The Depot area is the stretch of the CKC running northeast from where it crosses 6th Street South to NE 85th Street and encompasses the circa-1912 NP depot and related structures plus one industry, John P. Hopkins Construction Co.
By Kent Sullivan and Matt McCauley
Northern Pacific Water Tank
The NP initially constructed a wooden water tank in Kirkland to supply steam locomotives on the LWBL. The exact year of construction is unknown, but it was likely installed in time for the line’s 1905 opening. The structure was built about 880 feet south of where Kirkland Avenue meets the CKC. The NP paid S. E. & Jesse Courtwright $120 per year for water pipe easement across their property.
In January, 1907, the NP determined to see if it could reduce those costs, and proposed re-routing the water pipe across S. F. Coleman’s property for only $50 per year. It was quickly determined that the tank could be moved relatively inexpensively, shortening the re-routed pipe’s path. This plan was approved in May, a contract was signed with Coleman in September, and the work was completed in December. The tank was moved 440 feet north, placing it near the 200 block of 8th Street South, where it intersects Railroad Avenue. The tank was about 22 by 9 feet and was fed by nearby Everest Creek. At its first location, the tank was supplied by an open wooden flume, later by a 678-foot-long, 2-inch diameter, iron pipe, and overflow drained into a ditch along the line. In 1926, the wooden tank was replaced by an elevated, decommissioned locomotive tender, mounted on a wooden frame. That structure collapsed and was removed in 1942.
Note: The frequency of water tanks on a stretch of track depended on a few factors, including availability of a water source, terrain, and locomotive tender capacity. The LWBL was essentially flat, so, once tenders became larger, removing the Kirkland tank did not impact operations, because the NP also had water tanks at either end of the LWBL, in Renton and Woodinville. NP veteran Jack Christensen, who operated steam-powered trains on the LWBL in the 1940s and early 1950s, recalls using the Kirkland tank very seldom, because, by that time, tenders had already increased in size.
In 1911, the Eastside Commercial Club, an organization of Kirkland business owners, lodged a complaint with the Washington Public Service Commission (formerly the Washington Railroad Commission), demanding a depot in Kirkland. The complaint claimed sufficient freight business existed in Kirkland to warrant a full-time agent, and therefore, a building in which the agent would operate. In September, the NP compiled and submitted to the Commission freight traffic amounts to and from Kirkland via Renton and Woodinville, the two nearest NP stations with freight agents, showing total revenue for Kirkland to be $400 per month for July and August. The Commission heard arguments on September 26.
On November 21, the Commission issued its ruling, siding with the Kirkland business community, and ordered the NP to construct a depot within 90 days, but also ordered the commercial club to pay ½ of the agent’s monthly salary of $70. The Commission also apparently disputed the NP’s revenue report and cited an average revenue of $675 per month, for an earlier, and longer, period (February – July).
Apparently anticipating this ruling, the NP had begun working on plans for a standard 30 by 48-foot combination (freight/passenger) depot and waiting platform in October and approved them in December. The depot was opened on February 20 and offered freight, express freight, and passenger service. The depot replaced an open platform located slightly north, at Piccadilly Street. The same authorization also approved a fuel oil shed (to be located slightly north, in case of fire) and a privy, all for the princely sum of $1375. The NP built the depot at exactly milepost 17, about 100 feet southwest of where Kirkland Avenue meets the LWBL. Interestingly, the NP somehow overlooked that a train order signal was also needed, and scrambled to install one, but apparently bureaucracy won out, and the signal was not installed until June.
However, the NP appears to have been correct about the amount of traffic flowing in and out of Kirkland being insufficient. Soon after the depot opened, they filed a petition with the Commission that was heard in April, 1912. The Commission ruled in the NP’s favor and allowed the NP to remove the agent (and telegraph operator—the same person in Kirkland’s case) and substitute a lower-paid caretaker. Employee time tables show the absence of a telegraph operator by October 27. NP files document the removal of the train order signal in that same time frame, further evidence that there was no-one on duty to transmit orders to train crews.
A phone that train crews could use to contact the dispatcher was installed at the depot sometime between April and October, 1916. This also means that passenger service at the Kirkland station would have reverted to a flag stop, like Houghton and Firloch. Passengers would flag down the train and then purchase a ticket from the conductor.
Eleven years after the agent was removed, in May, 1923, the Kirkland Chamber of Commerce apparently felt it had a good enough case to approach the NP about re-establishing an agent, based on a reported 800 carloads of business received in 1922, and, possibly, the support of lumberman J. J. Donovan, a very large shipper on the NP in Whatcom County. The NP approved moving the agent from Wilburton to Kirkland on August 12, 1924. NP Traffic Department official Coman explained, “In the past three years, the population of Kirkland and the territory surrounding has increased to a large extent and there is now a good-sized business district. In addition, there is a large woolen mill, a canning plant, a good-sized flour and feed mill, [and] also two coal and wood dealers and lumber yards. The canning plant heretofore has stored all their goods at Seattle but they have recently erected a cold storage plant and shipments will be made from that point direct.”
Mr. Coman continued, “At Wilburton there is no business district and the agency has been maintained there only for operating reasons, and I understand it will be just as satisfactory to have the agent at Kirkland as at Wilburton.”
Mr. Coman concluded, “The businessmen of Kirkland are entitled to an agent with whom to conduct their business, as the present plan of handling all shipments through the agent at Woodinville is very unsatisfactory. I recommend that we go ahead with this proposition as quickly as possible.”
As part of this change, the depot was reconfigured and expanded slightly. The Section Foreman had used one of the existing rooms as a bedroom. He was to be moved to separate quarters and a bedroom added for the Agent. Work began on this addition in October and was completed on November 4. The bedroom can be seen in the foreground of the 1939 depot photo included on this page. (Note how the siding clearly shows where the addition began.)
The East Side Journal reported the change on December 11. And indeed, a telegraph operator is once again listed in the NP employee time table issued on January, 18, 1925.
About two and a half years later, in August, 1927, the Kirkland Chamber of Commerce met with NP General Freight Agent Griffin because the NP was concerned that the volume of freight business in and out of Kirkland was again insufficient to maintain an agent at the depot. The business owners present committed to contacting the NP with their estimated business for the coming year and the Chamber was going to advise the NP separately. Apparently, the NP decided there was sufficient business because records show there was an agent consistently after 1924, and the East Side Journal reported on January 7, 1932 that G. W. Selvidge replaced Maynard Hanson as agent, who had apparently succeeded T. B. Kelley, who transferred from Wilburton when the Kirkland agency was re-established in January, 1925.
On November 8, 1951, Agent H. L. Baker was interviewed by the ESJ. He related that he started working for the NP in Pasco in 1924, with a brief stint at another railroad in 1927. The article explained a bit about Mr. Baker’s dual role as agent and telegraph operator, typical in a location with light business.
This wood-framed structure ably served Kirkland for six decades, surviving with minor updates and a change in color scheme from dark (Indian Red and Bottle Green) to light (Depot Sand and Depot Brown) sometime after 1941.
However, in March 1965, a truck crashed into the depot, causing extensive structural damage. Strangely, the depot continued to be used for three more years.
A replacement structure was approved in October, 1967, but the plan was not made public until April, 1968, with demolition occurring in July. The much smaller (16′ by 36′) structure went up quickly but was not used for very long, due to decreasing traffic and changes in operations due to the Burlington Northern merger in 1970. The last order for train operations was sent from the depot on September 19, 1974. The structure stood empty for about 18 months, until the BN approved its sale to Tom Purcell in December, 1975, with the understanding that he would remove it promptly.
Mr. Purcell was a Roadmaster for the NP and, according to one source, had a side business in salvaged windows, doors, lumber, and etc., so we assume that the building did not survive intact. (For years afterward, the second depot’s concrete pad and tile floor remnants were visible.)
NP Trainmaster Don Dahl reflected on railroading in Kirkland, past and present, in an ESJ article the following week.
Note: In November 1915, the road crossing for Kirkland Avenue, just north of the depot, was selected as a test site for a “Moriarity Swinging Cattle Guard” due to the crossing’s proximity to the section foreman, who worked and lived in the depot (which, incidentally, likely means he was the caretaker, since he would normally have lived in the section foreman’s house), because they could easily keep an eye on its operation. The plan was approved in late December and was installed in mid-March, 1916. Mr. T. J. Tyler, the Division Roadmaster, reported in May that “I do not consider the Moriarity Swinging Cattle Guard any more efficient than our present style of cattle guard, although it is much more expensive, and sincerely hope that further trials of different cattle guards will be made until one is discovered that is both practicable and efficient in turning stock”. It is not currently known when the guard was removed.
Note: As of December, 2020, there is a picnic shelter with historical artifacts and signs on the former depot site. Dave Aubry of the Kirkland Rotary Club spearheaded this work. Read more about this project here.
Kirkland Avenue, aka NE 80th Street, crossed the LWBL at grade just north of the depot. Because this was the main route out of town to Rose Hill and Redmond, there was substantial traffic (for the era) and safety became a concern. As part of constructing State Highway 2D, (today’s Kirkland Way), King County asked NP in late 1925 to share the cost of creating an under-crossing, to avoid traffic crossing the railroad at grade. The NP agreed in January 1926 but the bridge wasn’t completed until late 1927, along with the road surface underneath. This structure was later known as Bridge 17 (closest milepost). The Northern Pacific herald on the west side of the bridge was repainted by an unknown railfan sometime after the Northern Pacific became the Burlington Northern but is thought to be in the style of what was previously on the structure.
Note: The Kirkland Avenue crossing was demoted to pedestrians only for about eight years but then was re-opened as a vehicle crossing in late 1935. It was eventually closed altogether.
John P. Hopkins Construction Co. Spur
John P. HopkinsConstruction Co. was a heavy construction firm, originally incorporated on Mercer Island in 1950. In January 1959, the firm started building a new warehouse on the west side of Kirkland Way, north of the depot and just south of NE 85th Street. The company only worked on it during “slack periods”, and they were still constructing it in April, 1961. Hopkins finally requested a spur that was laid approved in September, 1962 and installed shortly thereafter. Interestingly, also in September, the company won the contract to build the NE 85th St. overpass, adjacent to their warehouse and equipment storage lot. Photos taken by King County tax assessor employees in 1962, 1963, and 1964 clearly show the building still under construction. Apparently, business was good and the company did not have many slack periods!
Even before completion, the building started accepting tenants, the first being Radiant Finishes, Inc., a plywood finishing company, in April, 1962. Formed by Charles Dearmin and John P. Hopkins, it’s little wonder they were the first tenants. The Custom Paint Co., started by Kirkland resident J. Burt Sheehan, located its manufacturing plant in the building that same year. Window manufacturer Durwood Wood Windows, started by former-SeDorCo engineer Max Pillar and U.S. Steel salesman Charles Wilson, arrived in January, 1963. Mac’s Surplus, Too joined the party in 1964.
The paint company opened a retail store in the building in July, 1965. In November, 1967 they held an open house for a new paint testing and development laboratory that was said to be the “most modern and complete on the West coast”. The firm is remembered by NP veterans as being the major shipper from this spur, and an article from February, 1968 describing the need for two box cars for a single order supports that memory. Kelly-Moore Paint Co. bought Custom Paint Co. in September, 1969.
An interesting footnote surfaced in November, 1966. Apparently the NP discovered that it had assisted Hopkins with building its spur on land neither entity actually owned – but was instead owned by King County. The county agreed to vacate the ground and all was well once again.
Section Foreman House, Crew Bunkhouse, Oil Storage Shed, and other buildings
Records are sparse as to when, but at some point, the NP erected a 12 by 12-foot section house (with a 9 by 18-foot extension) as living quarters for the maintenance supervisor, commonly known as a “section foreman”, assigned to the section of track running through Kirkland. (Currently, we believe the house was built in 1904, as part of the original construction of the Belt Line.) This house was located on the west side of the track, nearly beneath today’s NE 85th Street overpass. A decommissioned 8 by 34-foot boxcar was also placed there as a crew bunkhouse, on the east side of the track, 150 feet to the south. The oil storage house constructed as part of the 1912 depot authorization was also located nearby. These structures, including a privy, are believed to have been removed in 1927. A tool house, apparently located in the same general area, was removed in 1936. Information on these structures is quite limited and no photos are known to exist. Some of the buildings are shown on NP right-of-way maps like the one below.
Central Way bridge
The main east-west route for Kirkland has changed a number of times over the years. First, there was Piccadilly Avenue (7th Avenue / NE 87th Street), then Kirkland Avenue (NE 80th Street), then, in 1927, Kirkland Way. This route remained the primary access for decades, until the early 1960s, when talk of a viaduct to connect Central Way began. Almost all of the work was carried out by the State but the NP did issue a proposal to cover incidental work in February, 1964. Work proceeded for most of 1965 but did not impede the flow of trains underneath. The first test of the newly-constructed bridge and earthen approaches occurred in late September. Completion of the new access route was delayed for a few weeks but opened fully in mid-December.