At the junction of the Cle Elum and Yakima rivers, this community began to develop in earnest when coal deposits were found for supplying trains traveling through the mountains. Cle Elum began as Clealum, from the Indian Tie-el-Lum, meaning “swift water.” The town retains great examples of buildings that date back to its beginnings as a mining town and railroad stop.
Although the first settler, Thomas L. Gambel, a prospector, came in 1870, the town did not begin to develop until after the discovery of coal in 1884, when Northern Pacific Railway Company geologists surveyed the area for fuel deposits to supply locomotives on the long haul over the mountains. In 1886, the railroad tracks reached the settlement. Despite a disastrous forest fire and the removal of the town’s sawmill, the discovery of new coal veins and pockets in 1889 kept the town alive. Completion of the railroad connected Cle Elum with the Puget Sound region. Four years later, a fire left the 1,900 inhabitants homeless, but the town was quickly rebuilt. Today, in addition to historic buildings, the town has an attractive downtown with coffee shops and a couple of butcher shops featuring locally made goods.