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Columbia Mill

This photo shows the Columbia Mill that was built in 1890, the same year the streetcar tracks were laid starting at Railroad Avenue on Seattle’s waterfront. The street cars came up Washington Street with the aid of a counter balance and then south through the dense forest and marsh lands over wood trestles and dirt fill to Columbia City, along the route that years later would become Rainier Avenue. The developers plan was to cut the trees and convert them to lumber for the homes and businesses to be built on the logged off area. 

The location of the mill was the northwest corner of what is now Rainier Avenue and Brandon Street. The photographer for this photo was looking southeast. One of the first streetcars on the “Rainier Avenue Electric Railway” line can be seen to the left, sitting on the tracks that ran behind the building.

It was the first commercial structure built in the Columbia City area. The gigantic trees taken from the virgin forest in Rainier Valley were equal to any logged-off timber in the state.  To the right of the mill can be seen several five to six foot diameter logs, waiting to be made into lumber. Teams of horses were used to drag the logs to the mill. The mill also generated power for the rush hour needs of the car line during peak hours.   

The first lots were sold in Columbia City on April 4th, 1891, to those responding to the downtown advertisements telling about lots that sold for $300, with $10 down and payments of $1 dollar a week, with no interest. The $10 down and $1a month terms were a first for the Seattle area. The trolleys, towing flat cars with benches and a sign saying “Watch Columbia City Grow” were used to bring the potential buyers out to Columbia. There were too many people for the streetcars so some had to walk to Columbia on the muddy wagon road that wound its way around the eastside of Beacon Hill. 

Those first buyers, strangers at first, quickly became friends and organized to form a town council. They elected a mayor and the town marshal and started building the town’s first two buildings, the town hall and the school. 

The above photograph was in the 1915 issue of the “Rainier Valley Citizen Annual”, published by the local newspaper of the same name. The title under this and two other related photographs read:  “The hand of commercial man soon after wrought wonderful changes here. Business houses and comfortable homes now stand closely together in the place of this forest.”


Days Gone By 

South District Journal 11/4/1998

By Buzz Anderson

The Rainier Valley Historical Society publishes a quarterly newsletter, the “Rainier Valley Heritage News” that focuses on our Valley’s unique history. Family memberships are $30.00 per year. Our mailing address is P.O. Box 18143, Seattle, WA 98118, or we can be reached by phone at 206-722-2838.  Our office and museum is located on the lower floor of the Rainier Valley Cultural Center building at 3515 S Alaska Street, behind the Columbia Library. We are open on Fridays from 10 AM to 2 PM or by appointment.     


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