The more I learn about Washington State history, the greater the appreciation I have for the role played by coal in our region's development. Yes, without the railroads pushing across the Cascades, led by the Northern Pacific in the 1880's, our region would have remained moribund for many years. Yes, without the timber industry, which by 1900 had grown to account for nearly 50% of the state's employment and economy, there would have been little to attract the capital needed for development. We needed coal, however, to light the fire for both the railroads and timber barons. Though other parts of the state also mined coal and other minerals, the concentration of coal mining in King and Pierce counties significantly contributed to establishing this area as "the" major population center in the state early on.
I recently ran across a Washington Geographical Survey prepared by State Geologist Joseph Daniels in 1914. Although the report focuses principally on coal mines in Pierce County, it includes a map showing providing the bigger picture.
It's no coincidence that the areas of the county where we had coal mining were also where we had rail lines extended to provide rail service. Some locations, like Melmont and Fairfax, had no automobile access at all - you could only get there by rail. Without these major spur lines in place serving the coal mining industry, it would have been much more difficult for loggers to extend their timber cutting into the more remote areas they needed to get to. And some towns, like Buckley, would not have developed as a lumber and logging town that it became without first being a railroad town.