A Newsletter of the White River Valley Museum

January 1997

The Lost Towns of the Upper Green River Valley

By J. A. Phillips, III

The Upper Green River Valley was filled with lively, two-bit railroad towns, logging camps and assorted flagstops which never amounted to much in the scheme of things but which, despite their diminutive size and remote locales, still manage to loom larger than life in the minds and memories of those who came in contact with them.

These towns were often transitory, subject to what the railroad demanded of them, or what timber was available to cut.

Most began either as 1880s construction camps for the Northern Pacific (NP) as it moved to conquer the Cascades, or as a later invention, the train order station. These were small depots and associated sidings located every five or seven miles along the line, serving as control points for the railroad. Just a few hardy telegraph operators ran these stations, relaying messages via flimsies (actually telegraphed messages, so-called for the light tissue paper they were printed on) to passing train crews from the dispatching centers of Tacoma and Ellensburg. They served to prioritize and regulate the traffic of the railroad.

Clustered around these little stations or down the line in some isolated place would be a section house, home for the section foreman and his family and a nearby bunkhouse, for the section hands for in those days everything was done 
by hand. Switches clogged with snow were swept out by men with brooms, spikes were driven home with 

Some of the larger of these towns included:

Eagle Gorge: The largest logging railroad hub in the Upper Green began life in the 1880s as a construction camp on the NP. It was named for a pair of eagles that nested in the vicinity for many years. Its population rose and fell dramatically from 1900 to 1925. According to Polk's Gazetteer and Business Directory for 1907-08, the population was 150. It was down by 100 in 1913, then up to 400 in 1917, then back down again to 250 in 1921. The lumber business dictated it's population.

Baldi: In reality this is Garibaldi, the Italian patriot, perhaps so-named for the many Italian immigrants who worked on the line. A Post Office by the name Garibaldi was at this site prior to 1907, after that it was home to a sawmill, spur and NP section house.

Humphrey: Originally a siding with a section house on the NP, it was later a logging camp for various companies over the years. Originally "This place was named Canton in 1891 by the Northern Pacific Railway for hundreds of Cantonese laborers who were employed to build the Stampede railroad switchbacks and later the Cascade tunnel. In July 1908, the railway changed the name to its present form, for William E. Humphrey of Seattle, a US Congressman who also served eight years on the Federal Trade Commission."

Maywood: A euphonious name, the NP built a siding here in 1886 and several logging camps operated in it's vicinity.

Lester: The popular conception of the naming of the town is that "It was named Deans by the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1890. The following year it became Lester for Lester Hansacker, the railway's telegraph operator there." The NP's telegraphic call letters for Lester, "DM" perhaps for "Dean's mill," seem to support this . It had a population of 250 in 1907, which rose to 300 by 1913. About three years later, in 1917, the population had dropped to a mere 100, rising again dramatically by 1922 to reach 400.

Spelled in Reverse: a Town Called Nagrom
Only one town on the Upper Green managed to buck the trend and become a more stable homesite for its residents, a place with the somewhat whimsically inspired name of "Nagrom."

Nagrom worker's cabins
Nagrom worker's cabins and logged hillside,
courtesy of Terlicher collection

Nagrom first appeared in Polk's Directory in 1913-14 under the short summary of "Post Office started 1911, telephone and telegraph." By the 1917-1918 edition the population had risen to 400. The Morgan Lumber Company operated a mill and general merchandise store. In the 1921-22 edition nothing had changed except the population, now reported at 450. Nagrom had become the only town in the Upper Green to grow constantly over a decade, at least according to Polk's census.

E.G. Morgan: Nagrom's Founder
Elmer G. Morgan arrived in Washington Territory in 1887. Born in Illinois, he was about 21 years old. His first recorded adventure as a timber merchant officially began shortly thereafter, on March 25, 1893 when he and two partners "...voluntarily associated ourselves together for the purpose of forming a corporation under the laws of the State of Washington..." The three founded the Dean Lumber and Mercantile Company.

The Gay Nineties were pivotal for Morgan. In about 1893 he was 33 years old, he had met and married his wife Edith and started a family. At least two sons, Charles E. (born 1893) and Elmer Jr. (born 1895) would later go into the lumber business with him. He and his associates had also prospered where far larger concerns had failed. The Northern Pacific Railroad lapsed into its second and final bankruptcy in August, 1893 and would not emerge from receivership until 1896 (though now as the Northern Pacific Railway). In the last year of the 1800s, E.G. Morgan came into his own.

While still acting as secretary of the Dean Lumber Co. he founded the Morgan Lumber Co. on March 26, 1899 "To carry on a general saw milling business near Lester..." His partners in the new venture were E. A. Boatman, Harry Eyer, John Lindberg and G. Lindberg. The five men divided 240 shares which they valued at $50 each. It is likely Morgan was now the sole operation east of Eagle Gorge, having either outlasted or co-opted all other forces in the far reaches of the Upper Green.

How To Become a Tycoon
For a decade after this the company grew and prospered, besting the short records of other lumber companies in the area. It also underwent a dramatic change in ownership: the only original shareholder remaining by 1911 was Morgan himself. Wilber Clabaugh now served as Vice President of the company, 26 year old Robert W. Hallam, served as Secretary and W.E. Jones and 46 year old Edward Hocking, were trustees (Hocking also ran the company's mercantile store). Both Hallam and Hocking had been in Washington nearly as long as Morgan.

That year the five men voted to increase their 400 shares of stock to 1500, with a par value of $100 each. The Morgan Lumber Company, begun with $12,000, was now worth $150,000, at least on paper.

By 1911 they had cut all the timber they could reach first at Friday Creek, (and believe me, the photographs support this claim,) then Maywood and were now on the move again. Securing marketable timber from the giant Weyerhaeuser holdings, the Morgan Lumber Company prepared to build a new mill in the woods a mile or so east of Maywood, 5.7 miles west of Lester. For the lumber company it would be a pivotal year, for the 45 year old Morgan it would be his last mill.

The mill at Nagrom
A rare photograph of the mill at Nagrom
WRVM #1769

In the early spring of 1910 Morgan was nearly finished cutting the available timber at Maywood and had already selected the next area to be cut. He had arranged a lease of Weyerhaeuser timber lands and looked to cut more from National Forest stocks. He had a site located for the new mill and all that remained to be completed was access. In those days before the Civilian Conservation Corps the main street of these logging towns was not a road but a railroad, the Northern Pacific. Access for Morgan, to get new equipment and ship his finished lumber, meant a spur. To get a spur, he wrote:

March 21, 1910
F.E. Weymouth, N.P Seattle Division

This year will finish our saw mill operations at this location and we have planned to move to a point about one mile East of Maywood Station. We have about one hundred million feet of timber bought and paid for at that location with a prospect of as much more as soon as Government titles are established. We will put in a modern Plant with much greater capacity than our present one and we ask you for a spur on the North side leading from your main line near your "One mile to Maywood" board. We will want trackage facilities that will give us a chance to handle our product advantageously and submit herewith a pencil sketch of about what is required aggregating about 2470 ft. with three switches. This location is on straight track where there is almost no grade and so far as we can see is free of objectionable features.

As we have an immense amount of work to do there in construction of buildings and logging roads we ask that this application be acted on at the earliest possible date as we should by all means have the track so we can use it no later than June 1st.

(all NP citations courtesy of James M. Fredrickson, Thanks, Jim!)

Superintendent Weymouth replied on March 28, urging Morgan to find a new location, or at least agree to a spur running from the Maywood siding. Morgan went out of his way to dissuade Weymouth of these notions. On March 30 he wrote the Superintendent:

"...We see no way to continue operating without the spur in the location we ask for. Mill locations cannot be made without some geographical advantages and the site selected is the only one in that part of the Country on account of the lay of the land which makes a large pond possible.

"This site is leased by us from the Weyerhaeuser Timber Co. who in years to come expect to use the same site to cut their immense timber holdings North of and tributary to this site and your road. Our lease from them is executed in such a way that we deliver the site back to them for such uses after a term of years unless we ourselves can handle their holdings. We explain all this simply that you may see something of the importance of the location.

It is safe to say that the revenues to your road from this location will run into the millions of dollars. Your suggestion that we connect with the Maywood Siding would be practically impossible as it means a long cut though a bad raise of ground and bridging of Smay Creek. A suggestion for us to undertake such a piece of work is just about equal to an invitation to retire from business."

The letter, clearly aimed at getting Weymouth's attention, worked. Weymouth wrote General Superintendent B.E. Palmer in Tacoma about the matter, only to have Palmer insist Morgan use an extension off the Maywood site. Not only did Weymouth fail to change Morgan's mind on the matter, but the General Superintendent didn't either. Palmer was adamant.

July 5, 1910
E.G. Morgan, Lester
... I beg to advise that we will cut the main track at your point of connection about six thousand feet east of east switch at Maywood, as soon as your present switch has been taken out... B.E. Palmer, Tacoma

With the course of action now settled on the matter was sent to Division Engineer B.L. Crosby whose task was to determine just what the job would cost.

His December 9 estimate for 4,408 feet of new track included every possible item and every possible cost associated with purchasing, building, shipping or removing materials for the spur. The cost would be split in half, with Morgan paying $3,477.50 and the NP paying $3,475.67, the entire project costing $6,953.17.

Next, the Superintendent of the Seattle Division filed a Requisition for Authority for Expenditure. The first step to getting the purse strings in St. Paul loosened by granting approval of money for a physical plant improvement. The end product of this process was the Authority for Expenditure, which authorized the actual outlay of funds for any given project, large or small. In submitting his request the Superintendent was allowed to summarize the reason behind it and the author usually did his best to play up the potential benefits of the project. Even this comparatively small project was not above this practice, as in his summary of January 20, the Superintendent stated:

"The Morgan Lumber Co. expect to connect their logging road with our tracks and procure the logs from the woods in the vicinity, cutting them up at this point and shipping the finished project over our line. They expect to get out about 50 cars of lumber per month, 25 of which will move via Billings...and 25 via Minnesota Transfer..."

It was this latter item that probably clinched the deal. The NP would make a dollar in switching fees for every car delivered and every car shipped, a sum which would have paid for the improvement in about three years. If Morgan could indeed ship 25 cars a month each to Billings and the Minnesota Transfer in St. Paul the spur would be money in the bank. A single car to Billings represented a haul over half the NP system, a car to St. Paul essentially the whole of the NP. As an entire train in those days was scarcely more than 40 cars and any freight going as far as Spokane was considered long-haul, the Morgan Lumber Company could be thought of as a fairly good customer. St. Paul's approval was not long in coming.

On February 16 the Seattle Division's new Superintendent J.E. Craver wrote Morgan of the approval. Two days later Morgan wrote back. Though weather conditions would be unfavorable for at least a month more, it was apparent he was anxious to start the work. But not until July 24 did Morgan make his next move, depositing six hundred dollars with the NP at Lester. Money, as usual had the right effect.

Eighteen months of correspondence would go by the wayside in the next two weeks, as the NP moved into high gear. The day after receiving word of the deposit, Craver telegraphed Roadmaster Charles Sauriol at Lester "Now have deposit in hand for Morgan Spur near Maywood. Rush the work." Two days after this, Sauriol, with all of the material to support nearly a mile of railroad, was on the move. He telegraphed Craver "...am putting Morgan Mill switch east of Maywood today. Morgan people can get no benefit of track until telephone people raise wires over siding, long poles are now on ground, please advise. Sauriol."

Craver's response goes unrecorded, but regardless of what he may have said, on July 29 Sauriol had the spur done. Sauriol notified Seattle on August 3, "Wires over Morgan's Spur one mile east of Maywood have been raised, order 550 of July 29 can be canceled." Across the top of the telegraph Chief Dispatcher H.M. Morgan wrote "Bulletin 550 annulled." Sauriol wired again the next day, reporting his progress. "Morgan's Spur one mile east of Maywood in service for 500 feet from main line only." There were only 3908 feet to go. The Roadmaster covered this in less than a week, laying about 800 feet of track a day. Finally on August 9, it was done.

Connection with the logging tracks of the Morgan Lumber Company has been put in at a point 4000 feet west, time card direction, of milepost 67, main line, First District, or mile post 67.8 from Ellensburg. Track opens at the west end and is now ready for use. This will be known as "NAGROM" and will be a less than car load point as well as car load. Be governed accordingly."

"The name was devised by the division superintendent of Northern Pacific Railway, and is Morgan, spelled in reverse. It was for E.G. Morgan, president of the Morgan Lumber Company which operated a sawmill there." Unlike other towns in the Upper Green nearly a hundred years later there is no debate over who or what Nagrom was named for.

J. A. Phillips, III

(A version of this article exists in the museum vertical files, including citations.)