Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Last Spike - Great Northern Railway

Port Townsend, today. “Know your spikes?” So the recent poll question read. Out of all our visitors, only 12 took the spike challenge! The location for the driving of the Final Spike on the Great Northern Railroad being a choice of:

  • 1 vote for North Dakota
  • 7 votes for Washington
  • 3 votes for Montana, and
  • 1 vote for Idaho.
Washington is the correct answer. As I researched this trivia, I was amazed to learn that Washington State, not Idaho or Montana, was the site of the meeting of east and west. But my plate is too full right now to dig into the reason why the meeting point is so “off center.”

“On January 6, 1893, amid cheers, shouts, and gunshots, workers drive the last spike into the Great Northern Railway track that opens transcontinental travel to Seattle.”

The last rails were laid at Madison, Washington.

Well, I got curious as to where Madison Washington was or is at, and that turned into a dispute! After spending a few days mining in the Internet, with little success, I turned to the Museum of History and Industry over in Seattle. It turned into a treasure hunt for them as well!

This morning, I received this dispatch from Carolyn Marr, Librarian at the Museum:

Dear Robert,
Thank you for the question regarding the driving of the last spike for the Great Northern Railway. We were not entirely sure whether you were hoping to clarify the exact location or the name change of Scenic, or perhaps some other point. Our volunteer researcher located a wealth of information, given below. It appears that Scenic was indeed known, at least to the Great Northern Railway, as Madison before it was Scenic.

The earliest schedule we have for
Great Northern is the employee schedule dated "To Take Effect at One (1:00) O'clock A.M. Tuesday July 18th, 1893. On that schedule, Madison is included on the list of stations and is shown as 255.3 (miles, I assume, though it does not say) from Spokane, 11.7 from Skykomish, and 9.4 from Wellington. Madison remains in all the printed passenger and employee schedules we consulted through the June 3, 1906 employee schedule.

Our next schedule is the employee schedule for July 22, 1906 wherein Scenic appears. The 6/3/1906 listing for Madison and the 7/22/1906 listing for Scenic both give the distance from Leavenworth as 45.2. There is a small discrepancy in altitudes. Madison's altitude is given in "The Great Northern 'Flyer'" passenger schedule (January 4, 1903) as 2081, but in the "Route of the Oriental Limited, May 5, 1912" passenger schedule "Scenic (Hot Springs)" is listed with an altitude of 2086. In case it is of use or interest, here is some more information.

One source indicating that Scenic was Madison is Carlos A. Schwantes' 1993 book Railroad Signatures Across the Pacific Northwest (p. 78). The statement regarding Scenic and Madison is used verbatim in HistoryLink's article "Workers drive last spike into transcontinental tracks to
Seattle on January 6, 1893" so I do not count this as a separate source. Schwantes did not cite his source.

Another source is Stevens Pass: The Story of Railroading and Recreation in the North Cascades by JoAnn Roe, 2002 (ISBN 0870044281, 9780870044281). On pages 63-4 Roe refers to "near Scenic" for the location of the last spike. She goes on to list the stations on the route as including "Scenic (still called Madison?)." Page 73 says "Scenic, first called Madison, was at first little more than a water tower and depot..."

The Washington State Railroads Historical Society has a photo of a station labeled "Madison, Washington." No sources are given. The date is given as circa 1900.

Carolyn Marr
Museum of History & Industry

1904 Map

Sure enough, looking up the "Map of Washington. (1904)" from the George F. Cram Company, there she be, between “Skykomish” and “Wellington,” “Madison.”

1908 Map

But wait a minute! Not so fast! The maps are different. There are vast differences between the 1904 map and the 1908 map. So I’ve made a diagram, below, showing the place names in yellow that appear on the 1904 map, and the names in red as they are shown on the 1908 map. As you can see, “Madison” gives way to “Corea” and “Scenic” appears in 1908.

But remember, the researchers at the Museum, looking at Employee Time Tables, found “The 6/3/1906 listing for Madison and the 7/22/1906 listing for Scenic both give the distance from Leavenworth as 45.2 miles.”

You can clearly see by studying the maps and my diagram, that more questions arise! If you can shed light on this, I would be most appreciative. But for now, the Last Spike of the Great Northern Railway” was driven at “Corea” nee “Madison.” Yes?

Inquiring minds need to know!

5 Comments - Click here:

SDP45 said...

Corea and Madison are different points. My copy of the GN June 18, 1893 ETT shows Madison and Wellington 10 miles apart. The July 29, 1923 ETT shows Tye (old Wellington) and Scenic as 10 miles apart. Tye was at MP 1706 and Scenic at MP 1716. The station of Embro was at MP 1710 and Corea at MP 1713.


Robert in Port Townsend said...

So if Dan is correct, the station order would be:
MP 1706 Tye (Old Wellington)
MP 1710 Embro
MP 1713 Corea
MP 1716 Scenic (Old Madison)

There were many place names "Madison" for the president. Seattle has a Madison or two.

So we are in agreement that Madison and Scenic are one in the same?

SDP45 said...

Yes, Madison and Scenic are one and the same. Keep in mind the GN renamed a bunch of stations in Montana with more exotic names than originally given.


Electric said...

Good job man

Anonymous said...

A photo of the depot at Madison appears in Chuck Wood's LINES WEST, a fascinating source of information on the Great Northern. The book was published in 1979 I think, with a second edition in 1998 or so.
Chuck's caption for the photo says that Madison is the earlier name for Scenic.
Fr. Dale Peterka, president
Great Northern Railway Historical Society

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