THE SMOKESTACK: STANDING MEMORY OF SKY VALLEY’S PAST
April 03, 2009
The old Carnation Co. smokestack in Monroe. CLICK TO ENLARGE(MONROE, WA) -- Often visitors and newly transplanted residents to Sky Valley ask, “What’s that old smokestack doing standing all by itself in Monroe right off Highway 2? It doesn’t seem to be connected to anything.”
Well, its not connected to anything. Its smoking days are long gone. The smokestack has been left there as living memory to an age gone by in Monroe and the Sky Valley.
The tall concrete smokestack that stands at the east side of Monroe near the intersection of Main Street and State Route 2 (across from Traveler’s Park) is all that remains of a large dairy condensery that once stood on the site where the Monroe shopping Center now resides.
In 1908 the Monroe Commercial Club saw an opportunity to attract a milk condensing plant of the Pacific Coast Condensed Milk Company, also known to many Northwest residents as the Carnation Company.
The club was determined to get the plant located in Monroe for the economic benefit it would bring to the area. So club members shifted into high gear and within a few months had contacted local farmers, told them their plan and before long had raised a cash war chest of $6,000 to purchase land for a factory location that was later donated to the company. You could say that was a turn of the century way of giving the company a big tax break to locate here.
CONDENSERAY BUILT IN 1908: BRINGS CHANGES TO LOCAL FARMING
So the condensery was built in 1908 and that in turn caused area farmers to bring in better cattle to improve their herds and within a month of completion of the new factory over $140,000 worth of farming acreage had been sold upon which to plant those new, better bovines.
In the blink of an eye the factory was handling the milk of over 5,000 cows and shipping close to 30 carloads of product every month.
What went through that old smokestack you see sitting there today was one heck of a load of smoke. It had to carry off the combusted by product of a brick powerhouse that was 42 feet wide and 100 feet long with room for six boilers, although only two were initially installed
It wasn’t until the early 1920s the concrete smokestack that still stands in Monroe was built to replace the two metal stacks. It is 150 feet tall and almost eleven feet in diameter at the base.
There were eleven milk pickup routes in the area (that picked up the raw milk from area farmers). The stables for the horses and wagons were on the northeast corner of the property. The 55-foot steamboat Carnation No. 1 went as far as south as Tolt (present-day Carnation) on the Snoqualmie River to pick up milk.
The incoming milk was held in 2,000-gallon tanks and then drawn off into glass-lined kettles and steamed. From there it was drawn into vacuum pans (or condensers, from which “condensed milk” gets its name).
The condensed milk was cooled in the refrigeration room, then canned and sealed. After sealing, the cans went to a retort and were heated to sterilizing temperatures before being labeled and boxed.
1928 BRINGS MORE CHANGE
Increased competition forced the closure of the condensery and it was sold in 1928 when Carnation moved its operations to Mount Vernon.
The plant remained idle throughout the Depression. When the U.S. entered World War II flax was declared a strategic material so in early 1942, the Pacific Fiber Flax Association bought the plant and began to remodel it into a flax processing plant.
Local farmers were persuaded to grow flax and by the end of 1943 the plant employed 40 workers turning that flax into linen The plant had been in operation only three weeks when 600 tons of flax stored in the building ignited by what was said to be “spontaneous combustion” at 1 a.m. March 23, 1944.
The Monroe Fire Department tried to keep the blaze from spreading beyond the plant but by dawn all that remained of that plant was the concrete smokestack you see there today. The plant was only partially insured and was never rebuilt.
It was decided it would be too difficult and dangerous to remove the smokestack thus it remains today as a Monroe landmark and a concrete memory of the Sky Valley’s past.
The chimney cleanout at the base on the south side has been closed up as well as the rectangular flue opening on the west side. On the east side, about halfway up, is the remains of an old ENCO sign for the service station that was once located at its base.
Editor’s note: Bill Wojciechowski provided background for this story. Bill has compiled some twenty-five booklets on aspects of local history into a bound volume for sale at the Monroe Historical Society Museum for $12.00, which we think is pretty darned cheap for all the history it contains.
We think Bill’s book would make a great Christmas or birthday present for anyone wanting to know the history of the Sky Valley.
A print of the photo you see with this story can be purchased at The Monroe Historical Society located on Main Street in Monroe just a few blocks down from the smokestack on the right hand side of the street.
(Photo: Monroe Historical Society photo #552. View from the north looking southeast after the concrete smokestack was built in the early 1920s. From the 1988 Monroe Historical Society Calendar.)