The History of Robe Canyon





Historical Note...


  Many volunteers working on the trail have asked about the history of the lime kiln.  Here are some answers, from Limestone Resources of Western Washington by Wilbert R. Danner, published by the State of Washington, 1966.


  "Shumway Quarry... -- A quarry was started here about 1899 by the Canyon Lime and Cement Company, and production was about 60 tons of limestone per day.  Limestone was shipped to Seattle and to Everett for use as flux in a smelter.  A kiln of 100 tons capacity was constructed adjacent to the Everett-Monte Cristo railroad tracks, and limestone was transported to the top of the kiln by small cable cars.  It is reported that approximately 30,000 tons of limestone was burned in this kiln.  Production ceased some time prior to 1936."


  Many thanks to Phil Woodhouse and Daryl Jacobsen for providing the foregoing information.  Read more about the history of the area in The Everett and Monte Cristo Railway, Oso Publishing, 2000.


What is a Lime Kiln?


During the nineteenth century, the most important use of lime (calcium oxide) was in making mortar and plaster for building construction. In Robe Canyon, it was used in the construction of parts of the Everett & Monte Cristo Railway.  To produce lime, limestone was burned in kilns that produced sufficient heat to drive off the carbon dioxide, which turned the rock to lumps of lime and powdered lime.  For ease in loading the unburned limestone, kilns were often dug into the side of a hill.


 The Everett & Monte Cristo Railroad was built in 1892—1893 to transport gold and silver ore from mines at Monte Cristo deep in the Cascade Mountains to a new smelter at Everett, WA.  Railroad surveyor M. Q. Barlow selected a route that avoided the steep, treacherous canyon of the South Fork of the Stillaguamish upstream of Granite Falls.  But eastern financiers and railroad “experts”, working for John D. Rockefeller, dictated a more direct route through the canyon in order to save expensive trestling required on Barlow’s route.

 The canyon segment of the railway required boring of six tunnels through the steep canyon walls.  Much of the railroad was built on wooden cribbing at the edge of what the eastern experts referred to as a “trout stream.”  When the November floods swelled the “trout stream” into a thundering torrent of whitewater, the railroad was wiped out.  Starting in 1892 and continuing through the railroad’s demise in 1933, the effort to maintain the rail line required yearly battles to repair damage from rockslides and fall flooding in the canyon.

 After the turn of the century, the railway underwent a transition from ore transport to logging.  But throughout its operation, the railway was famous as a scenic excursion to view the wild beauty of the canyon and the mountains beyond.  In 1921, the Inn at Big Four near Silverton was built as a railroad destination resort.  Trolley cars and automobiles outfitted with flanged wheels carried passengers on the scenic ride up the rail line, through the canyon, to the Inn and on to Monte Cristo.

 The history of the park…

 In the late 1960s, Boy Scout Troop 43 of Lake Stevens built a trail from the Mountain Loop Highway to the original town site of Robe at the head of Robe Canyon.  Though the property was privately owned, the public used the trail for 25 years to access the town site and the railway tunnels at the upper end of the canyon.

 In 1995, capping an effort led by the Stillaguamish Citizens’ Alliance and River Network, local leaders including State Senator Kevin Quigley, County Executive Bob Drewell, and County Councilman John Garner secured 160 acres at the head of the canyon for Snohomish County’s new Robe Canyon Historic Park.  Further efforts led to the addition of 800 acres in 1997.  In 2001, Cascade Land Conservancy facilitated acquisition of an added 30 acres to expand the park near the old Robe town site.  Today, Robe Canyon Historic Park is one of the county’s largest parks at almost 1,000 acres, affording protection for 7 miles of the wild South Fork Stillaguamish River.

 The park also protects remnants of the long-abandoned Everett & Monte Cristo Railway and a century-old lime kiln.  Each year, the existing Old Robe Trail is used by thousands of hikers who come to explore the abandoned railway, marvel at the powerful river cascading in the narrow canyon, and enjoy the solitude of near-wilderness only minutes from the growing Puget Sound metropolis. 

 In addition to the Old Robe Trail (2 miles) which the Scouts built 30 years ago, in coming years the park will also feature the Lime Kiln Trail (3.5 miles) now under construction as an all-volunteer, community project.

© 2003 Stillaguamish Citizens' Alliance. All rights reserved.