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History of the Watershed

Historical photo of Masonry Dam
Masonry Dam is seen after construction.


Historical photo of puddles appearing in Moncton
Moncton on May 15, 1915. As the water rose behind the dam, people in the nearby town of Moncton started noticing puddles appearing when there had been no rain.


Historical photo of water rising in Moncton
Moncton on May 15, 1915. The more the water rose behind the dam, the higher the water rose in Moncton.


Historical photo of rowboats in Moncton
Moncton on May 15, 1915. Soon, people were using rowboats to get around town.


Historical photo of underwater homes in Moncton
Moncton on June 28, 1915. Many of these hardy souls didn't move away. They just moved to the second floor.


Historical photo of more underwater buildings in Moncton
Moncton on June 28, 1915. As the waters kept rising, it was discovered that the dam had been built on an area of glacial moraine (hills of sand and gravel left over from glaciers) that leaked.


Historical photo of flooded streets in Moncton
Moncton on June 28, 1915. The pressure of the water collecting behind the dam caused the area to leak and the water appeared in the streets of Moncton.


Historical photo of Rattlesnake Lake in 1929
Moncton on July 7, 1929. And thus, Rattlesnake Lake was born.


In 1907, the Chicago, Milwaukee, and St. Paul Railway (Milwaukee) Company was granted right of way through the Cedar River Watershed. Many railroad workers lived at the town of Moncton on Rainy Season Lake, but the nearby community of Railroad Camp sprang up as the Milwaukee Road was being laid.

Moncton was flooded by the creation of Masonry Dam in 1915, which caused the level of Rainy Season Lake to rise, forming today's Rattlesnake Lake. See the photographs on this page to view the flooding.

The Moncton railroad depot was renamed "Cedar Falls" in 1912. From the 1910's to 1940's, the Cedar Falls Depot supported up to 4 passenger and 8 freight trains a day. In addition to the main line connecting Seattle-Tacoma with Chicago and points east, there was also a branch line through Cedar Falls from Everett to Enumclaw.

The Milwaukee Railroad Company agreed to several restrictions in order to gain access to the watershed. Many train passengers remember that the restrooms were locked during the portion of the trip that went through the watershed, in order to avoid contamination of the water supply via the normal practice of discharging waste directly on the ties and track.

The Milwaukee line discontinued passenger train service through Cedar Falls in 1962. AMTRAK ran passenger trains on the Milwaukee right of way until 1977.


Logging Operations

In 1899, when the City began to take ownership of the watershed, nearly 3000 acres of timber had already been removed near Landsburg. Logging operations were still active, and several sawmills operated nearby. Before logging, most of the lower vegetation was old growth forest consisting of Douglas Fir and a small amount of spruce and cedar.

Evidence exists that a large fire swept through higher elevations (above 1600 feet) between the years 1650 and 1675. This destroyed almost all of the upper timber then standing, except for about 2000 acres along the Rex River. By 1900, the upper forest was a little over 250 years old and consisted of fir and hemlock, with a small amount of cedar, spruce, and fir.


Forestation and Regulation

Between 1900 and 1924, little care was given to the watershed’s forest. Timber removal denuded the hillsides. Nearly 30,000 acres of forest were removed, most of it haphazardly, leading to fire hazards and destruction of second-growth potential. Prior to 1924, attempts at reforestation occurred, but frequent fires, spread in part due to careless logging operations, destroyed almost all replantings. Also, most logging camps and sawmills within the watershed had atrocious sanitary conditions, which added to the environmental destruction.

In 1924, the City hired Dean Winkenwerder of the University of Washington College of Forestry to come up with a plan relating to the removal and replanting of local timber. Following Winkenwerder's report, the City hired a forester on a permanent basis. The first forester was Allen Thompson. Logging continued, but methods of operation, sanitary conditions, and fire precautions were regulated and strengthened. Nevertheless, by the year 2000, less than 17 percent of the old growth forest remains, although a large portion of the watershed is thick with 80-year-old second-growth forest.

In 1962, landowners signed the Cedar River Watershed Cooperative Agreement, which set up a process of land transfers that resulted in Seattle's complete ownership of its watershed lands. This led to further procedures for fire protection and public access control. In 1996, the USDA Forest Service ceded its watershed land to the City, which gave Seattle final and sole ownership of the entire watershed.


Public Utilities

Andrew Lee, General Manager and CEO
Address: 700 5th Avenue, Suite 4900, Seattle, WA, 98104
Mailing Address: PO Box 34018, Seattle, WA, 98124-5177
Phone: (206) 684-3000

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Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) is comprised of three major direct-service providing utilities: the Water Utility, the Drainage and Wastewater Utility, and the Solid Waste Utility.