Situated at the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Snohomish County next to the Skykomish River and U.S. Highway 2 lies the mining and logging town of Gold Bar. This small town receives its name from the prospectors who claimed to have found traces of gold on the banks of the Skykomish River in 1869. Acting as a gateway to the Cascade Mountains, this small town was essential to the construction of the Great Northern Railway. The area around modern-day Gold Bar, originally inhabited by the Skykomish Indian Tribe, is currently home to more than 2,000 residents and boasts a large selection of outdoor activities for both tourists and outdoor enthusiasts.
Backstory and Context
Before Gold Bar was established, the area was home to the Skykomish Indians. The Skykomish were part of the Snohomish peoples whose region extended from the Snohomish River Basin to the Cascades. The Skykomish tribes territory laid along the Skykomish River and had winter villages located further downstream near Gold Bar. The Skykomish peoples’ annual living patterns generally revolved around hunting, fishing, and plant gathering seasons. When Euro-American settlers arrived in the 1850’s they introduced deadly diseases such as smallpox to many of the tribes in the area including the Skykomish peoples. By the end of the century, only a few hundred Skykomsh Indians survived. After the signing of the Point Elliot Treaty in 1855, the Skykomish Indian Tribe was relocated to the Tulalip Reservation. However, in the 1900’s a village of 240 people remained near Gold Bar.
The discovery of gold in 1858 in British Columbia and in Okanogan County guided crowds of prospectors to the Pacific Northwest. The first arrivals in Goldbar, traveling by means of underdeveloped roads and waterways, are thought to have been white traders, fur trappers, and prospectors searching for gold along the Skykomish River banks. These early settlers traveled by means of underdeveloped roads and waterways. As transportation methods improved and communities developed, more people could travel as far east as Gold Bar. As more people arrived, loggers who saw the area as an ideal place for logging and farming started to outnumber the prospectors. Soon, Gold Bar became a prime spot for mining, farming, and logging. The first settler in Gold Bar was Otto Lewis, who arrived in 1898 and left for California in 1906. In his time at Gold Bar Lewis built a home, donated land to a schoolhouse and church, built houses for workers, and established the Gold Bar Lumber Company, which became the town’s main money source and employer. Furthermore, in 1899 a post office was established, of which Otto Lewis became the first postmaster.
In 1899, during the period of new arrivals in the Pacific Northwest, the Great Northern Railway was also being constructed. When news that the railway was being built through the Cascade Mountains reached the settlers in Gold Bar, there was a rapid increase in development. This spur in development was primarily due to the railway’s bolstering of the small towns in the region. For example, many of the men working on the railway set up camps in these small towns near the Skykomish river, such as Gold Bar. These camps benefitted the towns by increasing the populations and introducing new job opportunities such as railroading. In addition, the Great Northern Railway gained a strong foothold in the lumber industry. It served as an efficient transportation method of lumber and allowed for new profits in the eastern markets. Since Gold Bar grew primarily as a logging town, the railway was an instrumental factor in its success and growth.
In 1910 Gold Bar reached a population of 400 and incorporated as a fourth-class municipality. In a small election, the town elected its first mayor William H. Croft, a treasurer and five councilmen. On September 16, 1910, Gold Bar was officially incorporated.
During the next two decades, Gold Bar flourished and expanded due to increased farm productivity, logging, and aid from the Great Northern Railway. During the Great Depression in the 1930’s Gold Bar struggled to maintain its businesses, and many of them closed. On the bright side, the Great Depression helped bring public-works programs to Snohomish County, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC helped Gold Bar as it established recreation as a new source of revenue and, with the steady improvement of roads and the increasing number of automobiles, helped attract more people to the area. In 2010 Gold Bar had a population of 2,075 people. Today Gold Bar remains an access point to many scenic views and boasts many recreational activities such as camping, hiking, kayaking, fishing, and white-water rafting.
- Riddle, Margaret. Gold Bar incorporates on September 16, 1910, HistoryLink.org. September 10th 2014. Accessed June 2nd 2020. https://www.historylink.org/File/10930.
- About the History of Gold Bar, City of Gold Bar. Accessed June 2nd 2020. https://cityofgoldbar.us/about-2/.
- Stein, Alan J. Skykomish - Thumbnail History, HistoryLink.org. August 12th 1999. Accessed June 2nd 2020. https://www.historylink.org/File/1623.
- Seeing the Forest for the Trees: Placing Washington's Forests in Historical Context, Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest. Accessed June 2nd 2020. https://www.washington.edu/uwired/outreach/cspn/Website/Classroom%20Materials/Curriculum%20Packets/Evergreen%20State/Section%20II.html.