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Thursday, April 27, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM


Memories of mining community run deep

Seattle Times staff reporter

ROSLYN, Kittitas County — Johnny Ferro was a hauler.

For 33 years, he hauled wood, rails and wire into the coal mines that snake through the hills of Roslyn. Although the mines have been closed for 40 years, Ferro still remembers the day he learned he would lose his job, that the mines were closing.

"It was sad and a big shock," said Ferro, 87, who still lives in Roslyn. "When you work that long and you're up in age, who's going to want you?"

Stories abound of the miners who lived, and died, pulling coal from shafts deep in the hillside.

At one time in the early 1900s, the town grew to 4,000 people, representing 26 nationalities. The town's cemetery has as many ethnic sections.

Roslyn was incorporated in 1889.

Nowhere is the memory more noticeable than in a corner of downtown Roslyn where townsfolk built a memorial to the miners a decade ago.

To buy the book

To purchase "From Old Country to Coal Country," send a check or money order for $17.50, plus $3 shipping, to the Roslyn-Ronald-Cle Elum Heritage Club, 2680 Nelson Siding Road, Cle Elum, WA 98922. Shipping for each additional book is $1.

Surrounding a 6-foot-3-inch bronze statue of a miner are hundreds of tiles bearing the names of 1,200 of those who worked in the mines. But the tiles are falling off, victims of cold weather that loosened the glue that held them in place.

The Roslyn-Ronald-Cle Elum Heritage Club is trying to raise money to replace the wall with a permanent memorial, a solid granite one with the names inscribed.

"It's a matter of pride," said Marcy Bogachus, secretary-treasurer of the club who is helping to lead the fundraising effort. "We want to remember the coal miners, remember their heritage. We would never let it go. As long as there's people who were born and raised here, we will always take care of it."

It's estimated the new wall could cost as much as $100,000. Already the club has raised $36,500 through money appropriated this year by the state Legislature and another $20,000 through donations, including the sale of a new 220-page book, "From Old Country to Coal Country." It contains stories of many of the families that made Roslyn their home.

Northern Pacific Railroad began developing the Roslyn mines in 1886, three years after the coal was discovered. Workers were recruited from throughout Europe.

In 1892, an explosion in one of the mine shafts killed 45 miners. Another explosion in 1909 killed 10.

By 1901, more than 1 million tons of coal were coming out of the Roslyn mines each year.

The amount of coal in the mines began to decline in the early 1920s and the last mine closed in 1963.

But the town has never forgotten its heritage. Each Labor Day, the town crowns a King Coal, one of the old miners. Ferro was the first.

For Bogachus, historians need to protect the history of Roslyn. "When everyone first moved here, they were like family," she said. "They knew each other, they helped each other. We need to preserve our history."

The dedication in the book reads: "We want to honor the people who left their homelands, traveling to places unknown and making their place in our history and in our hearts."

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company




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