Wilkeson, a town built on Hope | The Wilkeson Weigh

A look at our historical roads, and where their names come from.

Recently, I was given insight into the importance of lists.

“A list points to something,” Chad Huff, pastor of the Carbonado Community Church, taught during the New Year’s Day service, “Lists like we read at the end of Romans are there for a purpose…that Paul understood these people to be real people. They’re people that he loved. In a real sense, these are the everyday heroes of the Faith.”

As a collection of study and historical preservation, this article will resemble more of a list. It may be the first document listing this history and my puzzling together could be incorrect. As needed, please seek to bring light to my understanding (and if my suppositions are not accurate, please let me know – contact me through Editor Ray Miller-Still at rstill@courierherald.com).

The filing of a townsite plat, in the historical development of the United States, was often the first legal act in the establishment of a new town or community.

Historic maps and house deeds record two townsites of influence in the area, namely Wilkeson and Hope.

HOPE: “Homesteader Andrew J. Hill (1841-1905) made the first survey of the town in 1888 and named it Hope,” enlightens David Norberg in a HistoryLink.org essay titled “Wilkeson incorporates on July 18, 1909” then continues with “The following year, Hill divided his homestead into lots and platted Wilkeson.”

Officially, Hope was here from the start.

WILKESON: Within the illustrated three volumes of “History of Pierce County, Washington”, W.P. Bonney catalogs, “On March 31st, 1891, a town plat was filed in the county auditor’s office, and the new townsite named in honor of Samuel Wilkeson, Sr., who was secretary of the railroad.”

Norberg, in another HistoryLink.org essay titled Wilkeson – Thumbnail History, brings clarity to why “Wilkeson” has been historically dated as the earliest name for the town, “The Northern Pacific […] line opened in November 1877, along with a post office, which the postmaster named for Samuel Wilkeson.”

It was only the post office, inside the train depot, named Wilkeson. The postmaster, George D. Arnold, had been a railroad station agent.

The railroad-owned company mining town that once existed outside of Wilkeson, down from the depot and across from the coke ovens, seemed embittered by the legal protections of incorporation. Specific emphasis on the 1910 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps notates the company town as being the “Original Town of Wilkeson (Unincorporated)”.

The current town of Wilkeson holds 22 named streets within its boundaries, each name given with significance to the creation of the town.

PEARL ST. CT.: Approaching Wilkeson from the north, the first two streets have signage that each display the Pearl Street Court name. I have not been able to reason where “Pearl” comes from and why the streets are both called Pearl St. Ct. (to the bane of emergency services and delivery drivers).

The first Pearl St. Ct. has been labeled Purse Street on the earliest maps I have viewed. The initial map within the Town of Wilkeson 2002-2022 Comprehensive Plan (dated Dec. 29, 2005) notates Purse as the street name, but by the end of the plan, Purse has changed to Pearl.

The town also lost the street names Franklin (the other Pearl?) and Tucker (mentioned again later) sometime during the plan’s development.

Purse Street matters for Wilke-history. His father an early settler, Frank Purse was president of the Wilkeson Local No. 2634, United Mine Workers of America (U.M.W.of A.) in 1907. Purse ran (though lost) in the 1918 election for the 35th legislative district of the Washington State House of Representatives.

Restoring the historic Purse Street name is on my bucket list.

CHURCH ST.: Continuing south through the town, the Wilkeson main drag was originally mapped as “County Road”. From 1910 records, the Seventh Day Adventist Church once sat near today’s Wilkeson Fire Station location and christened Church Street.

BRIERHILL BLVD.: The decision to unify under the name Town of Wilkeson was made at the July 7, 1909, vote to incorporate. The townsites included in the vote were Wilkeson, Hope and Brier Hill (property of the Brier Hill Coal & Coke Company).

Interestingly, the people from Wilkeson were recognized by the 1900 US Census as living in a “town”, while Hope and Brier Hill were filed under the division “Wilkeson Precinct”.

ALBERT ST.: I have ideas for Albert Street, but the name came along later than the town’s incorporation. On the Sanborn Maps, this street is labeled “Sutton”. The name “Sutton (N.)” is signed on the bottom right corner of each map. Any reasonable leads for this and the Albert name would be much appreciated.

ROOSEVELT St.: During the beginnings of Wilkeson, Theodore Roosevelt was the 25th President of the United States (1901-1909). It’s interesting that the physical sign is different than what GoogleMaps shows, which is “Roosevelt Road”.

SHORT ST.: William Short was a Wilkeson boarder and coal miner in 1910.

In “Old King Coal”, a book of articles mainly written and collected by Louis Jacobin,the previously considered Frank Purse cameos an article titled “United Mine Workers of America Aids in Development of District”. Attention is called to William Short, the U.M.W.A district secretary-treasurer, who Purse describes as able to give valuable service to the membership through knowledge of the local conditions and active work in the sub-district.

LONG ST.: A laborer, Franklin P. Long, was another early 1880 Wilkeson resident. The next documentation to be found places Long in California as a photographer in 1892.

COTHARY ST.: Another find within “Old King Coal”:

“W.J. Cothary, familiarly known to many friends as plain ‘Jim Cothary’ was born in Wilkeson in 1892. […] For the past seven years he has been teller and bookkeeper for the First Bank of Wilkeson […]. He is a most competent young man and conscientious.”

Cothary was also an assistant postmaster and candidate for state legislature in 1916.

HILL ST.: Named for Andrew J. Hill, as discussed above, Hill Street once continued to the east with a bridge crossing over to the Gale Creek Coal and Coke Co. mines.

DAVIS ST.: Another original owner of the present town of Wilkeson, W.D. Davis added land to Hill’s lots and plats.

Louis Jacobin (“Old King Coal”) further substantiates the street name choice in a description of Davis’s son:

“The Wilkeson Light & Water Co. is owned by Hiram Davis, the pioneer resident of the town, who also owns extensive coal properties here. Mr. Davis is an energetic citizen, public-spirited, and always willing to join any movement for the upbuilding and advancement of the town and district.”

ROUSCHER ST.: Peter Rauscher was by trade a stone mason. Rauscher’s wife Minnie Ann died in Wilkeson in 1901, after which he moved away. Upon Rauscher’s death, his body was shipped back to Wilkeson for burial beside his wife. Rouscher Street had once been the left turn at the “Y” splitting to Spiketon. The current Rouscher Street was originally called Tucker.

WILKESON-SPIKETON RD.: In 1912, William Dunbar Clifford Spike was President for the Coast Coal Co. mines in the town Spiketon, which once lay northeast of Wilkeson. Only a small portion of this road falls within the Town of Wilkeson limits.

RAILROAD AVE./QUINNON EXT.: Beginning at the train depot, this street is self-explanatory as it had run alongside the Northern Pacific RR line.

Railroad Ave. merges with Quinnon Ext. outside of town boundaries.

ALDER, ASH, CEDAR, FIR, OAK, MAPLE, SPRUCE and VINE ST.: William K. Wilson has been considered one of the first pioneers to settle Wilkeson. Wilson’s occupation was “lumberman” and, as Linda Carlson writes in “Company Towns of the Pacific Northwest”, “…most of the towns were built by timbermen, driven west by the railroad and its unprecedented consumption of wood.”

It is the timber- or lumber- man’s influence that most likely inspired the cluster of street names.

WATERSHED RD.: is just that, a gated road leading to the town’s protected watershed and tree farm.

Candy Hatcher’s “Double Life of an Old Ghost Town- Volunteers Rebuild Wilkeson, But Quarrels Threaten Community Fiber” inspired my wonder with the quote from Bert “Skeek” Gonzalez: “If you mailed a letter to Hope, it came here.”

I wonder if Hope was officially planned to strengthen hope within the people during the late 1800s company control and coal mine shutdowns. I wonder if the disappearance of Hope from maps (after 1970s hydraulic tests concluded mining was not economical) means that people feel all hope has finally been lost.

Hope is not gone, for in preservation we can return to it again and again.

I encourage you to bring out those dusty boxes from the attic, to share from the past as we move forward into the future, and keep Hope alive.