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October in Cle Elum | Cle Elum, WA

THIS IS HOW WE DO Our Town's History

October 22nd, 2018

Long before there was a town of Cle Elum, there was a railroad station. Railroad engineers came through the valley looking to create a new stop for the Northern Pacific Railroad. They decided to build the newest station in a small unnamed settlement nestled in the Cascade Mountains.

The first settlers who lived in "Clealum" were miners and their families who took the name from the Kittitas tribe's word for "swift-water" after the Cle Elum river. On February 12, 1902 the town officially became incorporated and known as Cle Elum.

Early Cle Elum boomed with the new railway station, the logging industry, coal and eventually the state highway which brought in more people. But that doesn't mean everything was perfect for the small town. A forest fire destroyed a city block including many businesses and the general store in 1891, an explosion of black powder killed 9 people including a 10-year-old girl, and the big fire of 1918.

Central Washington is no stranger to forest fires this one nearly put an end to the town. As Smokey the Bear would say "only you can prevent forest fires" and this was especially true for the fire that took place on June 25, 1918. Next to an unsuspecting movie theater, a fire - possibly lit by a tossed cigarette - started in a pile of garbage. Within moments, the theater was engulfed and the flames and embers began to spread with the help of the wind. Soon half of Cle Elum's business district was a "seething cauldron of fire," historian W.D. Lyman wrote. Not only were half of the businesses destroyed, but so were 205 homes and 1,800 people were left homeless. However, these disasters couldn't stop the town of Cle Elum, the people and businesses took it in stride. One of the businesses destroyed was the Cle Elum Bakery, which was opened in 1906 by the Pricco family. But the family rebuilt after the fire and the bakery began to thrive. The Bakery is still in operation today but it is now run by the Osmonovich family who bought it in 1947. Next time you are in town stop by for one of their traditional bear claws or one of their specialty bread loaves.

Though Cle Elum was built partially on coal, the economy shifted away from that in the 1900s and into outdoor recreation; people began visiting for the lakes, trails and scenic views in the area. And in 2003 Suncadia resort was built so people could experience the beauty of nature while also enjoying modern luxuries like spas and restaurants.

There are historical sites located throughout the city and each one has its own story to tell. Here are just a few of the places you can visit on your next trip.

South Cle Elum Rail Yard: This site is a remnant of Cle Elum's railroad past that has been maintained to teach visitors about the history of the Milwaukee Railroad. The depot was built in 1909 and the restoration process began in 1999. Previously, the site was used as a bed and breakfast but now it consists of an interpretive center and trail with 18 historical stops. There is even a place to grab lunch while walking the trail.

The Carpenter House: One of Cle Elum's historical museums, the Carpenter House was built in 1914 for Frank Carpenter, a bank and town mayor. The carpenter family donated the house in 1989 to turn it into a museum and it includes antique furniture and historical costumes from families in the area. The High Country Artists also showcase their art on the main floor and have a studio in the house. Exhibits change each month so every visit is different.

Telephone Museum: This Cle Elum museum celebrates not only the town's history but also the history of the telephone. In 1966, this museum was created because Cle Elum was one of the last cities in the United States to use the manual switchboard. According to the Northern Kittitas County Historical Society, it is the oldest complete telephone museum west of the Mississippi. The telephone isn't the only thing showcased here, visitors can also see artifacts donated by coal miners and items donated by Frank Carpenter from the Cle Elum State Bank.


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