By Nancy Covert
The days of hearing Amtrak’s Cascade train whistle are numbered. Someday in 2016, according to the latest projections by the State Department of Transportation, the passenger service route will be moved in-land to Lakewood. Freight trains, however, will continue to use the water route that was inaugurated in 1914.
Before the train came to Steilacoom that December, ending the Town’s dream of becoming a railroad terminus (just one of founder Lafayette Balch’s dreams for his city by the Sound), there was a railroad system that carried passengers over a fourteen-mile route between the City of Destiny and the Place of Pink Flowers.
A detailed story about the first (yes, another First!) Interurban Railway system in the U.S. can be found in Steilacoom’s definitive history book, “Town on the Sound.”
Daily service, for 25 cents, round trip, traveled along what is now 12th Street, west toward the Sound, crossing three bridges to arrive on Lafayette Street. The Tacoma-Steilacoom Railroad made its inaugural run 14-mile run in the summer of 1891. At the corner of 12th and Proctor a historic sign was recently erected at the site, calling attention to the location of the railway’s car barn.
When the rail line switched to electric power, local businessman W. L. Bair, became the first one in town to electrify his store, the Bair Drug and Hardware.
A colorful interpretation of this historic railway car, the Admiral Dewey, is on display as one of the quilt blocks stitched on the Town’s 1976 Bicentennial Quilt, hanging in Town Hall. A larger, black and white photo of the same car is included with the town’s historic photo collection inside the 1931 building.
Where did this rail line run?
On a recent drizzly late March morning, a group of five intrepid/curious historians and a couple of youngsters who had fun tromping through the mud, trekked the railway’s route that was located along Chambers Creek. The route, explored earlier by museum association member, “Buzz” Brake, wound partway up Chamber’s Creek Road, past the County’s Waste Water Treatment Plant.
The group carefully stepped over the side of the metal road barrier and continued along a slippery pathway toward the site where Brake believed the first of three trestle bridges had been located.
More details about this “first” route, and other historic buildings such as an early woolen mill, are available at the Museum on Main Street. Brake promises that the entire story will be available there shortly.
The story about the first Interurban, as well as dozens of other interesting pieces of local history, can be found at the Museum at 1801 Main Street when it opens on April 3. Museum hours are from noon-4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday through October.
Phone 584-4133 for more information.
Visit www.steilacoomhistoricphotos.com to view the museum’s extensive collection of early photos of the Town.