Seattle Now & Then: Rattlesnake Lake

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: Darius Kinsey’s ca. 1914 panorama of the King County town of Cedar Falls (aka Moncton) set beside the unstable shore of Rattlesnake Lake. (Courtesy, Snoqualmie Valley Historical Society)
THEN: Darius Kinsey’s ca. 1914 panorama of the King County town of Cedar Falls (aka Moncton) set beside the unstable shore of Rattlesnake Lake. (Courtesy, Snoqualmie Valley Historical Society)
NOW: Doubling a repeat of Kinsey’s pan, Jean poses a few of his students, on a recent field trip to Rattlesnake Lake from Bellevue’s Hillside Student Community School.
NOW: Doubling a repeat of Kinsey’s pan, Jean poses a few of his students, on a recent field trip to Rattlesnake Lake from Bellevue’s Hillside Student Community School.

A decade ago, while preparing a book of “repeats” covering Washington State, Jean Sherrard and I found the panorama printed here of the little railroad town on the shore of Rattlesnake Lake.  About 1100 feet above the town, the at once modest and exalted Rattlesnake Ledge faces north towards the off-camera larger and older town of North Bend.  Darius Kinsey, a professional admired for his photography of lumber camps and towns, named this subject Cedar Falls, the appellation preferred by Seattle, which began building a masonry dam nearby on the Cedar River and a power plant between that new dam and the nearly-new town.     

Cedar River Masonry Dam, Seattle City Light. Dated March 18, 1913. This bigger dam was completed in 1914.
Cedar River Masonry Dam, Seattle City Light. Dated March 18, 1913. This bigger dam was completed in 1914.
The "actual" or namesake Cedar Falls were upstream from City Light's generator plant and downstream from its dam.
The “actual” or namesake Cedar Falls were upstream from City Light’s generator plant and downstream from its dam.

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We have returned this week to Kinsey’s pan, largely by following the lead of Alan Berner, the Times well-versed photographer and writer who is often inspired, we have noticed, by a poetic temperament.  With “Amid drought, Rattlesnake Lake Reveals its Roots,” his recent October 12 Times feature, Berner shared with readers an exhibit of oversized stumps, driftwood sculpture exposed on the bottom of Rattlesnake Lake, mostly dry after our arid year.

Moncton is printed on the postcard, so it dates most likely from before the Seattle Public Works request that the name be changed to Cedar Falls.
Moncton is printed on the postcard, so it dates most likely from before the Seattle Public Works request that the name be changed to Cedar Falls.
"Cedar Falls" is signed here on the station. The town was first settled to house workers on City Lights' nearby plant for the generators connected first with its fire dam (of timber) on the Cedar River and then its much larger "ceramic dam" of 1914. Moncton was named by railroad, and used by the SPMRR to house workers first for the construction of the man line over Snoqualmie Pass. The railroad made it thru the pass in 1909.
“Cedar Falls” is signed here on the station. The town was first settled to house workers on City Lights’ nearby plant for the generators connected first with its fire dam (of timber) on the Cedar River and then its much larger “ceramic dam” of 1914. Moncton was named by railroad, and used by the SPMRR to house workers first for the construction of the man line over Snoqualmie Pass. The railroad made it thru the pass in 1909.
Cedar Falls is postmarked on the flip side of this postcard.
Cedar Falls is postmarked on the flip side of this postcard.

In his caption Kinsey has used Cedar Falls, the town’s second name, but in 1907 it was still called Moncton after a railroad town in New Brunswick, Canada.  The Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad developed this little company town to help push and tunnel its electric transcontinental line through Snoqualmie pass.  In 1911 Seattle began to first 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.

The Masonry Dam seens from near its east end. It was seeping from the far shore that first reached and raised the water table below Rattlesnake Lake.
The Masonry Dam seen from near its east end. It was seeping from the far shore that first reached and raised the water table below Rattlesnake Lake.
The Masonry Dam from the 'other' side.
The Masonry Dam from the ‘other’ side.
Well along in the 1915 flood "from below."
Well along in the 1915 flood “from below.”

Rattlesnake Lake Flood'15 LOWRES

Beginning in late 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 flood waters that came from the ground beneath the homes and lands of the people.”  By then, with two high-ground exceptions, all the families of Cedar River had fled their homes for boxcars or other burgs. 

Moncton, Rattlesnake Lk '15 LOWRES

A dooms-day clip from The Seattle Times for May 14, 1915.
A dooms-day clip from The Seattle Times for May 14, 1915.  About this time a hole was blasted in the dam to lower the reservoir and with it Rattlesnake Lake.  It was a demonstrable confession by Seattle Public Works that its dam works had flood its neighbor Cedar Falls/Moncton and its otherwise little lake.

Seattle’s first attempts to keep Moncton/Cedar Falls dry came in 1910 when the 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.  Brown’s portion of Seattle’s 1916 payoff to the flooded citizens of Cedar Falls was $6,086.44.  Fearing pollution to their Cedar River Watershed more than feeling guilt over their seeping reservoir, Seattle bought-out the damaged little town beside the erratic Rattlesnake Lake.   

A Seattle Times clip from August 26, 1915.
A Seattle Times clip from August 26, 1915.
A pan of the dam, its reservoir and surrounds to the east, north and west. Partly cut-off on the right is Mt.Washington. Mt. Si is at the center horizon, and Rattlesnake Mountain or ridge is on the right, to the west. I do not have a date for this, but I suspect that it is during the late construction on the dam and so before t he leaking.
A pan of the dam, its reservoir and surrounds to the east, north and west. Partly cut-off on the right is Mt.Washington. Mt. Si is at the center horizon, and Rattlesnake Mountain or ridge is on the right, to the west. I do not have a date for this, but I suspect that it is during the late construction on the dam and so before t he leaking.  DOUBLE CLICK CLICK to ENLARGE
An aerial from December 18, 1926 with the ceramic dam near the bottom, the reservoir above it, and Cedar Lake beyond. Rattlesnake Lake is out-of-frame, lower-left. [Courtesy, Municipal Archive]
An aerial from December 18, 1926 with the ceramic dam near the bottom, the reservoir above it, and Cedar Lake beyond. Rattlesnake Lake is out-of-frame, lower-left.  CLICK CLICK! [Courtesy, Municipal Archive]
We have colored some this "Boxley Blow-out" cartoon that was printed in the times after the Ceramic Dam's vulnerable side broke. The event occurred a few days before Christmas 1918, and the created waterway was called "Christmas Creek." It joined with Boxley Creek and flooded the small milltown of - well it is marked on the map.
We have colored some this “Boxley Blow-out” cartoon that was printed in The Times after the weak side of the Ceramic Dam’s broke.  The size of the “intended reservoir” is vastly exaggerated in the sketch as are the peaks that surround it. The event occurred a few days before Christmas 1918, and the created waterway was called “Christmas Creek.” It joined with Boxley Creek and flooded the small milltown of Edgewick.  It is marked on the map.

WEB EXTRAS

Anything to add, guys?  A few Jean – a few features that relate.  Ron has put five or six, I believe.   The bottom of the five is relevant to this week’s dam buster theme.  The others stick to the regional aptness of their subjects. “Go East.”  We will follow that with a few more ancient clips and so fresh scans introduced for the first time to this roller derby of eternal recurrence with heritage anecdotes – illustrated and sometimes bruised with our mistakes..

THEN: Snoqualmie Falls appears in full force, probably during a spring runoff.

https://sherrlock.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/1-gilman-issaquah-then-web1.jpg?w=848&h=486

THEN: For his May Day, 1901 portrait of the Seattle City Council, the photographer, Anders Wilse, planted them, like additions to the landscape, on the lawn somewhere in the upper part of Kinnear Park. (Courtesy, Seattle Municipal Archives)

THEN: From the Fremont Bridge, this subject looks northwest across the torrent that followed the washout of the Fremont Dam in the early afternoon of March 13, 1914. Part of the Bryant Lumber and Shingle Mill appears left-of-center. The north end of the Stone Way Trestle appears in the upper right corner. (Courtesy, Seattle Municipal Archives)======

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The S.L.S.E.R.R. engine Gilman as Gilman - it seems. (Courtesy, Michael Maslan)
The S.L.S.E.R.R. engine Gilman as Gilman – it seems. (Courtesy, Michael Maslan)

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Appeared first in Pacific, June 29, 1997
Appeared first in Pacific, June 29, 1997

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First appeared in Pacific, 3-12-1995.
First appeared in Pacific, 3-12-1995.

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3 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Rattlesnake Lake”

  1. My dad was born in Cedar falls in 1912 and we had relatives there until 1948. I used to stay with them. Cedar Falls was the city town adjacent to the power plant. Everyone living there was a Seattle employee. My grand father was an operator at the plant until he died in 1924. A sheriff lived at the entrance to the town, beyond the RR depot, to limit access. Moncton was a railroad town at the location of the lake. As far as I know no Seattle employees lived in Moncton.

    1. Hello Bill,
      I am currently writing a curriculum on Cedar Falls and the Dam leakage. Are you interested in providing a family story or a photo to add to the collection for use by 2nd graders in understanding the history?

      1. I’d be glad to. FYI, my dad was the second baby born at Cedar Falls, and the first boy. My Uncle Bob was born two years later in North Bend.

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