By Dr. David Cameron
In the summer of 1889, the same year that Washington became a state, Joe Pearsall and Frank Peabody discovered a rich vein of gold and silver bearing ore at a site soon named Monte Cristo. Between then and 1907 the mines above the town produced millions of dollars in mineral values, a town sprang up on the peninsula between Glacier and 76 creeks at the head of the South Fork Sauk River, and a standard guage railway was completed in 1893 to connect the mines with their smelter at Everett.
Most of the miners lived high above the town on Wilmans and Foggy peaks, from which aerial tramways carried the minerals down the steep mountainsides to the United Companies’concentrator for processing and then to the railway. At the townsite were all the support services required by an isolated industrial town: stores, five hotels, a school, a newspaper, and residences, mostly situated along Dumas Street or the lower area below the railway yards.
Mining at Monte Cristo was lode, or “hard rock”, with expensive drilling and blasting required to remove the heavy ore. It was not a poor prospector’s game, but required corporate financial resources. Top producing properties were the Mystery on Mystery Hill, the Pride of the Mountains above Glacier Basin, and the Golden Cord/Justice on the slopes of Wilmans Peak. Additional tramways ran to the Comet high on Wilmans and the O&B, just below Silver Lake on Toad Mountain. The Rainy was the only deep shaft mine, just across Glacier Creek from the Mystery and Pride aerial tramway terminal.
Control over the mines passed quickly from the original discoverers first to Seattle financiers and then to the New York City investment firm of Hoyt, Colby & Co., which was backed by John D. Rockefeller. He was the richest man in the United States from his monopoly of the nation’s oil industry. Rockefeller’s name and money gave substance to development of the mines, the railway, and the new industrial city of Everett, where the New Yorkers built a smelter to extract “Monte’s” gold and silver. The highly complex syndicate collapsed in the 1890s depression and the great flood of 1897.
Mining had its second period from 1900 until the Wall Street financial Panic of 1907. With the rebuilding of the vital Everett & Monte Cristo Railway and improvements made to lessen future flood damage, the original Wilmans brothers and other owners reopened for business. In 1902 the Rockefeller ownership of the rail route passed to the Northern Pacific Railroad, which ran it as a branch line until leasing it to the Rucker Brothers of Everett and Monte Cristo in 1915. Renamed the Hartford Eastern Railway, it carried recreational traffic to their Big Four Inn and the lodge at Monte Cristo until further flooding in 1932. Attempts to revitalize mining after 1907 had failed, and the town’s abandoned wooden structures decayed. Few visitors and limited access beyond Barlow Pass after the railroad was scrapped in the late1930s made Monte Cristo a ghost town.
Successive resort owners utilizing first the Royal Hotel and then the Boston-American Mining Co.cookhouse encouraged tourism, which surged after World War II and peaked in the 1980s with a county owned gravel road and small campsites available. Hundreds of vehicles came on summer weekends, with people enjoying hikes, the small restaurant/museum, and wandering through the few visible wooden and iron remains.
Following disastrous flooding of the road in December 1980 and the county’s decision not to make bridge or road repairs, the lodge closed for good. It burned under suspicious circumstances in March 1983. As vandalism quickly became serious, in April 1983 the Monte Cristo Preservation Association was created as a non-profit organization to save, interpret, and restore the values of this important historical site. A top priority was reopening and maintaining access via the road from Barlow Pass to the town, a task which continues today. Contracting with Snohomish County, the Association maintains and rebuilds the route, while in turn the county operates the key system to its gate at Barlow Pass.
In 1984 Congress recognized this unique environment of rugged peaks, alpine meadows, and deep mountain valleys, and so with MCPA support created the spectacular Henry M. Jackson Wilderness Area bordering Monte Cristo. The name is in honor of the late Senator Jackson, a native of Everett, who hiked the area as a Boy Scout and young man and became a strong defender of the Cascades.
Ten years later a coalition of conservation minded groups was successful in negotiating the sale of the Monte Cristo Resorts, Inc. properties to the United States government, brokered by the Rivers Network. Turned over to the U.S. Forest Service to supervise, the lower railroad yard/parking lot section, resort cabins, and a majority of the upper town site area lots changed from private to public ownership, as did additional mining properties above the town on both the Glacier Basin and Silver Lake sides. The Forest Service at this date has not yet completed a management plan for those holdings. Other townsite lots, cabins, and mining claims still are privately owned.
With thousands of visitors coming to visit Monte Cristo via walking, cycling, horseback riding, limited motorized vehicle use, and even wheelchairs, interpretation and providing a minimum level of public services are priorities of the MCPA. Our joint Townsite Host program, maintenance of access to the town and along its trails, signs and brochures to help guide visitors, and close work with the Forest Service on its needs keep the story alive and provide enjoyable experiences for all who come to this special place. We invite you to join us!
More history can be found at www.historylink.org Enter Monte Cristo in the search box.
More history can be found at the Granite Falls Historical Museum website
More history can be found at Wikipedia.com