In the heart of what was once a rich coal-producing region, Wilkeson, has been transformed into a ghost community by the depletion of its coal deposits and forests. Sandstone quarries producing a high-quality stone were also worked here and supplied stone for cladding the majority of the state’s Capitol buildings in Olympia. The town was named for Samuel Wilkeson, secretary of the board of the Northern Pacific Railway, which built a line to the town in 1876 and began cutting coal in 1879. The Oregon Improvement Company, a branch of the Union Pacific, acquired control of the mines in 1883 and operated them until 1885. The Wilkeson Coal and Coke Company took over the operations in the early nineties. As of 1941, a few small mines are still being worked, but the town was largely abandoned.
South of Wilkeson, the highway crosses a bridge over Wilkeson Creek and sweeps upward, rounding the contour of a hill between a grove of tall trees.