Dreamers, Loggers and Trains-Capital Forest’s Early Years

Feature photo above – Bordeaux logging camp train, 1906, Clyde Cummings, engineer.  Photo from the Washington State Historical Society.

The Early Settlers

The 1870s brought the first logging claims to the Black Hills region of southwest Washington Territory.   The Black Hills got their name from the dark shadows that frequently covered the thick forested slopes.

This area would eventually become Capital State Forest–named for its close proximity to the state capital of Olympia.

In 1880, a Utopian society from Brooklyn, New York tried to settle in the area.  Most of the group didn’t last the first winter.

However, New York names like Central Park and Brooklyn still dot the nearby areas.  Undeterred by that group’s misfortunes, more Utopian groups arrived in the Puget Sound area over the next few decades.

Serious logging of the Black Hills began in the 1880s and 1890s.  Washington became the 42nd state in 1889, and Congress granted the new state 5,000 acres in what was to become Capital Forest.

A lower elevation logging camp was set up in 1898, in what would become the town of Bordeaux.

During the 1920s and 1930s, Bordeaux’s population grew to 500.

Bordeaux Logging Camp
Bordeaux Logging Camp

1902 saw the first of a series of devastating wildfires in the logging hills.

The beginning of the 20th century saw the arrival of railroads, and railroad logging.  Over 100 miles of railroads were built throughout the Black Hills in the following decades.  Many of those historic rail beds are still used today as roads and trails.

Bordeaux logging camp train, 1910. Photo from the Washington State Historical Society.
Bordeaux logging camp train, 1910. Photo from the Washington State Historical Society.
Mosquito and Coal Creek Railroad, photo by Weyerhauser Co.
Mosquito and Coal Creek Railroad, photo by Weyerhauser Co.

The Great Depression Brings Change

Supported by loggers, the 1933 Washington Legislature created the Capital State Forest, to ensure a long term supply of timber from the Black Hills region.

The state purchased 52,000 acres of previously logged or burned timberlands for fifty cents an acre, and eventually transferred an additional 14,000 tax-defaulted acres to be part of the state forest.

Capital Forest was forever to be managed as commercial forest land, to benefit the citizens of Washington State.

From 1938-1942, The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) planted 7 million seedlings in Capital Forest, from their station at Wedekind Planting Camp.  Fearing forest fires, the state forbids public access to the forest.

By 1941, Bordeaux had become a ghost town.  It has only recently begun to attract new residents.

The 1950s Brings a New Era to the Forest

In 1955, Capital Forest was opened to the public for recreation and other uses, as long as these activities didn’t interfere with timber production and harvest.  New generations got to enjoy the natural beauty  and diversity of the forests.

Cedar Creek Corrections Center was built in 1956.  State inmates were assigned forestry duties, from planting to firefighting to trail maintenance.

Capital State Forest continued to grow.  15,000 new acres were added in 1970, and 10,000 more acres were added in 1989.

In 2000, the Washington Department of Natural Resources mapped historic sites to protect the remnants of the amazing heritage of Capital Forest and the Black Hills.

Historic bridge in Capital State Forest. Photo by the Washington Department of Natural Resources.
Historic bridge in Capital State Forest. Photo by the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

Today, Capital State Forest draws folks on horseback, plus bicyclists, hikers, and those who simply want a peaceful drive in the forests, and enjoy the panoramic views from various peaks.

Check out to see what’s going on now in Capital State Forest and the beautiful Black Hills!

By Melissa Genson

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