All Over The Map: Hidden railroad artifact uncovered near Enumclaw?

Jan 28, 2022, 10:49 AM

An amateur history sleuth may have discovered a hundred-year-old railroad artifact hidden in the woods north of Enumclaw.

The amateur sleuth is Robin Adams of West Seattle. Adams writes a fascinating and lavishly photo-illustrated blog about her exploration of local history, and she posted some photos and maps about her most recent project on social media.

Adams grew up in the Seattle area, and is retired from the special event industry. She’s spent years searching through online records and maps – as well as the old printed maps that have to be folded or rolled up – to identify and write about remains of 19th and early 20th century mining operations and railroad activities that are scattered in many places all over South King County.

Her most recent discovery centers on a “powder house” in the old logging and railroad community of Veazey (sometimes spelled “Veazie”), and a 1913 map shared with her by her friend Alan Betcher.

“At the end of November, Alan asked me to help him find Veazie,” Adams wrote.

“As I analyzed this map, I became fascinated by the reference to the ‘powder house,’” Adams continued, describing what inspired her to search in person.

“It connected to an old building in the woods that a local gentleman had told me about that aligned with what the map said,” she wrote.

The former site of Veazey is a few miles northeast of Enumclaw along the Veazey-Cumberland Road, not far from Southeast 392nd Street. The Veazey-Cumberland Road roughly parallels what used to be the Northern Pacific Railroad mainline, which crossed the Cascades through Stampede Pass and continued down to Tacoma. This is the old “grand-daddy” route that was built in the 1880s, after the Northern Pacific chose Tacoma over Seattle as its terminus (which some civic boosters and railroad history enthusiasts are still cranky about – not unlike the animus some still feel toward Milwaukee because of the Seattle Pilots, or Oklahoma City because of the Sonics).

Veazey – which isn’t exactly a household name anymore and perhaps never was – got its name from Thomas Veazey, who was a logger in that area as early as the 1880s. According to old maps, it was also the site of a quarry — or gravel pit — for the Northern Pacific Railroad.

What, exactly, did Robin Adams and Alan Betcher go looking for – and then find – on a public right-of-way in the woods of Veazey?

“When I went looking for it, I knew it was off in the woods to the edge of 392nd, and I parked my car and got out and walked along, and I kept looking and looking along,” Adams told KIRO Newsradio. “And then I saw where there was like an old little road, almost a path, and I walked down and here is this cement building.”

“The roof is somewhat caved in and the door is missing,” Adams continued. “The hinges of the doors are still there — they’re pretty gnarly metal hinges in the side of this cement building.”

What Adams found is believed to be an old “powder house” – a safe and secure place to store explosives – perhaps built sometime between 1900 and 1920 by the Northern Pacific Railroad.

Photos that Adams shared show a small concrete bunker-like structure, measuring roughly 12 by 12 feet in diameter and 8 feet high. It has a wooden roof, but no windows, and appears to have been built into the hillside – which would help make it more secure for storing dangerous explosives.

The explosives would’ve been used at the old Northern Pacific quarry or gravel pit in “downtown” Veazey; railroad construction and maintenance depends on beds of gravel – “ballast” – to help keep tracks level.

Adams isn’t the first to discover the old concrete shed – graffiti and old furniture inside make it clear that revelers got there first, and went back many times. However, it does appear that Adams – with help from Northern Pacific Railroad enthusiasts online – is the first to make the connection between the old building and the railroad history of Veazey.

One quirky thing Adams pointed out is that Veazey appears twice, in two separate but relatively nearby locations, on some old maps. One theory is that not far from those Northern Pacific tracks that run through the Veazey site near the quarry was another set of tracks belonging to the old Milwaukee Road railway – running parallel roughly a mile east. Thus, a single community of Veazey wasn’t big enough to stretch all the way from one track to the other, so there had to be one Veazey to serve the Northern Pacific, and a mile east, another Veazey to serve the Milwaukee Road.

If that’s not confusing enough, one later edition of that same map either muddles it further – or maybe clears it up a bit? On that 1950 map, the town along the Northern Pacific tracks is spelled “Veazey,” and the town along the Milwaukee Road tracks is spelled “Veazie.”

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

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All Over The Map: Hidden railroad artifact uncovered near Enumclaw?