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Preserve America Community:
Roslyn, Washington

Roslyn, Washington (population 936), was platted as a town site in 1886 due to the discovery of large coal deposits underlying the region. The Northern Pacific Coal Company, a subsidiary of the Northern Pacific Railroad, developed the coal deposits and established the town to provide coal for steam engines traversing the Cascade Mountains.

Between 1886 and 1929, workers came from countries such as Italy, Poland, Germany, Lithuania, Slovenia, Scotland, Serbia, Croatia, England, and Ireland to work the mines. These immigrants maintained their homelands' traditions, as seen in Roslyn Cemetery with its 26 individual ethnic and lodge cemeteries. Many Roslyn residents today are descendants of these immigrant miners.

Roslyn's peak population was 4,000 in 1910 with mine production of nearly 2 million tons of coal a year. Coal trains were soon replaced with diesel, however, and the mines began to shut down in the 1920s. The last mine in the area closed in 1963 and most residents left, leaving only a few to care for what essentially became a ghost town.

In the mid-1970s, the population began to grow again as artists and others rehabbed the town's houses and commercial buildings. Most recently, recreation and tourism have taken the economic forefront.

A true "company town," Roslyn was platted by a division of Northern Pacific. The company store, a National Historic Landmark, still stands at the corner of First and Pennsylvania. Like many 19th-century American towns, Roslyn experienced a major fire in 1888 that destroyed most of its commercial district. Many buildings built after the fire used fire-resistant brick and sandstone, and some of these structures are still in use, including the 1889 Brick Tavern and the circa-1890 Fischer Building.

During its days of prosperity, the Northern Pacific Coal Company built the Roslyn Athletic Club for miners and their families. It was completed in 1902 and contained a gym, meeting rooms, and a bowling alley. Roslyn's Library, which was founded in 1898, moved into the RAC building in 1918.

Most of the town's 500 homes were built in the 1920s on land owned by the railroad. The 1920s-era commercial district consisted of four square blocks, of which about one dozen buildings remain as representatives of western frontier commercial architecture.

Roslyn has many examples of Victorian elegance in its surviving buildings, as well as simple miner's shacks. The City of Roslyn was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1978. Recently, Roslyn became a Certified Local Government and its Historic Preservation Commission restored the Roslyn Café, a local landmark.

Roslyn's railroad tracks have been removed and replaced by the Coal Mine Trail. A walk on the trail affords visitors a look at the remains of Roslyn's mines and railroad depot site. The Roslyn Museum houses an extensive collection of photos and mining memorabilia, and features an exhibit on Roslyn's unique ethnic cemeteries. Also preserved are items relating to the popular television series "Northern Exposure," which was filmed in Roslyn.

The business community has worked to bring in more visitors through annual festivals including the Manly Man festival in June, Pioneer Day Picnics, and a Coal Mining Festival associated with Coal Mining History Week each August.

County sales and use tax funds have helped to pay for infrastructure improvements to support tourism, and the local Kiwanis Club used city hotel/motel tax funds to help create an interpretive kiosk for Roslyn's ethnic cemeteries.

For more information

Cle Elum-Roslyn Chamber of Commerce: cleelumroslyn.org/

Updated July 8, 2005

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