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Marijuana Road
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All Over The Map: Take a trip down Newcastle’s Marijuana Road

When All Over The Map explored Devil’s Elbow near Kennydale in Renton a few weeks ago, KIRO Radio also put out the call for other “organically named” places – streets, landmarks, and other geographic features – that have commonly used names that don’t appear on any map.

A KIRO Radio listener named Nancy got in touch (we’ll call her by her first name). She sent old black and white photos of a bike trip she and a friend took in 1976 down a street that Nancy said was called “Marijuana Road.” The old handwritten captions on the photos even say, “Bike trip in 1976 with Peg on Marijuana Road.”

Nancy wrote:

“Everyone (teens) at that time knew about Marijuana Rd. It was a known “parking” spot, good place for “keggers,” nice biking path (to avoid Coal Creek Rd), and fun place for the teens to have a wild drive <yikes!>!!”

The photos, which are included in the gallery featured in this piece, show a rural, bucolic tree-lined road through the country. It looks like something miles away from Seattle or any of the surrounding suburbs.

There’s no known direct connection between the name “Marijuana Road” and any specific time or activities, but the general usage by teens that Nancy describes in the 1970s provides some clue as to when and where the name could have come from: Baby Boomer-age high school kids smoking marijuana in the woods along the road in the 1960s, perhaps.

It took some half-baked sleuthing, but it appears that Marijuana Road is in what’s now the City of Newcastle. As Nancy said, it roughly parallels, and is east of, Coal Creek Parkway. The modern street names are 136th Avenue Southeast and 144th Place Southeast.

A drive over there earlier this week yielded some photos. These were shared with Nancy – who had also taken a recent refresher drive – who confirmed that it’s the same spot.

A historic marker near the north end of Marijuana Road also indicated that the route is actually one of the oldest post-settlement roads in King County. Much of what remains of Marijuana Road – which amounts to about a half-mile of paved street – was designated an official King County Landmark back in 1984.

It’s not officially called “Marijuana Road” in the formal landmark designation, and it doesn’t say that anywhere on the sign; what it says is “Thomas Rouse Road.”

The helpful staff at the King County Historic Preservation program sent KIRO Radio everything they have on the historic Thomas Rouse Road.

“The Rouse Road was laid out in 1880, and was designated King County Road #90,” read one of the official documents. “This road served as a main connection between Newcastle, Coalfield, Issaquah and points farther East, as well as the Hobart and Renton areas.”

Thomas Henry Rouse was a coal miner from England who settled in the Newcastle area sometime around 1880. It was that year when he petitioned King County to build the road, and he chipped in $100 of his own money — or about $2,500 in today’s dollars.

According to the old files, Thomas Rouse Road was “one of two early routes to the coal-mining town of Newcastle,” and it led from “Newcastle south to May Creek and east to the Snoqualmie Road.” He had several descendants living in the area in 1984, and likely still does in 2020.

There’s all kinds of coal mining history in that area, especially in what’s now Cougar Mountain Wildland Park. Coal mining was taking place in those environs from 1863 to 1921.

KIRO Radio listener Doug confirmed much of what Nancy reported. He went to Hazen High School freshman year before attending Lake Washington High School. Doug says the route was also known as “Pot Hill,” and that he had to run it with the Hazen cross-country team back in 1982.

There has to be more informally named streets, roads, and places like this within the KIRO Radio listening area. If you know of any, please get in touch via the contact information below.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News and read more from him here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

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