Little Washington town was wiped out by Seattle dam a century ago
A decade ago, Jean Sherrard and I found the panorama printed here of a little town on the shore of Rattlesnake Lake. About 1,100 feet above the town, the at-once modest and exalted Rattlesnake Ledge faces the off-camera larger and older town of North Bend.
Darius Kinsey, admired for his photography of lumber camps and towns, named this subject Cedar Falls, the appellation preferred by Seattle, which was building a masonry dam nearby on the Cedar River and a power plant between that new dam and the nearly new town.
We have returned to Kinsey’s pan, largely by following the lead of Alan Berner, The Seattle Times photographer. With “Amid drought, Rattlesnake Lake reveals its roots,” his Oct. 12 feature, Berner shared an exhibit of oversized stumps and driftwood sculpture exposed on the bottom of Rattlesnake Lake.
In his caption, Kinsey has used Cedar Falls, but in 1907 it was called Moncton after a railroad town in the Canadian province of New Brunswick. That year the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad developed this little company town to help push and tunnel its electric transcontinental line through Snoqualmie Pass. In 1911, Seattle began to build its nearby dam, and then with water from Cedar Lake the city filled the reservoir behind a new masonry dam and Rattlesnake Lake as well — unwittingly.
Beginning in April 1915, seepage from the reservoir began lifting the little lake more than a foot a day. On May 13, The Times reported that “motion picture operators this afternoon began taking films at Cedar Falls to show a town drowned out by mysterious floodwaters that came from the ground beneath the homes and lands of the people.” With two high-ground exceptions, the families of Cedar Falls fled their homes for boxcars or other burgs.
Seattle’s first attempt to keep Moncton/Cedar Falls dry came in 1910, when prohibitionists in city government tried to reverse King County’s decision to allow Moncton resident William Brown to open a saloon. Teetotalers, like Seattle historian Clarence Bagley, then secretary of the Seattle Board of Public Works, feared what drunken railroad and dam workers might do at work — and to their families and souls.
In 1916, when Seattle paid off the flooded citizens of Cedar Falls, Brown’s share was $6,086.44. Fearing pollution to the Cedar River watershed more than guilt over its seeping reservoir, Seattle bought out the damaged little town beside erratic Rattlesnake Lake.