Saturday, August 2, 2014

Snoqualmie Falls historic area museum open

A new museum at Snoqualmie Falls is opening to the public this month.  The exhibits are housed in the historic carpenter shop and Snoqualmie Falls depot, and chronicle the Charles H. Baker's 1898-1899 development of the world's first underground power station.  The Museum will be open for just 12 days, a trial that is allowing owner Puget Sound Energy to evaluate and refine the program. (More information is included at end of this post.)  A more comprehensive operating schedule is being planned for summer 2015.

So why is there a power station in Snoqualmie Falls?  Charles H. Baker was a civil engineer who built the Seattle, Lake Shore and Eastern Railway to the Cascade foothills, and platted the town of Snoqualmie.  While surveying and constructing the track at Snoqualmie Falls, he recognized the tremendous hydro electric potential and pursued its development. Having a key role in building the railway, creating the town and developing the power station, Baker had a truly remarkable impact that continues to define the community. And adding to the railroad history connection, is the significance of one of the power company's most important customers: the Puget Sound Electric Railway, the electric interurbans that operated between Tacoma and Seattle for 26 years.

Baker convinced his well-healed father to underwrite construction of the Snoqualmie Falls Power Company. 268 feet of vertical drop is greater than Niagara Falls and offered some generation economies.  All the supplies and machinery arrived by rail, which was by then reorganized as the Seattle and International Railway. 16 months of construction were required to build the plant, including excavation of the cavity right behind the base of Snoqualmie Falls.  It was carved out of andesite, the remains of an ancient volcano's caldera. 

Late in 2013, owner Puget Sound Energy completed a major rehabilitation effort on the original power station.  Many components including the four original generators are continuing in service, producing power more than 114 years after entering service.  A component of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission re-licensed project adaptively reused the original carpentry shop and train depot as interpretive centers.  This new museum tells the story of the power station.

Saturdays and Sundays through the end of August offer free guided tours of the new museum. In addition, Friday, August 15 and Monday September 1 will also offer public access. Saturday and weekday tours are being offered at 10:00 AM, 12:00 PM, and 2:30 PM and are scheduled to last 90 minutes; they are free.  On Sundays tours are offered at 10:00 AM and 12:00 PM.  All tours depart from the Snoqualmie Falls park Upper Plaza at the sandwich board kiosk titled "Snoqualmie Falls Historic Area Museum Tours" and last a total of 90 minutes. Tours accommodate a maximum of 14 people and are recommended for ages 12 years and older.

A special additional tour option is also being offered: a train excursion followed by the museum tour.  This two hour 30 minute tour costs $20 per person, which includes the train excursion, and departs at 12:30 PM from the Snoqualmie Depot at 38625 SE King Street in historic downtown Snoqualmie.  With space for just 15 participants per tour, the Northwest Railway Museum recommends advance purchase of train and tour combination tickets, which will be available at will call in the Snoqualmie Depot at least 30 minutes prior to departure.

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