(click and click again to enlarge photos)
(Published in the Seattle Times online on Feb. 13, 2020
and in the PacificNW Magazine print edition on Feb. 16, 2020)
In riverside Fall City, all roads lead to The Roadhouse
By Clay Eals
What comes to mind with the word “roadhouse”? For me, the answer is cinematic – the scenes of Madonna and others in the 1992 film “A League of Their Own” dancing raucously to a big band in a World War II-era saloon called the Suds Bucket. For others, the term may summon the 1990-1991 and 2017 episodes of TV’s mystery/horror series “Twin Peaks,” set partly at a seedy rural outpost known as The Roadhouse.
In either incarnation, a roadhouse bore a smear of the unsavory, given that an isolated establishment along a country highway could produce experiences as fleeting as the travelers it served.
Such may have been true at times for the business depicted in our 1930s “Then,” the Riverside Tavern, built between 1916 and 1920 (accounts vary). It perched in Fall City along the Snoqualmie River and U.S. Highway 10, better known as the cross-state Sunset Highway in the decades before Interstate 90 bypassed the burg 2 miles south.
But as ownerships changed and the Riverside gained a second floor (mid-1930s), morphed to the Colonial Inn (1966) and evolved with an extensive renovation (2008) to the name it bears today, The Roadhouse Restaurant and Inn, it became a community hub. Known for fine food and likeable lodging, it primarily serves locals and the surrounding, increasingly suburban cities fueled by our region’s tech boom. (It doesn’t hurt that the “Twin Peaks” producers filmed exteriors at this very spot.)
It stands near a unique crossroads, what might be called a double-Y intersection that straddles the river and leads motorists to nearby Preston, Redmond, Carnation and Snoqualmie. A 1950 Seattle Times photo depicts a multi-pointed sign outside the building denoting mileage to those Eastside destinations as well as to Seattle (25), Ellensburg (87) and Spokane (270).
Fall City itself possesses a curious nomenclature. The hamlet of 2,000 never formally incorporated, and while it sits less than 3 miles downstream from Snoqualmie Falls, its name may have nothing to do with that spectacular cascade. Robert Hitchman, writing for the Washington State Historical Society in 1985, asserts that the name derived from a fellow named Fall who started a ferry nearby in the 1870s.
The 14-year-old Fall City Historical Society, led by the indefatigable Ruth Pickering, keeps track of this ambiguity while shepherding a searchable online collection and producing a stuffed slate of events and projects, including 520-page and 350-page history books and an annual calendar.
Though the historical society operates from the second floor of Fall City United Methodist Church, fittingly its most prominent display of photos and artifacts can be found inside – you guessed it – The Roadhouse.
To see Jean Sherrard‘s 360-degree video of the “Now” prospect and compare it with the “Then” photo, and to hear this column read aloud by Clay Eals, check out our Seattle Now & Then 360 version of the column.
Here is video about The Roadhouse Restaurant and Inn:
Below are two additional photos plus two clippings from The Seattle Times online archive (available via Seattle Public Library) that, among others, were helpful in the preparation of this column. Enjoy!