Lost in the Flood: The Tale of Edgewick’s Tragic Christmas of 1918

-Guest post by Deborah J. Isley, volunteer Snoqualmie Valley Museum

1918 was a momentous year for the world and for the Snoqualmie Valley. In the late fall, the Flu Pandemic peaked in the Seattle area, and an Armistice was signed in Europe, officially ending World War I. For the people of the tiny company town of Edgewick in the Snoqualmie River Valley, the year would take an even more dramatic turn just before Christmas.

The little town of Edgewick was built on the banks of Boxley Creek by the North Bend Lumber Company (NBLC), which started in 1906 with the construction of its first mill. Over the following decade, the company built eighteen homes for employees and a shingle manufacturing mill about a quarter of a mile up-creek from the town.

In the early morning of December 23, 1918, the North Bend Lumber Company’s night watchman, Charles Moore, was alarmed to see the water in the creek rising several feet in a matter of minutes. Moore ran through the town, blowing his whistle and banging on the doors of the fifteen families asleep in their beds. The sixty residents ran for the hills as the water rose around them. Acting as a temporary barrier, the mill held back the onslaught of water before eventually succumbing to its force. Still, some survivors were wading through water up to their chests before they reached solid ground.

Remarkably, all the residents of Edgewick survived the flood. Gathering on the hillside, they built a fire to ward off the chill of the cold, wet morning and listened helplessly to the sounds of their homes and livelihoods being swept away by the violent floodwaters. As dawn broke, illuminating their flood-ravaged town, the community couldn’t help but wonder what caused the sudden deluge of water.

Figure 2 Flood damage at North Bend Lumber Co mill at Edgewick. PO.342.0054
Photograph by Robert Vinnedge

The cause of this flood originated in the same dam, the Cedar Falls Dam, that caused the slow flooding of the town of Moncton four years earlier. When Seattle City Light dammed the Cedar River, the porous glacial moraine beside the river absorbed the newly obstructed water. It filtered downhill and overflowed the banks of Rattlesnake Lake, ultimately swallowing the town of Moncton, just two and a half miles southwest of Edgewick.

Four years later, in October 1918, the City finished the dam’s construction and blocked the spillway at its base. The reservoir began to fill. Over the next two months, amidst a particularly rainy season, the water in the reservoir rose rapidly, almost to its crest. However, more than just the reservoir was filling up.

The ground next to the reservoir was particularly porous soil. Water slowly percolated through and filled the surrounding hillside until it came up against the mostly clay-based glacial moraine above Boxley Creek. This clay acted as a cork, holding back the unseen water until it could hold no more.

Eventually, water forced its way past the moraine, resulting in a landslide 900 feet across, above Boxley Creek, about a mile from the dam. When the hillside collapsed, it sent an initial burst of 3,000 cubic feet per second of water into the little creek, but by morning, the flow rate was back to just a few feet per second. The creek swelled to 150 feet as it approached Edgewick. The town and mills were destroyed by morning, and the flood waters receded. The event is often referred to as the Boxley Blowout.

The downriver residents of North Bend awoke to see the debris from Edgewick in the Snoqualmie River. Fearing that some in the logging camp had perished, they sent a train to evacuate any survivors. However, most families (likely still wet amidst the December chill) chose to stay and search the ruins of the town for their belongings.

After the flood, the owners of the North Bend Lumber Company sued the City of Seattle for negligence. After a prolonged series of court battles, the City of Seattle was ordered to pay the company over $330,000 in 1928, the equivalent of nearly $6 million today.

While the company town of Edgewick was never rebuilt, some families continued to live there. Unfortunately, fourteen years later, in 1932, seven people died when another flash flood struck the community.

Since the Edgewick flood in 1918, Cedar Falls Dam has not been allowed to fill past the emergency spillways. More recently, Seattle Public Utilities placed drains in Boxley Creek. Today, parts of the giant bowl-shaped impression created by the landslide can still be seen from the Cedar Butte Trail.

Figure 7. Current Picture of the Boxley Blowout viewpoint on Cedar Butte Trail, sharp edge to the hillside still apparent over 100 years later.
Photograph ©Deborah Isley taken March 29, 2024.

(For a more detailed discussion of the glacial moraine and engineering mistakes involved in the Boxley Blowout, I recommend this blog by Washington geologist Courtney Van Stolk.)

Sources

  • Gifford, Jan Hagstrom and Kenneth G. Watson. History of Snoqualmie Valley. Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum.
  • McClary, Daryl C. “Flash flood at Edgewick in the Cascade Mountains kills seven people on February 26, 1932.” HistoryLink. January 6, 2014. Accessed April 2, 2024 at https://www.historylink.org/File/10704.
  • Stein, Alan J. “Boxley Burst destroys the logging community of Edgewick on December 23, 1918.” HistoryLink. January 1, 2000, Accessed April 2, 2024 at https://www.historylink.org/File/2426.
  • “Story of Recent Flood Harrowing–Devestation Follows in Wake.” Snoqualmie Valley Record. Snoqualmie, Washington. Thursday, March 3, 1932. Archived at the Snoqualmie Valley Museum.

[Featured Image: Picture of the company town of Edgewick. Photo taken between 1905-1909. PO.040.1177]

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