Article about National – Dispatch 1981

This article on National, Washington (near Ashford) ran, I believe in 1981 in the Dispatch. Unfortunately the date is a bit hard to read. But I’ve written the article below to make reading a bit easier.

The town of National

Ghost towns in the Southwest are not that uncommon. Driving through the desert, there are occasionally abandoned buildings along the side of the road that have been boarded up. Mining towns where the ore eventually gave out, little towns where the railroad stopped coming — not uncommon but usually the former owners lave signs of having been there.

Near Ashford, there is a ghost town that left little behind. In fact, when the town folded, many of the people picked up their houses and took them along.

Up until 1944, National was a company town with a population of about 1,500. And the company in the town was the Pacific National Lumber Co., started in 1905 by E. W. Demerest. The saw mill in the town of National and the logging operation that kept it going were the lifeblood of National, and when that mill went out of business in 1944, so did the town.

Jim Daly, the head sawyer at the mill until it folded, said that in 1912, the original sawmill burned down, and a bigger mill was built to replace it.

Bob Reece, who has lived in the Ashford area for most of his life, said that he was there the day the mill burned. He was delivering milk to the bunkhouse kitchen, and he said it started at the mill, and it was gone before anyone knew it.

But the fire didn’t stop Pacific National Lumber. Timber was abundant then, and the company just built a bigger and better saw mill. People still talk about the sawmill and the amount of timber it could handle.

Daly said that the second mill specialized in long timbers, some up to 147 feet long. They cut lumber for boats such as the spars, masts and keels.

One tree that came from Mineral set a world’s record. The log was 225 feet in length, 48 feet around and 800 years old. That log yielded 125,000 board feet of lumber. Daly said he remembers that log well.

“We had to cut it with a stream dragsaw which had an 18-foot blade, and was on a float. We cut it in half and quartered it with that, and then cut the rest of it,” he said.

The wood from the sawmill was taken by railroad to Tacoma, and then later much of it was taken by truck for reloading and distributing, Daly said. Five locomotives would be used to haul it.

“It was a wonderful sawmill. It got the cream of the timber crop,” Reece said.

But National was definitely a company town. About 75 of the houses in the town were owned by Pacific National, and most of the loggers and mill workers lived in town.

Daly said that when he moved into National, he and his family rented a five-room house with electricity and water for $6 a month. His wages when he started in 1920 were $4.96 a day for 10 hours. “It was a nice house too,” Daly said. The single employees lived in bunkhouses.

There was one store in the town which was a general store owned by Butler and Rexroth. Above the store was a room where they showed movies once a week. The rest of the town was houses, bunkhouses and the sawmill. An army barracks was also located at National Reece said. And every two weeks, a dance was held.

Daly said the town gained quite a bit of notoriety in 1935 when the mill employees went on strike for a year over the right to unionize.

Many of the mill workers were Japanese. Daly said about 60 to 75 Japanese were employees. Most were natives of Japan, and some were second generation, he added.

When World War II started, all of the Japanese were taken to concentration caps. Daly said some were taken to the fair grounds at Puyallup and others were taken to Idaho.

“Some disappeared the night of Pearl Harbor,” Daly said. “We later found out that two of them were in the Japanese navy. One was an admiral and the other was a lieutenant.

To his knowledge, Daly said that none of the Japanese ever returned to the National area.

But after World War II, there was no National to return to. In 1944 Pacific National sold their operations to Harbor Plywood Co. because of the dwindling supply of timber and the ill health of Demerest, Daly said. Soon after that, Harbor Plywood sold the property to Weyerhaeuser. The mill shut down in 1944, and little logging has been done in the area since then.

“When they ran out of timber, the mill shut down, and so did the town,” Reece said.

Several of the houses in the town were moved to other areas, mostly in Ashford and some between National and Ashford. Daly said that some were moved to the highway, and many others were torn down. Reece said that he helped move some of the houses.

Most of the workers left the area looking for other jobs. Daly said he moved around after that, going to Oregon and Eastern Washington for awhile. He decided to retire in Eatonville because he had a piece of property in town.

Now there is nothing left in the town but a few remnants — a shell of a building with nothing by wall, part of a roof and a floor; a yellow stop sign, a picket fence and a few foundations.

“Looking back, it was a good place to live and a good place to work,” Daly said.


5 responses to “Article about National – Dispatch 1981”

  1. The Pacific National Lumber Company was incorporated originally by Lynn H. Miller and his father, J.C. Miller in 1905, with Demarest coming in a bit later. My grandfather, Smith H. Miller was also associated with the mill. My mother Jeanne Miller was born there in 1909. There is a wonderful book, Rails to Paradise, written by Russell Holter and Jesse Clark Mcabee, that extensively details both the railroad that were built and the lumber mills that were served by that railroad line from Ashford to Tacoma. Good read.
    I submitted some of my grandfathers photograph collection to Mcabee and he published them.
    Thanks for the article.
    Pat Walgamott


  2. I have an article that appeared in the Tacoma newspaper in 1957 that is about PNLC.
    It too was in my grandfathers collection and if I can figure out how to down load it — I will!!


  3. I really appreciate all the items that this site passes on. My mother was born in National in 1921. She worked in the store as a teenager. I visited the site with her in 1961 and she showed me the spot where her house stood. Other than that I have no information about her life or her parents lives so all this is special.


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