In the first half of the 20th century, this community near the upper end of the Skykomish River valley was a booming, brawling, railroad and logging town, remote but filled with activity and jobs.
Gold, silver and copper miners added to the raucous social mix. More optimistic than successful, they left behind such names as Money Creek and Gold Bar.
Today Skykomish is reborn as a community of outdoor recreation and tourism. It still has many of the buildings of its boom days and appears much the way it did then. As the gateway to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Skykomish is known for its abundance of activities during all seasons.
There are numerous close-by hiking trails, abandoned logging roads make great mountain biking, 4-wheeling and snowmobiling roads. Thousands of rafters and kayakers find the Skykomish River one of the finest whitewater rivers in the country and the Stevens Pass Mountain Resort provides world class downhill and cross country skiing.
Skykomish, known affectionately by railway employees, rail fans and it's citizens as "Sky" got its start in life from the Great Northern Railway. In 1889, James J. Hill (the Empire Builder) decided to extend his railroad from Montana all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Mr. Hill hired John F. Stevens, famed as the builder of the Panama Canal and his work with the China-Trans Siberian Railroad, to determine the exact route of the railroad.
After discovering Maria’s Pass in Montana Mr. Stevens continued west to Spokane and the Columbia River. Crossing the Cascade Mountain Range they settled on building the railway through the pass that now bears his name.
John Maloney was hired to help survey and design the railroad and was advised to develop a homestead seventeen miles east of Steven’s Pass, in an area called the “flat spot”.
Later, during the construction of the railroad in 1892, the soon to be town, was called “Maloney's Siding”. The depot was a boxcar sidetracked for this purpose. After completion of the railroad in 1893 a post office was established and the town became known as “Skykomish”. The town was platted in 1899 and it was incorporated on June 5, 1909. Mr. Maloney built a store to supply the needs of railroad men.
Frank Wandschneider built a hotel to accommodate the men. The original store is still here but the hotel burned in 1904. Today's Skykomish Hotel and Restaurant was built in 1905 by D.J. Manning. The restaurants and card rooms were open twenty-four hours a day to accommodate the railroad crews. Card games consisting of poker and panguingue (pan) were the favorites of railroad men to pass the time between calls to work.
The first scheduled train went through Skykomish on June 18, 1893. The engineer on this first train was Patrick McEvoy. Mr. McEvoy later settled here and in 1897 opened a saloon that became a gathering place for railroad men he knew during his railroad days. Originally known as the Olympia it still prospers as the Whistling Post Tavern despite a recent arson.
The first depot, a roundhouse, a coal chute and a water tank were built in 1894. From 1894 to 1922 the division point of the railroad shifted several times between Goldbar and Skykomish. In 1922 the division point was moved back to Skykomish. The original depot that was built on the south side of tracks was moved to the north side of the tracks.
1922-1923 was a period of change in Skykomish. Besides the moving of the depot, a hotel was built by Mr. Hatley. It is now known as the Cascadia. This replaced what was originally Martin's Boarding House. Also many of the shack like buildings that were along the tracks on the south side of the street were removed and the area cleaned up. Later a small park was built and maintained by the Great Northern on the west side of the depot. Today the park is maintained by the Skykomish Lions Club.
On March 5, 1927 electric engines began operation from Skykomish east. In 1956 a ventilation system was installed in the Cascade Tunnel to permit the operation of diesel engines through the tunnel. On July 31, 1956 the last electric engine left Sky. This was probably the beginning of the end of the glory days of railroading in Skykomish. At one time eight passenger trains a day stopped in Skykomish. (Eight mail deliveries per day!) During the passenger train era some of the finest passenger trains in America stopped in Skykomish — the Great Northern Flyer, the Oriental Limited, the Cascadian, the Western Star and the Empire Builder. Also there was a train affectionately known as the "Dinky" that went to Seattle in the morning and returned to Skykomish in the evening. The last passenger service ended in May 1971.
Today about 20 trains a day pass through Sky with their shipments of products from all over the United States and many foreign countries. Amtrak's "Empire Builder" passes through west in the morning and east in the evening en route between Seattle and Chicago.
In December 1970 the business district was nearly destroyed by a fire. The fire destroyed the old false front buildings between the Skykomish Hotel and the Whistling Post Tavern that gave the town the western frontier look typical of so many railroad towns where the tracks were "Main Street".
The steam and electric engines are gone, the wooden cabooses and boxcars are a thing of the past. But the romance of the railroad lingers.