Maple Valley -- Thumbnail History

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 11/23/1999
  • Essay 1922

Maple Valley, a King County community nestled 10 miles southeast of Renton within the sheer-cliffed Cedar River valley, grew from its outskirts inward toward its center. Originally a hodgepodge of homesteader cabins, its growth can be attributed to the lumber industry, coal mining, railroads, watersheds, and highway development.

Name Drawn From a Hat

The first settlers in what is now Maple Valley were George Ames, Henry Sidebotham, and C.O. Russell, who took up claims in 1879. The three were improving a trail before they brought their families in. One of them suggested that they name the future community. Ames proposed Vine Maple Valley, but Russell thought Maple Ridge to be a better name. They placed their choices on slips of paper, and placed them in a hat.

Vine Maple Valley received two out of the three votes, so they made it unanimous. They also decided to name the voting precinct after the first child born in the new community. Later, Arthur Russell was born, providing the name Arthur to the precinct and the first post office, located originally in the Russell home.

Wood, Water, Steel, Coal

In the early 1880s, settlers' cabins sparsely dotted land surrounding the creeks that fed the Cedar River. Around 1882, Ames and Russell built a sawmill to process the lumber needed to build homes. Over time, the mill burned down twice, and though it was rebuilt, Ames eventually gave up and moved to Pacific City, near Auburn.

In 1887, Russell laid out the town, now called Maple Valley, but it wasn't platted until 1890. The communities of Hobart and Taylor sprang up nearby, but the railroad helped solidify Maple Valley as the centerpiece. In 1885, trains began to haul coal over a narrow gauge track from the nearby mining town of Black Diamond. The track was widened in 1904.

In 1907, the Milwaukee Road pushed through the Cascades to a point just east of the town. As the tracks were laid westward, workers moved into the area. The Northern Pacific Railroad, to the south, also had a need for rail workers. More residents meant more lumber milling, which provided more jobs. Along with all this, the City of Seattle had chosen the Cedar river as its watershed, and much work was needed there.

Black Diamond was the hub of local coal mining activity to the south, but Maple Valley also had a stake in coal. Cedar Mountain, located just north of town, was mined starting in 1884. The mine never produced as much coal as did other mines in the area, but it averaged 90,000 tons per year and employed hundreds of men. Cedar Mountain was mined as late as 1947.

A Small Town Amidst Industry

Maple Valley grew, but since industry was located some distance from its core, it retained a quiet, rural atmosphere. By 1909, it had a general store, two hotels, a barber shop, restaurant, blacksmith shop, and two saloons. Within a few years, another hotel, store, and blacksmith would take up business.

Early schools were shacks at best. One of the first schools was built on pilings, which allowed impish school lads to bump it up and down using a plank as a lever. In 1910, a two-room school was built, but soon a larger school was needed. A three-floored brick school was built in 1920. In 1926, students made up the name Tahoma for the High School, combining the first two letters of the three districts it served: Taylor, Hobart, and Maple Valley.

With the influx of residents, farming became important to provide food for hungry miners, lumbermen, and their families. Dairy, poultry, and berry farming were the main staples grown in the area, and other foodstuffs were bought in Renton. Fishing for salmon in the Cedar River was popular, but the creation of the watershed weakened many salmon runs. Pioneers remembered the days when the river was so thick with salmon that they could be caught easily using only spears and gaffes (and sometimes bare hands).

Weekend Getaways

Beginning in the 1920s, the increase in automobile use brought more people into the area. Nearby lakes became vacation getaways for Seattle residents. Lake Wilderness, once home to one of the larger lumber mills in King County, became a resort lake. Fishermen and hunters had come to the lake for years, but in 1925 Tom and Kane Gaffney began developing a resort with a ballroom, roller rink, and a mouth-watering chicken dinner restaurant.

By 1949, the resort included 60 rental cabins, a bowling alley, and a nine-hole golf course. During World War II, when gas rationing was in effect, busloads of people came to dance on Saturday nights. Gaffney's Resort was one of the most popular vacation spots in the county. The resort operated until 1964, when King County bought it and turned it into a regional county park.

Byway on the Highway

The increase in automobile use increased the need for more roads. For years, the Maple Valley road was the only way through town. Maple Valley was so quaint, that many people referred to it as the fourth crossing, because travelers from Renton were able to find it by counting the bridges they crossed as they made their way down the road.

In the early 1960s, work began on a major highway from Auburn, which cut through the hills northeast to North Bend. This new highway crossed the Maple Valley road right in the center of downtown. Many structures were moved or demolished as the highway came through. Fortunately during this time, Maple Valley residents began capturing much of their history, in order to preserve the memory of what once was.

Today (2004) Maple Valley, like many towns in Seattle's ever-expanding "suburban ring," has its share of shopping centers, gas stations, and housing developments. But, since Maple Valley residents were spread throughout the hillsides for so long, a burgeoning core took longer to develop. Lakes, streams, woods, and parks, along with abundant wildlife, still provide a very rural feel to the community.


Clarence B. Bagley, History of King County (Chicago: S.J. Clarke Publishing Co, 1929) Vol. I, 781-814; Laura Lorenz Historical Sketch of the Greater Maple Valley Area (Maple Valley: Dotson Printing Company, 1980), 3-27; The Seattle Times - Magazine Supplement, December 4, 1960, pp. 8-9.

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