and it became the Riverside Tavern and Lodge, which operated under a number of owners. From 1966 to 2005, it is fondly remembered as the Colonial Inn. Today it is the Roadhouse Inn. You can visit their website at this Link.
3 .Model Garage. The Model Garage opened about 1920 at a location a little west of it's current site. It moved to it's current site in 1926 and by 1980 had expanded to the building we see today. This garage is still in business under the same name. You can visit their website at this link.
4. Red Crown Gas Station. Originally it was located across the Preston-Fall City Rd. from the Roadhouse Inn. It later operated under a variety of owners. From 1989 to 2013 it was a Tesoro Station. For a couple of years it has not been in operation.
As we resumed our drive on the western edge of town a small building is seen. This was a gas station owned by Henry and Florence Stone in the 1920's and 1930's. A little further down the trail just past the baseball field we stopped to take a photo of the old alignment. This is where the road had forked. We took a picture showing the new road as it heads eastward back into Fall City. After taking photos we continued on our drive.
From here the road stays on the original alignment for the next 12 miles. It is a nice drive through the valley looking at the farms and pastures. There even was a roadside oddityKnown to the locals as "The Lamp Lady".
While most of the route is on the original alignment, in the 1920's the road was improved. In this section there are 2 places that were realigned. The first one is just past the animal hospital and Hamilton Rd. This is where the original road veered to the right because of the hill. The other is down the road a mile and a half.
Here the original alignment veered to the left onto what is now NE 50th St. As we started to drive down NE 50th St. we had to stop because Evans Creek had overflowed it's banks and flooded the road.
We drove back to the highway and then down to Sahalee Way to reconnect back with NE 50th St. The drive along NE 50th St. is like going back into the past. The road is still the original width with the only difference today is the asphalt paving. It sure is better driving on asphalt than the mud that would be certain this time of year.
After you turn right you are going north on 196th Ave NE. This road was named the James Mattson Road in 1901 after a local land owner. In 1913 he petitioned the county to get this road paved. He got his wish and the road was paved with brick on the north 1.25 miles of the 1.5 mile road. It is known today as the Red Brick Road.
You can watch a 3-minute video of a drive up the brick road on Youtube.
Due to the increased traffic on Highway 202, they stopped allowing cars to cross the highway at 196th Ave NE. We just drove back to Sahalee Way and took the new highway back to 196th Ave NE.
After turning right we stopped for a few photos of the old curve built in the 1920's. This point is also where the brick pavement ends. We then continued north on the brick road to the new kiosk and took some pictures. After that we turned left onto Union Hill Rd. This road was named for the retired Civil War Soldiers who had homesteaded there.
Next it was west into Redmond. Redmond grew up as a logging and farming town. It was just another small town along the Yellowstone Trail. Today it has been absorbed into suburbia and it is home to Microsoft, Nintendo and many other tech companies.
From Redmond the original route traveled south on Leary Way then over the old Seattle Lakeshore and Eastern right of way, past Marymoor Park and then up the hill toward Kirkland. Going up the hill required one switchback. A traveler from the trail days would probably never imagine what this stretch of the road would grow to become. The only thing old here is the name of the road. The "Old Redmond Rd".
Once we started down the hill into Kirkland we took a photo of Lake Washington. Not the best view of the lake but you can see it in the background. The route continues east down the hill under the Northern Pacific tracks, and then turns right onto State St.
In six tenths of a mile you turn left onto Kirkland Ave and after you cross Lake St. you arrive at the ferry dock. In the 1920's when the road was improved the route from Redmond to Kirkland was changed. The route took Redmond Way, NE 85th St and Kirkland Way.
In 1890, Kirkland was becoming acclaimed throughout the nation as the “Pittsburgh of the West”. Peter Kirk, a wealthy Englishman, established the town site which was to center around Kirk’s Moss Bay Iron and Steel Works. But the financial panic in 1893 shattered that dream. Today it is now part of the sprawling suburbia on the eastside of Lake Washington.
Because of the steel mill, many Victorian homes and Craftsman style bungalows were built for the steel mill executives and workers. You can drive around the town today and see many of these beautiful old homes.
The two most successful industries in Kirkland's early history were wool milling and ship building. The first wool mill in the State of Washington was established in Kirkland in 1892. It produced wool products for the Alaska Gold Rush prospectors and for the U.S. Military during World War I. Kirkland’s ship building industry began on the Lake Washington waterfront with the construction of ferries.
For 20 years, most of the boats on Lake Washington were either built or repaired here. By 1940, Kirkland’s Lake Washington Shipyard was building warships for the U.S. Navy; more than 25 were built during World War II on what is now Carillon Point.
In Kirkland we took a photo at the corner of Kirkland Ave and Lake St. looking northwest. The road going to the left of the photo heads to the ferry dock. The old ferry dock is gone and today the area is now the city marina and public park.
During the heyday of the ferry, the S.S. Lincoln was the main ferry that carried travelers across the lake. This ferry started service in 1915 and had a uneventful 25 years before it was retired in 1940 when the Floating Bridge was completed. Ferry service continued until 1950. This link takes you to some old photos of Kirkland and the ferry
It was a wonderful drive with plenty of things to see. In those early days it must have taken a few hours to reach Seattle. Today it would take you about 30 minutes on the interstate.
I would like to thank Ruth Pickering from the Fall City Historical Society for assisting me with this article.
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