It is not the intention of this writer to give an historical account of the town of Roslyn and upper Kittitas County at this time. Although it is extremely exciting and unusual in many respects, much can be found in audio and oral materials as well as many books, including “The Spawn of Coal Dust.” The intention here is to give a very broad background in which to frame the story of a particular building that I became involved with, The Roslyn Cafe.
The Northern Pacific Railway began development of the coal mines in Roslyn back in the mid 1880’s and was responsible for bringing large numbers of immigrants from all over Western and Eastern Europe, England, Ireland, and Wales into upper Kittitas County. Chinese immigrants were brought in quite early to lay the many lines of new railway ties, eventually joining Eastern Washington to the Sound and Seattle. Blacks were brought in from the Southern and Eastern US, and used by the mine owners to act as strikebreakers against the new efforts of labor organizing miners. It is interesting to note that the Black immigrants were not told of this role until their train drew near the mines and they were all given rifles for protection. There were some 28 nationalities in all and despite all the tensions which existed throughout these early years, things began to settle down towards the beginning of the 1900’s, especially towards WWI.
There was a huge fire in 1888 which destroyed much of Roslyn’s downtown business area, but the town was soon rebuilt in the western frontier style with wide roadways and wooden planked sidewalks, much of which still exist today. In the heyday of the mines, there was said to be a population of over 4000, some 40 businesses and 18 saloons. During the 1980’s, the population hovered around 800 which included summer residents.
The building which now is home to the Roslyn Café was built in 1896 out of large blocks of sandstone from a local quarry. A large building, it is two stories high and extends at least one half block away from the main street. The first owner started a general merchandise and liquor store. It then became a series of butcher shops in the early 1900’s under different managers. Many of the fraternal orders organized by the miners had their meeting hall in the upstairs. There was an upright piano and a closet full of hats, flags and paraphernalia for the different groups. The Druids, the Knight of Pythius, Dr.Starkovich’s Order, the Elks, Eagles and many others locals met there. It is rumored that in its original days, the upstairs had been a house of prostitution where so-called cribs were built against the walls. This is a rumor, but it seems to be true of many of the old buildings in the two blocks of downtown. And it is true of many other early mining towns where the men came first and their families came later, especially in the gold and silver mining camps.
From 1952 to 1972, the Musso Building as it was named after its new owner, Frank Musso, housed Mary’s Freezer Shop. Mary Andler’s homemade ice cream, milkshakes and hamburgers are fondly remembered by many generations. She had a small kitchen out front where a long bar and several booths packed in customers. She and Frank Musso then built onto the side of the building and opened up the Roslyn Historical Museum which they both were involved with up until their deaths. When Mary still operated out of the main building, the entire center of the ground floor was dedicated to wooden lockers rented to locals for freezing food – the whole room was a freezer, thus Freezer Shop. This was before people had freezers at home. There were huge hooks where hunters brought in game and hung their deer, bear or elk before butchering.
After 3 years of a new owner who attempted to continue Mary’s food and ice cream operation, the building was closed until 1977, completely shut down for over three years. About this time, an entirely new group of immigrants came to Roslyn, largely from other US cities, including the East Coast, the Southern US, Colorado, California, Oregon and Washington, young folks in their 20’s and 30’s, so called baby boomers. They brought their children or started families, worked as loggers, built new businesses, and brought the beginnings of tourism to this area.
The town, located in the Cascades, has many mountain lakes and streams and is near the trailhead for the Alpine Lakes Wilderness territory. The population had drastically dropped from previous times, but this was a new intermix of people and professions who moved in. Many of the coal miners were still alive, retired and some were suffering the effects of working so long with coal, such as black lung disease. The mines, closing in 1963, saw a loss of many of the miners’ children to more urban areas where jobs were abundant. Basically from the late 1960’s until into the mid 1990’s you could call this a ghost town. Kids wandered freely and as newspapers described the town, dogs slept in the streets and were welcome in most establishments. The new immigrants easily mixed with the older generation, almost taking the place of the generation that had left town.