Ghost Towns of the Pacific Northwest: Bordeaux, Washington

Link - article by Steve O'Neill and Avi Abrams

Exploration and Discovery in the Land of Myst

Today we feature the first installment in our series "Exploring Abandoned Places of the Pacific Northwest". This area is not only naturally spectacular and culturally intense, it's also rich in mining and logging history, with many long-abandoned towns and camps littering the coast line.

Avi Abrams (of Dark Roasted Blend) and a historian Steve O'Neill from Olympia, Washington, team up to bring us a true gem of a ghost town. Steve writes: "There are places in the Pacific Northwest that are breathtaking. I'm an historian. Taught history for about twenty years. The Pacific Northwest is not as deeply rooted historically as other parts of the world, but there is a colorful, multilayered, interwoven fabric to this place that I've come to love."

(photography by Avi Abrams, Dark Roasted Blend)

The Story of Bordeaux, Washington: Loads of Pioneer Spirit, Multiplied by Hard Work, Sheer Guts, Greed and Industry

For sixty years the logging town of Bordeaux, Washington prospered because it was located in the heart of Capital Forest where towering fir and cedar trees provided beams for buildings, spars for sailing ships and shingles for roofs. The 120 ft. straight, clear spars went to Maine to provide the masts for the fast clipper ships. Mumby cedar shingles were prized in the Midwest as the best quality for homes and businesses. After 100 years or more, the warehouses of Seattle and Tacoma are now offices and upscale restaurants with the original, massive, open beams milled from forest giants that once were common, but now are protected.

(Mumby Shingle Mill, 1904. The pond is where the train would dump the Cedar logs so they could be floated to the mill)

Logging towns were very similar to other historical examples of booming economies such as cattle towns filled with drunk cowboys or gold rush towns with newly rich miners trying hard to spend as much as they could, as fast as they could.

The town of Bordeaux as seen from above the saw mill, in 1918 at the time of the first World War. The mist escaping the building in the foreground was steam from a kiln that dried the timber:

Bordeaux, 1932. Notice the protection over the stack of the yarder. Fire was a constant danger so sparks were controlled:

(Taken in 1916, the Northern Pacific boxcar stands in front of the company store. Today there is a paved road over what was once the rail bed)

Logging camps were known as places filled with the hardest working of young men bursting with energy and pent up testosterone. Everyday danger was accepted as an occupational hazard and fear was common but laughed at in a show of bravado:

(Loggers in front of the bunk house in 1919 - image via University of Washington Digital Archives)

It was very common for a steel cable to break under the pressure of yarding a log onto the landing... And when a steel cable broke under that much pressure, it was whispering death in any direction it flew.

(Train crossing a trestle in 1932)

Logging crews in 1932. Notice how casually loggers are perched on precariously piled logs. It takes very little for the whole pile to shift and crush anyone sitting or standing in the wrong place:

The steel-plated boilers of the steam donkeys were known to occasionally explode, killing anyone nearby.

(Steam donkey 1932 with fire guard)

Massive logs on a line of trucks from 1938 display how many “board feet” are in each log. The second truck shows 8770 board feet in that log. In today's prices for clear fir, the finished lumber in just that log would be worth about $71,000:

This massive giant was cut in 1938 on Fuzzy Top, one of the peaks in Capital Forest:

(Log being loaded onto a truck - image via University of Washington Digital Collection, INDO257)

“Widow Makers” were trees with huge, heavy limbs over a hundred feet in the air that were known to break and fall when the tree was being felled.

The Origin of "Skid Row", Serbian Loggers Near-Revolution, and other interesting things

The technology of logging and the machinery of the sawmills paralleled other developments during the Industrial Revolution at the turn of the century. In the early days of Bordeaux, oxen or horses hauled logs on a “skid road” of greased, small logs to the river, pond or railroad. The ends of the log were rounded off to allow travel over the skid road. Seattle's skid road, or skid row, became synonymous with houses of ill repute that lined the road to the Yesler saw mill.

(Logging Crew. The horses and skid roads can be seen in the background leading to the railroad - image via University of Washington Digital Collection, INDO329)

Mess hall in Bordeaux, 1919. Hungry loggers need fuel:

(image via University of Washington Digital Archives, CKK0007)

As with other industrial towns at the turn of the century, labor movements became organized to fight for safer working conditions, higher pay and reasonable hours. It was not unusual for companies to hire armed enforcers to break up labor efforts often leading to armed conflict. In the logging camps of Bordeaux, it was Serbian loggers who organized unions to demand concessions.

It's ironic that a report by a government spy dated 1919, described the efforts of Serbian loggers to organize labor. Serbian loggers? In the European Balkans of 1914, it was Serbian activists seeking independence from the Austrian Empire who assassinated the Archduke of Austria leading to a chain of events that unleashed the carnage of World War I.

(Typed report from a government spy investigating labor movements in the logging camps of Bordeaux 1919. University of Washington Digital Archives PNW00906)

But nestled in the Capital Forest of the Olympic Peninsula, Bordeaux was a typical company town. And when the economy fell apart in the Great Depression, there were still jobs to be found as loggers or mill workers. And then... when all of the surrounding forests had been cut and milled, the reason for Bordeaux's existence ended.

In 1941 the mills, hotel, stores, school and homes were dismantled and the town disappeared. Newspaper accounts of the end of Bordeaux were filled with personal stories of the workers who expressed sadness at it's end, but gratitude that it hadn't happened when jobs could not be found.

Secrets of the Lush, Somber Forest: Exploring the "Ghost Town" of Bordeaux Today

It's ironic that just as the town had gradually taken away the surrounding forest, the forest replaced the place where the town had been. Today, if one follows a trail through the alder and cottonwoods along a stream that had once been channeled to turn the saw blades, there are poignant reminders of what used to be Bordeaux.

(images credit: Steve O'Neill and Avi Abrams)

As Steve O'Neill and Avi Abrams move around the mysterious and often precarious ruins of Bordeaux, they see an overgrown huge concrete vault and the cavernous remains of a sawmill... Steeped in deep silence, drowned in a tangled vegetation, rising as a foreboding mass of concrete and rich, thriving moss.

(images credit: Avi Abrams)

The fern-covered vault used to be in the company store, protecting the payroll that the loggers and mill workers depended on:

(image credit: Steve O'Neill and Avi Abrams)

Vine covered brick and concrete ruins are all that's left of a powerful sawmill built to handle the huge logs brought in by rail:

(images credit: Avi Abrams)

Wood scraps and sawdust had to be burned or the town would have been buried. The foundation of a massive smoke stack is all that is left... on the right, the author stands in front of one of the protected giants to illustrate the scale:

On the hill behind where the sawmill produced a deafening cacophony of industry, there is now complete silence in an eerie grove of dark fir trees...

(photo by Steve O'Neill)

A bridge crosses the creek to what was once one of the main logging roads up the valley:

(images credit: Avi Abrams)

Bordeaux logging road going nowhere:

(photo by Steve O'Neill)

The massive fir trees that were logged and milled in Bordeaux are long gone. Today there are protected groves (such as the old growth forests on the Olympic Peninsula) as a reminder of what was once here.

Article by Steve O'Neill and Avi Abrams, Dark Roasted Blend.




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Anonymous Rick said...

Ooh, I hope you have found some areas east of the cascades as well! Those ghost towns can be just as creepy if not more so.

Anonymous Ian said...

I know it's picky but the First World War started in 1914 when the Arch Duke was assassinated.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Glad to hear that the trees are protected now. Helps to move the jobs to Canada and keep home prices high.

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please flaunt your ignorance elsewhere.

Blogger Timothy Reed said...

It would be great to see photos of this site that are aligned with the original old photos.

Anonymous Carol Yates Wilkerson said...

Both of my parents grew up in Bordeaux. Just today I wrote a blog post about a woman and her unborn child who was killed when crossing the tracks in Bordeaux. This was in April of 1903 and her name was Blanch Philby. Bordeaux has a rich, rich history that sadly, only those who lived there could remember. My parents and grandparents are all deceased now, but we have stories and photos to carry on the history of this once thriving town.

Blogger Unknown said...

Awesome story!

Blogger Mossy Mom said...

Excellent post! The Pacific Northwest is rich in history, but it's not European history.

Anonymous Jay B. said...

This is fascinating piece of an abandoned history. Abandoned, but not forgotten. To think there is many ghost towns like this all over the world. It´s great that they are accessible to the public. Not only you can learn about the Bordeaux´s history, but you also can also have nice and adventurous walk.

Blogger Ryan J Hollander said...

In my own backyard, even! Great story by Avi and Steve...I love exploring the ruins of the Northwest in my blog: landtales.org . My only negative response to your awesome photo essay is that I haven't been in there yet! Looking forward to your next installment, and if you need any assistance, or ideas, please let me know. - Ryan Hollander/ Olympia, WA

Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Thank you Ryan - excellent site you got, and yes, will stay in touch!

Blogger Abby said...

This is a great collection of information - I printed it all out to use on a road trip for my kids when we head down to Ilwaco for a camping trip. I also emailed my son's teacher giving props to your website - told her she should look it up and take her students on a field trip! Thanks!

Anonymous Scott said...

Wow, I was looking for more information about Bordeaux on some other sites, but you have by far the most complete information on it! I loved the history photos, especially those old trucks loaded down with the huge logs!

Blogger Unknown said...

Checkout this video of me exploring abandoned stone house in Skamania, WA https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6bjtNrSWRc

Blogger Tim Nyhus said...

Just a question to my understanding most of the brick structure ruins are located in Capital Forest and the vaults on the opposite side are private. Can anyone confirm this?

Blogger Unknown said...

we were in that area on weekend of august 24, enjoy drive in capitol forest . and mima mounds area , and drove up rd to end of bordeaux rd also. we live in snohomish county everett wa, we have a place in mccleary we are thinking about selling or moving back there. thanks for great video and pics from uw museum .

Blogger Avi Abrams said...

Good to hear! Glad that you liked the article, UW Museum


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