Red Town Trail Coal Creek Then and Now

Tracing the history of a popular Bellevue hiking trail

December 13, 2020

Jean Sherrard (from Hillside Community School) writes in Pacific NW Magazine (Dec 10, 2020) about the villages of Newcastle and Coal Creek, home to 1,000 residents for a century.

The story begins Jan. 9, 1864, when after “months of diligent search,” an exploratory party led by King County Surveyor Edwin Richardson made an exhilarating discovery on the banks of today’s Coal Creek. “This brook,” a weary Richardson recorded in field notes, “is remarkable for its numerous croppings of superior stone coal.”

Within weeks, Richardson and several companions staked out 160-acre claims surrounding the creek. Extraction soon began, at first haphazardly but increasing exponentially, and over the next 100 years yielded nearly 11 million tons of coal.

and the book The Coals of Newcastle – A Hundred Years of Hidden History

In 1863 coal attracted investors from California and the East Coast, who put the miners to work digging surface deposits and excavating shallow tunnels. Originally workers bagged the coal and took it to Lake Washington to barges. By 1872 coal was dumped into cars, pulled by horses to Lake Washington, barged across the lake, pulled to Lake Union, barged again, then pulled to coal bunkers on Elliott Bay. In 1870 the Seattle and Walla Walla Railroad laid tracks to Newcastle. The train took coal to Seattle quickly, which in turn made the railroad profitable.

The mines were continuously sprayed with water, but an 1894 explosion killed four miners. Two months later, fire threatened the area from underground. Coal Creek was diverted in the mine to put out the fire, leaving smoke hanging over the community for months.

Coal production stayed high through World War I. However, immediately following the war, strikes were common. A fire destroyed part of the mining equipment, and the mining operations closed. Independent miners continued to mine until the 1960s

Hand-colored photo from 1922, discovered later among the belongings of a worker’s family

Hand-colored photo from 1922, discovered later among the belongings of a worker’s family.

Me standing in front of the remains of a coal mine

Volunteers standing at the spot

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