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Some former capitals, county seats now ghost towns | Taking Stock


Last updated 5/24/2017 at Noon

I am identified with the Alpine, Washington ghost town. Actually, ghost towns are rather common. Some sources claim that Colorado has more than 1,000.

Wikipedia lists 58 ghost towns in Washington, and I promptly thought of nine that aren't on that list. And that doesn't include railroad depot locations that weren't really towns. Two of those – Meadowdale and Mosher – are between Mukilteo and Edmonds.

That also doesn't include stops on the Interurban. Fourteen of those were between Everett and the King County line. Some of those still have neighborhood identities, but most don't.

According to Wikipedia, even as settled a place as Connecticut has ghost towns. The map of the West is literally dotted with ghost towns. Towns were started for various reasons, often mining or logging. When the resource played out, the town died.

For that reason, towns fought for permanence. The railroad was a big source of permanence. Every town fought to get the railroad to establish a depot. Often that involved giving the railroad land as a sort of bribe. Sometimes it involved just bribes.

But often a railroad wasn't enough. There had to be enough cargo and passenger traffic to maintain service. Places like Mansfield, Waterville, Douglas and Alstown once had a railroad that is now gone. Some towns that lost the railroad still exist; some are just memories.

Another method of securing permanence was to secure a county seat or a state capital. We don't think of it happening in this era, but state capitals could move, and so could county seats. Snohomish County has had three county seats. All are still with us; none became a ghost town after losing the county seat.

Mukilteo, Snohomish – then known as Cadyville – and Everett have been the county seat. Everett is now well established after more than 100 years, and the county seat seems unlikely to move again.

The real Alpine is a ghost town, but The New York Times and USA Today best-selling author Mary Daheim created a fictionalized Alpine that still survives as the county seat of Skykomish County, which seceded from King County just as Snohomish County seceded from Island County.

But not all former county seats in Washington still exist. There are probably more, but I can quickly name four county seats that no longer exist: Ainsworth, Freeport, Monticello and Ruby, also sometimes known as Ruby City.

Monticello was once significant enough that it was the location of the Monticello Convention, at which the settlers north of the Columbia River petitioned Congress to separate the land north of the Columbia River into a new territory. Congress thought the name Columbia could be confused with the District of Columbia and named the new territory Washington. No confusion possible there.

Washington has had only one state capital, so far as I know, but in other states even some former state capitals are ghost towns. Bannack, Montana is one. Cahaba, Alabama is another. I wouldn't be surprised if there are more. Even acting as the seat of state government wasn't enough to save those towns. Both are now state parks.

There doesn't seem to be a surefire method for a town to succeed. All routes seem to include hazards. The only successful method seems to be to keep working at it, and even that isn’t certain.

Tim Raetzloff operates Abarim Business Computers at Harbor Square in Edmonds. What he writes combines his sense of history and his sense of numbers. Neither he nor Abarim have an investment in any of the companies mentioned in this column.


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