(click photos to enlarge)
Auburn was platted in 1886 and incorporated five years later, but not as Auburn. Rather, the town was named in honor of a Lt. W.A. Slaughter, who in 1855 was slain near here in a battle with Indians during the war then between the settlers and some of the Puget Sound indigene. For obvious reasons the name would be hard to keep. For instance, local wits might meet visitors arriving by train with the greeting “This way to the Slaughter House.” The proprietors of the city’s hotel, the Ohio House, turned queasy imagining the uncomfortable and unprofitable future they seemed guaranteed as Slaughterians.
The community’s arbiters of taste soon proposed a new name taken from the opening line of Oliver Goldsmith’s poem “The Deserted Village.” It goes, “Sweet Auburn, loveliest village of the plain.” When a few old-timers objected to the change, the contraction “Slauburn” was suggested. It was a failure in the art of compromise. So in 1893, Auburn it was and remains. (It may be noted that Kitsap County was also originally named for Lt. Slaughter.)
Here is Auburn’s Main Street looking east from the Northern Pacific Railroad tracks in 1909. Patricia Cosgrove, director of The White River Valley Museum, explains that the historical photo was probably taken from a boxcar. For the centennial repeat Jean Sherrard used both a stepladder and his trusty ten-foot extension pole. [Below this extended caption for the 1909 view we have attached another look down Main Street from some time later. How much later, you can estimate by the cars and other clues – like the signs. Consider it a research challenge. A third photo from this intersection will also be included – once we can find it. Although temporarily misplaced it was, we are confident, photographed on May 22, 1901.]
Cosgrove explains that the date on the banner – “Welcome Aug. 14” – refers to that year’s Auburn Good Old Days. The director of “the best local history museum in the state” (at least as ranked in 2007 by the Washington State Visitor Guide) adds, “Isn’t it nice that it is an even 100 years ago. Note how the flags still have only 46 stars. They don’t show the addition of Arizona and New Mexico to the union in 1912. The photograph also shows Main Street with a packed earth surface. It was paved in 1912.”
This photograph and many others are part of a community canon of images taken by Auburn pioneer Arthur Ballard – a collection that has recently come into the hands of White River Valley Museum, which is now showing them. The exhibit title lists the three historic names for Auburn: “Ilalko, then Slaughter, now Auburn: Historic Photographs of Place by Pioneer Arthur Ballard.” Be aware or, if you prefer, concerned. This exhibit runs only through this coming Sunday April 12, 2009.
Jean Sherrard took his photograph recently while on a museum tour with his family that stopped at Auburn but wound up in Tacoma at the Washington State Historic Museum. There he saw for the first time that museum’s standing exhibit of his own work with “Washington Then and Now.” It was drawn from the book of the same name that Jean and I completed in 2007.
Of all the farming towns in the White/Green River Valley, Auburn was chosen by the Northern Pacific in 1913 to be its “boxcar terminus” where freight trains were “broken down” and rejoined over the 50 miles of track laid there for that purpose. With the 24-stall Roundhouse, or locomotive repair shop, the previously quiet farm town became an often-boisterous division point for the Northern Pacific. Stockyards were added in 1942 and one year later the Army installed a Depot in Auburn as well. Boeing arrived in 1965.