The town of Index has been around almost as long as the state of Washington, itself. Not only did its many resources help build a roaring town in the early 20th century, but it also helped make many wonderful contributions to the future of the state. Many people surely thought that the town of Index would make a difference in Washingtonian culture for many years to come. However, as time passed, the services the town had offered were changed by society. This caused many of its residents to flee, leaving the town with a sparse population. As it is buried deep in the cascade forest away from the public eye, many people, Washigtionians included, are unaware of the town’s existence. However, one thing is for certain. The town has not lost its beauty nor has it lost its noble history.
Backstory and Context
Fifty miles east of Seattle right in the heart of the Cascade Mountains lies the small town of Index on the North Fork of the Skykomish River. The town gets its name after its neighboring Mt Index, which gets its name from its resemblance to an index finger. As the town lies deep into the forest and its population is less than two hundred people, very few are familiar with the town’s existence as well as its history. However, even the smallest towns contain the biggest secrets.
For a while, the Skykomish river’s main inhabitants were Native Americans. That was until 1855 when Washington's governor Isaac I. Stevens developed the Treaty of Point Elliott which prompted the migration of Native Americans from their current homes to locations in different parts of the state One such land that the Natives fled was the Cascade area. By the 1880s, the now deserted land became a target for miners as it was believed to inhabit many golds and silvers. Roughly a decade later, a couple from Kansas named Amos and Persis Gunn made their way to the Cascades and came across the land. The Gunns saw the area’s popularity and believed it had the potential to rise into a much bigger community and an even bigger industry. They purchased a piece of property in the land that contained a small log cabin. Next to it, they built another building. This piece of land would serve as a hotel for miners. From there, the land became more and more popular. In 1891, the Great Northern Railway began developing tracks there finishing the project in 1893. Soon after, a second hotel was added due to the growing popularity. The land even had a tent hospital and a small schoolhouse. By 1893, the town's population was over 500 people. At this time the town of Index was born.
Towards the beginning of the twentieth century, the town had half a dozen hotels, over 500 residents and a thriving industry. In 1903, the town of Index developed a sawmill, the largest local business at the time. The mill had roughly fifty employees and its location next to the railroad tracks made the distribution of goods very efficient. In 1904 a man named John A. Soderberg developed the Index Granite company. With approximately 70 employees, this company helped develop materials that would go on to create buildings in neighboring cities such as Seattle, Spokane, and Everett. They even crafted stone that would be used to create the steps on the state capital. Index became a popular tourist destination. When trains would stop in town, passengers would enjoy friendly hospitality at one of the hotels including the famous Bush House Hotel, the gem of the town. Some say the Bush family would stand outside the train station, rang a bell, and held up a Bush sign to welcome the travelers. The guests enjoyed a variety of outdoor activities that are still common in the town today such as fishing in the Skykomish River, hiking mount index, or even rock climbing at one of the nearby peaks. In 1908, the mill was expanded and renamed the Index-Galena Company. The new mill now employed over 150 men and was able to transport logs by train roughly 16 miles down the Skykomish River. The town's popularity saw a massive rise in construction. Dozens of homes, a hospital, and even a two-story school were built to accommodate the lives of Index citizens. In the 1910s and 1920s during the age of automobiles, the town of Index expanded its path to the neighboring highway 2 and even developed postal transport systems and even the bus route. By the end of the 1920s, Index Washington was a fully populated town.
However, at the beginning of the 1930s, the Great Depression hit prompting the beginning of many trials for the town. In 1929, the Galena mill ran out of logs and was unable to continue with their business so they shut down. In May of 1932, the Granite company burned and was never rebuilt. In 1933, highway 2 was bypassed which only hindered the town’s existence. Many of the town’s businesses began to close including all of its hotels with the exception of the Bush House. Many families saw the decline of the town and thought it best to move away. However, the troubles didn’t end there. In 1939, a spark from a nearby train set off a massive forest fire that spread to index causing many of the residents to lose their homes, and even the town church burned down. Over the next couple of decades, the town saw a massive loss in many of its businesses, citizens, and even schools. In the 1960s, the old railroad depot was no longer in use as trains didn’t stop in town anymore. So it was torn down. Over the years, the town continued, however, its glory days were far in the past.
Today over a century after its establishment, the town of index lies beneath the forest just off highway two. It is home to roughly 160 residents making it one of the smallest towns in Western Washington. Local children from grades K-7 can attend school at the Index School district. Next to the school is a small public park where the saw from the former Index granite company is displayed. Fishing, hiking, rock climbing, and all the activities the town once had to offer are still enjoyed daily. Through the town’s outdoor adventure center, guests can partake in activities such as kayaking and white water rafting. In 2002, The Bush House, the last of the Index hotels decided to close its doors due to its aging state. However, in 2012, the town’s council decided to begin a renovation project on the hotel saving it from demolition with the hopes of allowing the public to enjoy it once more. The town is currently continuing on the renovation and there is hope that with the spark of The Bush House, life will once more flourish in the beautiful town of Index.
Smith, Debra. Saving a historic hotel in Index, HeraldNet. May 31st 2009. Accessed June 1st 2020. https://web.archive.org/web/20090605003212/http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20090531/NEWS01/705319904.
Lindgren, Louise. Index — Thumbnail History, historylink.org. September 4th 2009. Accessed June 1st 2020. https://www.historylink.org/File/9143.
indexhistorical. Town History, Index Historical Society. April 11th 2012. Accessed June 1st 2020. http://www.indexhistoricalsociety.org/?page_id=2.
Treaty of Point Elliot, Govenor's office of Indian Affairs. Accessed June 1st 2020. https://goia.wa.gov/tribal-government/treaty-point-elliott-1855.
Muhlstein, Julie. Couple faithfully renovating historic 1899 Bush House in Index, HeraldNet. July 3rd 2007. Accessed June 1st 2020. https://www.heraldnet.com/news/couple-faithfully-renovating-historic-1899-bush-house-in-index/.
Honan, Dave. April 22, 2006, davehonan.com. April 22nd 2006. Accessed June 1st 2020. http://www.davehonan.com/2006/04/04-22-06.html.
Mount Index, summitpost.org. May 14th 2012. Accessed June 4th 2020. https://www.summitpost.org/mount-index/781051.
(Photo Credits, Pearce Newman)
(Photo Credits, Pearce Newman)
(Photo Credits, Dave Honan)
(photo obtained from Summit Post.org)