Painting the Town Red — Mashell Red

Van Eaton Cabin when it still sported Mashell Red (Photo by Bob Walter)
Van Eaton Cabin when it still sported Mashell Red (Photo by Bob Walter)

Around 1900, Eatonville was painted red — Mashell Red that is.

Mashell Red, also known as paint rock, was an Eatonville industry for a short while. The rock, unique to Eatonville with its red (almost maroon) color, was used as a paint pigment.

The person to harness the red color was Eatonville’s first mayor, and owner of Snow Hotel, Cyrus C. Snow.

1900
According to the History of Tacoma Eastern Area, “He [Snow] came here in 1900 investigating a rumor that there was copper near Eatonville. He became superintendent of the Success Paint Company, which used copper ore as a base for its paint pigments.

Snow filed mineral rights on a claim on land south of town [Alder Cutoff] toward La Grande). The shafts built to sample the rock below could still be seen on the banks of the river. The rock was of such a nature that is could be easily crushed. It was refined and screened and mixed with linseed oil.”

“The paint was marketed to the railroads for it’s anti-rust properties because it had small amounts of copper in it,” says Pat Van Eaton.

Van Eaton cabin painted in Mashell Red (Photo by Bob Walter)
Van Eaton cabin painted in Mashell Red (Photo by Bob Walter)

Teens
For years, deep red was a popular house color around town.  “So many Eatonville homes and other buildings were painted with it that the color was jokingly referred to as ‘Mashell Red.’”

As late as 2004 you could still see it on the Van Eaton cabin. (Bob Walter says if you look close enough there’s a still a patch of the red paint on the lower left corner of the building as you’re standing at the north door.)

Unfortunately, Mashell Red had a short run. “The paint company had a plant on Mr. Snow’s place for about three years. The railroad built a spur into the place for shipping the paint or crushed rock. After three years, the paint manufacture was shifted to the water front in Tacoma, where it continued for several years.”

1950s
When Eatonville’s lumber mill closed, and Eatonville was desperate for a new business, it was suggested that Eatonville might rethink producing Mashell Red.

Another look at the Van Eaton cabin when it was paint with Mashell Red
Another look at the Van Eaton cabin when it was paint with Mashell Red

“A sample of paint rock found on the Mashell River, near Snow’s place, was submitted to the College of Mines of the University of Washington for analysis and a report was made . . . [it stated] that under present conditions this material does not have much value as a pigment for paint. Although the mining and grinding of this rock at one time was one of the industries of Eatonville, economic conditions caused the closing of the plant prior to the 1920s.” (Bootstrap Industry Report)

Anyone know of a building with coat of Mashell Red still showing? If so, let me know!

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