Historic Wilkeson Town Hall hosts centennial celebration

One of the sandstone structures in Wilkeson celebrated its 100th year this past Friday.

By Sara Sutterfield

For the Courier-Herald

It was “the first real community house Wilkeson has ever seen,” according to a large format printed newspaper article from 1923.

In a centennial triumph, one of the sandstone structures in Wilkeson celebrated its 100th year this past Friday.

The Wilkeson Community House property, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, now functions as the Town Hall and court chambers. For safety reasons, large rooms are left vacant until the funding can be procured to restore the lower story of the Community House to its former glory.

The informal program consisted of two traditional sandstone splitting demonstrations provided by the Tenino Stone Carvers Guild, a solo acoustic guitar performance by musician Kye Hillig, and storytelling told by Karen Haas, historically personifying Abby William Hill.

For a length of time, Abby William Hill was an oil painter and activist commissioned by the Great Northern and Northern Pacific railroads to capture PNW scenery for travel brochures during the early coal mining boom. One of her paintings describes a delicate sunset on Mount Rainier as seen from Eunice Lake.

To have witnessed this view, Hill would have had to travel through Wilkeson and the Carbon River Corridor. Almost certainly, Hill would have stopped to appreciate the industrious coke ovens on their way up the trail to the Mountain.

Walking into the building, the University of Puget Sound exhibited items donated by Hill’s adopted daughter, Ina. A diary entry in long-hand and a letter from the Northern Pacific Railroad particularly caught my eye.

Further into the chambers, dinner and simply syrupy drinks were offered to attendees as they perused a historic photo gallery showcased along the walls. There, I spotted Pierce County Councilmember Dave Morrell, repping a Nomad (the cultured Wilkeson coffee house) T-shirt as his street attire.

Outside, Kye Hillig performed in confident singer/songwriter style for residents who enjoyed the accompaniment seated in the shade or while appreciating the line-up of vehicular relics within the Carbon Canyon Model ‘T’ Ford Club from Carbonado, WA.

At various times, the Tenino Stone Carvers split a Wilkeson sandstone boulder using the traditional plug and feather technique. Spectators held their breath to hear the stone ring and crack itself down the seam. With a “whomp!” the stone fell in two, drawing much applause from the crowd.

Best-in-Show was the 1910s portrayal of Abby William Hill by Karen Haas. Haas was true to character, pausing to sip her tea throughout the recited telling of Hill’s historically important life.

When asked of her part in the Centennial Celebration, Haas felt like she was “on a high from the camaraderie of the people.” Then, drawing her hand to her chest, joyfully expressed, “It makes my heart happy!”

Principal Chris Bauer, new to the historic Wilkeson Elementary School, has already felt the small-town difference sought by many throughout Wilkeson’s significant past: “There is a culture here of pride in the history; of pride in the community.”

After the Buckley Senior Center shuttle had pulled from the parking lot, I asked the Town of Wilkeson mayor how he felt about the event.

True to his local nickname, Mayor Jeff “Smiley” Sellers offered his only comment with a twinkling smile, “Like Martha Stewart says, ‘It’s a good thing.’”