Heritage Tours:

Search for a tour by category:

Search site:

string(50) ""


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.


Ca. 1918 photo of an Armistice Day parade in downtown Wilkeson.

Source: Washington State Historical Society

Ca. 1913 image of the Wilkeson School, built of the local sandstone.

Source: Washington State Historical Society

1910 view of men working the coke ovens in Wilkeson.

Source: Washington State Historical Society

Historic, panoramic view of Wilkeson Note the railroad in foreground.

Source: Washington State Historical Society

Points of Interest Points of Interest icon

Wilkeson Community House

Now the town hall, this Craftsman-style stone and stick building was envisioned, designed, and built to see to the health, spiritual, and moral needs of recent European immigrants drawn to work in the mines. Rev. Thomas J. Gambrel and his wife were sent about 1919 by the Methodist Episcopal Missionary Society of the Puget Sound Conference and Board of Home Missions. They built the Community House in 1923, but by 1946 it was abandoned. The Town of Wilkeson then purchased the property.

Wilkeson Arch

The arch is a landmark at the western entry to town. Built by the Wilkeson Booster Club in 1925, the arch is constructed of two square sandstone columns rising 25 feet and topped with a flat wood lintel. On entering the town a sign on the arch reads, “Wilkeson Coal Mines—Wilkeson Sandstone—Gateway to Carbon Glacier,” on exiting the sign reads, “Tacoma 30 miles, Seattle 50 miles, Remember Wilkeson.”

Holy Trinity Orthodox Church

The oldest Orthodox Church in Washington, this small frame Gothic vernacular building with the onion dome and Slavic iconography was built in 1900. The chandeliers and candelabra are from Czarist Russia. The original congregation was composed of immigrants from Czechoslovakia who were soon joined by Russians, other Slavs, Greeks and Arabs.  It is the oldest continually used temple in the Diocese of the West, encompassing Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, California, Nevada, Arizona, Wyoming and Colorado.

John Pete Homestead

A Serbian coal miner, John Pete, acquired this cabin and land in 1893.  The pre-1893 cabin was enlarged and altered in 1905 and again in 1913 to accommodate the growing workingman’s family. Pete later donated land for the Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church.

Wilkeson School

This two-story Neo-Classical Revival-designed sandstone school was built in 1912–13 and seems outsized for the community it serves. It was designed by Frederick Heath, George Grove and C.F.W Lundberg, of Tacoma. A major renovation occurred in 1980, and it remains in operation as an elementary school.

Coke Ovens

Thirty or so beehive-shaped structures arranged in pairs are the survivors of some 160 such ovens that supplied coke to foundries in Seattle and Portland. Tacoma Coal and Coke Company built the first ovens in 1885.  They were the sole supplier of coke along the coast. The ovens are a reminder of a forgotten industrial past.