What’s mine(d) is Ours in Wilkeson | The Wilkeson Weigh

We need to work together to keep our little town on the map.

The current five businesses and an artsy skatepark each have had their turn to claim: “I put Wilkeson on the map!”

But before we delve into modern Wilkeson, let’s take a look at its storied history.

In this age of information, a few thumb taps can educate the truth-seeking mind that the town of Wilkeson had originally divided into two sections: “uptown” and “downtown.”

Uptown, called Wilkeson, was a typical mining town established by the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1877, complete with worker housing and a company store.

Downtown, named Hope, was first plotted on a map in 1889 and operated independently of uptown, maintaining the unique peoplehood that came to work the area before the township was named.

This community, as the Village Voice newsletter describes it in an August/September 2015 issue, “was an amalgamation of immigrants from Europe and East Asia. The people were an indomitable group of evolving Americans who knew no other life but mining. They lived hard and played hard, raising families that became part of the backbone of Pierce County.”

Samuel Wilkeson, Jr., an influential journalist accompanying the Northern Pacific Railroad to the western end of their proposed route (and for which the mining town was named), wrote a flowery promotional pamphlet called “Wilkeson’s Notes on Puget Sound” to advertise the railway and its land bonds in the Hope area.

It is in this historical document, with passages like “These trees — these forests of trees — so enchain the sense of the grand and so enchant the sense of the beautiful that I linger with the theme and am loth to depart”, that I feel Samuel Wilkeson, Jr. knew he had struck gold and that he, alone, could preserve with words the natural riches of Hope before industry left its mark.

In support of this, Samuel Wilkeson, Jr. held-fast as official Secretary to the NPRR from 1870 and kept active in the conservation conversation until his death in December 1889.

When the Northern Pacific created “New” Tacoma as their West Coast terminus, Samuel Wilkeson, Jr. staked himself a large home, now gone, at 626 Broadway, maintaining his appreciation for the PNW and well-informed position within the NPRR.

Hope and Wilkeson voted to incorporate under a single name in 1909.

Samuel Wilkeson, Jr. had brought the railroad to Washington, but this was not his first famous hoorah. Six years prior to the expedition, Wilkeson inspired Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address reporting: “My pen is heavy. Oh, you dead, who at Gettysburgh have baptised with your blood the second birth of Freedom in America, how you are to be envied!” (Wilkeson’s Gettysburg dispatch, New York Times, July 6, 1863), while looking over the body of his dead son, Lieutenant Bayard Wilkeson.

Additional historic name drops for Samuel Wilkeson, Jr., include being the son of Judge Samuel Wilkeson, Sr., the Justice of Peace who built New York’s Buffalo Harbor, and husband to women’s suffrage leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s sister, Cate.

Residents and tourists do not know much of the town’s namesake, aside from the few who have seen the paragraphs and a black and white photograph of a man, labeled Samuel Wilkeson, included on an informational placard attached to a block of Wilkeson Sandstone, set next to a red NPRR train caboose replica. The placard photograph of Samuel Wilkeson is part of the Smithsonian Art Museum collection and is peculiar in that the man does not look like the same Samuel Wilkeson, Jr. shown in all other photographs and newspaper sketches from his time.

A dizzying hunt through the world wide web, and one will find conflicting information about Samuel Wilkeson, Sr., Jr., and other relatives also bearing the name Samuel Wilkeson.

Wilkeson, Jr.’s own homes and buildings — beautiful architectural works of art often built of Wilkeson Sandstone, in the city of Tacoma, throughout Washington State and even Wilkeson — and Sr.’s home in New York have been demolished, replaced by gas stations, and a map of history has been obscured.

The independent people and businesses starting off as Hope did not fully absorb into the industrious company town, and when local and union miners alike were made to suffer by company lock out, the once zealous community of Wilkeson was left torn up-and-down, wounded and raw.

Many of those who decided to remain after the company’s abandonment held a sore spot for the opposite side of town and a still-current division of immigrants many generations back versus just-moved-in migrants. One of those things that isn’t talked about, you know, but can be felt like black damp in the air even after a hundred years have gone by.

Disillusionment brought on by a negativity-fed belief that decisions are not within the citizens’ control is keeping townsfolk and families inside their homes and uninvolved.

Herein lies the dilemma of keeping Wilkeson on the map: the town is relying on having its history remembered, a history of strength in active community involvement.

People from all walks in the newborn mining town bonded together without the assistance of company control. These peoples radiated pride for their homelands, put their diverse hopes into the town, and welcomed others of the same vein.

But this unresolved conflict of old-versus-new spearheaded Wilkeson’s decline, and now it lies hovering forgotten above the map.

The town needs TLC, a great big hug, and to be set back down firmly on its feet. Thankfully, I can see the Wilkeson peoples from generations back to today’s newbies beginning to enthusiastically shake hands and scratch each other’s backs, stirring up from the coal dust the same zeal that built the hope-filled town in the first place.

Samuel Wilkeson, Jr described this goldmine of a region “so prodigal”, yet man so “wastefully fastidious” in his Notes. The Village Voice, instructs that “we must look through their eyes to see beyond the hardships to the opportunities.”

Take note, Wilkeson: it is up to us to keep our town on the map.