Last weekend, I decided to see if I could find what remains of the old townsite of Melmont, WA. Nothing remains of the town today except for a retaining wall that was once part of the tipple built by the Northern Pacific Railway on the outskirts of town, as well as the walls of a shed that was used to house dynamite and the foundation of the school. Before I get into the hike, a little bit about the town –
Founded in 1900 when the Northwest Improvement Company (a subsidiary of the Northern Pacific Railway) started the Melmont coal mine. In the town, there was a train depot, a saloon, a hotel that also housed the post office, a buther shop and a store, and a schoolhouse. There were rows of cottages that were used for housing the miners with each row accommodating a different nationality.
The mine was operational for 16 years and produced approximately 4% of the total coal output for Pierce County (around 900,000 tons). The town post office was established on March 24, 1902 and was discontinued on August 31, 1915 (with mail then going to Fairfax). According to an aritcle in the December 27, 1905 issue of the Tacoma Daily Ledger, on Christmas Eve that year, the house of Jack Wilson (foreman of the mines) was blown up when a load of dynamite was placed under the house, breaking all the windows of the house, as well as those in the vicinity. Luckily Wilson and his daugher, both asleep in the house, were unharmed. A miner, David Steele, was charged with the explosion but was later acquitted due to lack of evidence.
The Northwest Improvement Company ceased operations of the Melmont mine in 1918, though there were a few opened and operated by the Carbon Hill Coal Company up until 1919. By 1920, all the mines were closed and the town was destroyed by forest fire. All that remains of the town today are the dynamite storage shed and the foundation of the school building that once sat on the hill overlooking the town. I’ve read that the foundation supports for the bridge are still there, but I was unable to find them on this trip.
After driving through the towns of Wilkeson and Carbonado, I crossed the Fairfax Bridge (opened on December 17, 1921 and was once the highest bridge in the state) and parked in the wide spot just past the bridge.
After walking back across the bridge, I hopped over the guardrail and carefully made my way down to the abandoned railroad grade below. Please be extremely cautious if you decide to make the trip, the trail head isn’t marked and there isn’t an easy way to get to the railroad grade below. It requires grabbing the rails of the bridge for support and is fairly steep. However, once you access the railroad grade, it is a very easy, albeit extremely muddy, two miles to the townsite (I almost lost one of my hiking boots in thick mud).
The first structure you will come to is a long moss and fern covered stone wall where the tipple once stood. The tipple was a structure that was used at a mine to load the extracted product for transport. After talking some time to admire and walk around the structure, continue along the trail until you come to a shed minus it’s roof. This was the old dynamite storage shed (and no doubt, where the dynamite probably came from that was used to blow up the foreman’s house). As you go further along, the trial will “Y” and if you take the left fork and go up the hill, you will come to the foundation of the old school in a small clearing. The right fork takes you to the area where the original townsite sat though there’s nothing left of it anymore.
The meadow makes a nice spot to stop and enjoy a snack or some lunch. You can explore as much or as little as you like before making your way back to the bridge and up to the road. As you walk back along the trail, you can also spot some remnants of the logging that use to take place in the area.
Until the next adventure….