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Looking At The Town History

It is hard to look at history and ask yourself when did a town begin....
Tribal members of the Sauk-Suiattle navigating the swift Sauk River

In the beginning
the area was settled by the Sauk-Suiattle Tribe living in the Suiattle, White Chuck and Sauk River Valleys as wells as the upper Stillaguamish River.  This was more than a home, it was a place where multitudes of names were given to places that had special meaning.  A river was not merely given a name but segments of rivers were named because each of these special places were unique and named accordingly.  The canoe skills honed by the many generations of navigating the river's swift waters are still today legendary.

The year 1870 dramatically changed everything when the first white men came to the area surveying and searching for a route over the Cascade Mountains for the railroad.  Even though a suitable route was discovered, the railroad chose a route farther south and the discovery of the upper Stillaguamish Valley remained idle.

A prospector's lean-to in the Darrington area, photo from Darrington Historical Society

When the big news of gold being discovered in the near mountains back in 1889 men flocked to the Cascade Mountains with high hopes of a better life.  The place where gold was discovered was about 30 miles south of where Darrington is today, a place given the name Monte Cristo by Fred Wilman after reading a novel titled "The Count Of Monte Cristo.  A trail connected Sauk City on the Skagit River from the North and Monte Cristo to the south making Darrington's location a half way point and camp for the weary traveler.  A cluster of wooden shacks and tent shelters were put up to accommodate the prospectors on their travels as well as to acquire as much of their money as possible before they reached Monte Cristo. 

The first train to Darrington, photo from the Darrington Historical Society

A prospector sees the mountains differently from most folks. They can look at a rock ledge and evaluate its mineral composition and whether the lode ore could turn a profit.  Many of the prospectors never made the trip all the way to Monte Cristo.  They explored the mountains of the Darrington area and found veins of gold, silver, copper and more.  The travel through Darrington was bypassed in 1894 when the railroad was completed connecting Monte Cristo and Everett to the west.  By this time the upper Stillaguamish Valley had grown into a small mining settlement which was named Darrington on July 22, 1891 when they filed for their first post office.  There were many mining claims and prospectors in the surrounding mountains and the valley thundered with dynamite blasts.  With the discovery of mineral wealth the problem of getting the ore out of the valley was becoming a real obstacle.  But for prospector Charles Burns it became a challenge, he had a big dream to bring the train all the way to this new mining town and it was through his perseverance that the first train reached Darrington June 5, 1901 to pick up the first load of ore.  
Logging camp on North Mountain, photo from Darrington Historical Society

With the coming of the railroad to the upper valley, more changes came to the area.  Prior to the arrival of the train many small sawmills existed in conjunction with the mining claims to cut supporting timbers and ties for rails to transport ore cars, but new sawmills came into the area to harvest "ripe" timber.  Several spurs were added to the Arlington to Darrington line for logging railroads which connected to logging camps deep in the forest.  Sidings were constructed to hold extra cars and reloads at sawmill sites.  All of the sites along the railroad developed into communities.  Also the railroad connected Darrington with the rest of the world and families began to move to the area.  The mining settlement now grew into a town of several sawmills and logging companies.

Darrington Street in late 1930s, photo from Mary Faucett

For many years everything was in boom, not just for Darrington but the whole country.  The train leaving Darrington was piled high with lumber from the mills and cities were being built. Everything ground to a halt when the stock markets crashed on October, 29th, 1929. The logging industry was hit very hard as building ceased and building materials were no longer needed.  Logging camps closed, flat cars sat idle along the sidings and sawmills grew silent.  The winter of 1929-1930 had heavy snows and harsh cold winds bringing a late spring.  Many vegetable gardens were planted to supply much needed food for families, but during the first week of June a peculiar frost swept over the valley killing most of the vegetable crops.  The people of Darrington have a long history of working together and looking after neighbors and family during hard times and they pulled through.  Slowly times got better for the upper Stillaguamish Valley.

Camp Darrington, photo from Finas Skeers 

1932 was a years of severe floods for Darrington and Monte Cristo to the south.  Darrington lost 2 bridges, their grange and the road to the Mansford School.  Repairs could not be made due to lack of funds.  The Civilian Conservation Corps established a camp north of town called Camp Darrington.  The upper Stillaguamish Valley was on the move again, bridges were repaired, Forest Service roads were built into the mountains and fire lookouts were constructed on major peaks.  Many of these roads are still enjoyed today as scenic drives and hiking trails.  Not only did these young men bring much needed repairs and construction projects to the area, but also their enthusiasm and the first basketball game.  The CCC teamed up with Forest Ranger Nels Bruseth to build a ski jump south of town and toboggan runs for the kids. The most remembered CCC project in the area is the famous Mountain Loop Highway which construction started in 1936.

The Queen's Float in the Timberbowl Parade, 1946, photo from Betty Knowles

The Mountain Loop Highway was completed in 1941, and only open to the public for a short time.  When the USA became involved in WII the Big Four Resort was occupied by the military and restricted civilian traffic.  When the war ended in 1945 Darrington flourished.  Volunteers came together to build a new City Hall with a fire department on the street level and a dance floor upstairs.  The following year the people of Darrington came together again, this time to create an event to raise money to buy a firetruck for the new fire department.  They named this event the Timberbowl.  It was such a success that the Timberbowl became a famous Darrington tradition that lasted for decades.

The Darrington Community Center, photo by Martha Rasmussen

When changes are needed for the Darrington community, it has always been the people that come together turning the impossible into the possible.  On April 24th, 1954 the town celebrated the opening of their brand new community center. Once again this building came about because the people had a dream, volunteers pitched in and lumber was generously donated. This building today still remains a strong focal point for the people of this area with farewells to love ones passed on, cheering for the school teams and congratulations to our graduates. 

Whitehorse Mountain as seen from Whitehorse Rails-To-Trails, photo by Shari Brewer

Through the years Darrington has seen many changes, the railroad is now managed by Snohomish County as they develop the Whitehorse Trail and many of the old forest service  roads, logging railroads and footpaths to lookouts are now hiking trails.  At one time several mills once followed the Arlington -Darrington Railroad, now have closed or merged with the larger mill in town, Hampton Lumber which is the largest employer for the area.  One thing remains steadfast and the timeless and that is the people of the community with deep ties to their mountains and surrounding wilderness.  Darrington is over 30 miles from the nearest town creating a need for self-reliance and a community of neighbors, friends and family that know how to work and play side by side. 

Written by Martha Rasmussen