So, you're driving along highway 903 in Washington
, perhaps heading along toward a lake, or to a trailhead
to do some hiking. Along the way, you see a little sign for "Roslyn, Washington", which is rather nondescript
on your map, and first glances show you just another little town. As you cross Pennsylvania
street, you look down at what appears to be the main part of town, even if it is rather small. Suddenly, you slam on the brakes, realizing it all looked vaguely familiar.
You turn around, turning onto the street, looking at the handful of buildings on each side. A small tavern, The Brick sits at the corner. And that Village Pizza place - you think you've seen it before. Along with that totem pole between a few buildings. Wait a second - that big "Roslyn Cafe" mural with the camel. You spin around, seeing the sign on a familiar blue building, Northwestern Mining Co. You look closer, and there, hand--painted in the window is the name "JOEL FLEISCHMAN". You realize you're in Cicely, Alaska (or as close as you can get) - the location for the TV Series Northern Exposure.
Or perhaps you'd never seen the show, and continue on the highway, unaware.
Roslyn is a rather undescript small town, not much different from many other small towns scattered across the United States, other than the fact a lot more people have seen the town due to it being the location for a popular TV show. Only about 1,000 people live in the town, and there's not much activity on Pennsylvania. The number of tourists coming to visit the town due to being on Northern Exposure has decreased significantly since the show left the air, though it's far from stopped. Hang around on a Saturday or Sunday, and you can still see people stopping by for a picture of them in front of the Roslyn Cafe mural, and Cicely's Gift Shop is still open, and operating out of the building that was Dr. Fleischman's office. The red brick building that housed the radio station, KBHR, is still there, with the call letters still painted on the window. The General Store that Ruth-Ann ran is still there, is an actual general store, and has a sign proclaiming it's place in the television show.
But no small town just comes into existence without some sort of reason. So why was Roslyn founded?
In 1886, a pair of gold prospectors, Nez Jensen and George Virden, stumbled across a mountain of coal to the southwest of Cle Elum Lake. The Northern Pacific Railroad soon had it's subsidiary, the Northern Pacific Coal Co., buy out the pair's holdings to create a coal mine there. A coal mine needs a place for employees to live, so Logan M. Gullitt, then general manager of the coal company, founded a town nearby. He gave it the name Roslyn, as his sweetheart lived back in Roslyn, New York.
The land was all owned by the railroad company, and the company town that grew consisted mostly of company employees. Most of the employees were immigrants, from a variety of countries, such as Italy, Poland, Germany, Lithuania, Slovenia, Scotland, Serbia, Croatia, England, and Ireland. This large variety of nationalities helped to create one of the other items Roslyn is known for - the large number of cemeteries - 26, over 15 acres - as each group had their own. By the first winter, 400 people lived in the town, with descendants of many of those still living in the town today.
Fires were also a common occurence in Northwest towns, due to the tendency to build from wood. In 1888, a large fire completely destroyed the commercial district in the town. To prevent a reoccurence, when rebuilding started, brick and sandstone became the primary building materials. Due those material choices, some buildings still stand today, such as the tavern The Brick.
The Roslyn mines, like many other coal mines, were dangerous places. In 1892, an explosion killed 45 men, and as there were already families working in the mines, some people lost fathers, brothers, and sons all at the same time. Another less deadly explosion took place in 1909 at the #4 mine, right behind the Roslyn Library. That one killed 10.
Even with the disasters, things were going well for the town. In 1901, coal production first topped 1 million tons, and continued to increase. In 1902, the company completed the Roslyn Athletic Club, which gave the miners and their families some a gym, a bowling alley for recreation, and included meeting space.
From about 1905 to late in the 1920's, the town thrived due to the high production from the coal mine, and the population reached over 4,000. Even the competition from the nearby mining town of Ronald, Washington didn't prevent the success of the town. It wasn't to last long - by 1930, competition from cheaper coal from other locations, and the increasing popularity of diesel locomotives which didn't use coal had hurt the mines, and as a result, the town. The population that year was down to 2,300, and declining rapidly. The athletic club had closed by this point, and the library had moved into the building.
The last of the coal mines in the area closed in 1963, and much of the town is just left over, a ghost of it's former self. After about 25 years of the town's sleepy existence, an opportunity fell into it's lap. The people jumped at the opportunity to film a television show in the town, and the place received a minor makeover to become Cicily, an up-and-coming little town in Alaska. This wasn't the first film usage of the town - in 1978, a small movie called "The Runner Stumbles", about a priest and nun at the Immaculate Conception church up on the hill, was filmed in Roslyn.
The town still has it's history, if not much else - a dozen of the old false-fronted buildings still exist, and many of them are in the National Register of Historic Places
. The Brick
, for example, has been in continuous operation since 1890, and it and it's 23-foot long running water spittoon
that still washes away patrons' tobacco juice are the oldest operating tavern in Washington
. The town library is also the oldest library in the county.
There are a few yearly events that take place in the town, such as the Manly Man Festival in June, which includes a Spam cook-off and the crowning of the Spam Queen, and the Wing Ding Parade during Labor Day. Late August holds the town's biggest event, Run to Roslyn, which attracts hundreds of classic automobiles
The town also hosts a yearly Moosefest, taking place in late July. The event includes a parade, theater productions, live music, and food. What's the occasion? Well, if you remember your Northern Exposure, the moose was sort of the show's mascot, shown wandering around the town in the opening credits. In honor of that, they've named this festival Moosefest. It's organized by fans of the television show, and every year they managed to get a few of the show's actors to return for the festival. Yes, the town's not trying to get past the show - the gift shop inhabiting the building that was Dr. Fleischman's office includes many Northern Exposure items, and the next-door restaurant has a "Mooseburger" (not made with moose), and Cicely's Pasta.
Many relics from the coal mining and pioneer days are visible at the Rosyln museum - including an old prospector's cabin. The museum is located right next door to the Roslyn Cafe - hard to miss due to the mural, though the Cafe is not currently open for business. It is open during weekends in the summer, and admission is a paltry $1. There are also remnants around near the town. While the train tracks have been removed, their location remains a trail today for people to explore. Along the trail you can see leftovers from the mines, the old railroad depot, and even the old powder barn that stored explosives.
The growth in Seattle, even if it is about 90 miles west and through the Cascade Range on I-90 is starting to affect the town. There are a couple vanpools that leave the town for Seattle daily, as a people have decided to make their home in Roslyn and commute to work. Many of the town's other homes - all from the 1920's - are used as vacation getaways.
There is some question as to how the town will weather the future. If Seattle continues to expand, it's impact on Roslyn may increase. There is also a large vacation resort, MountainStar Resort, planned by the resort company Trendwest Resorts, that is in the works for near Roslyn. The planned resort would be the biggest in the state of Washington at 7,000 acres in what is now undeveloped land. The resorts plans include two to three golf courses, a 300-unit hotel, 3,300 vacation homes, restaurants, fitness centers, and retail shops.
For a photo-tour of the town, see http://www.brokedowntruck.com/photoessays/photoessays1.html. The site is dedicated to opposing the coming resort, but the photos give a great impression of the town.
Population (2000): 1,017
Elevation: 2280 Ft.
Total Area: 4.8 mi2
Median resident age: 42.3 years
Median household income: $35,313 (year 2000)
Median house value: $103,500 (year 2000)
Ancestries: German (20.3%), English (17.6%), Irish (13.9%), Norwegian (7.2%), Scotch-Irish (5.6%), United States (5.1%).
NWSource Travel - Cle Elum & Roslyn,http://www.nwsource.com/travel/scr/tf_detail.cfm?id=2645
Roslyn - Washington Ghost Town, http://www.ghosttowns.com/states/wa/roslyn.html