Saturday, February 1, 2014

DuPont, Washington Time Traveling

I had a work project in DuPont last week. After completing my work, I made a time travel journey that encompassed nearly the entire history of Puget Sound. DuPont perhaps more than any other site in Washington State has been repeatedly rearranged by human land use. A short bit of driving through the community and a bit of hiking is to pass through the spectrum of Washington State and land use changes in no particular order. One era of land use replaces another with the past repeatedly obliterated by the subsequent land uses. I took a short drive through the old historic company town of DuPont.

Old DuPont

The town got its start associated with the development of explosives munition manufacturing in the early 1900s. A stone tablet in front the museum lists a long list of Washington State firsts as well a commemorating Old Fort Nisqually.

I parked near the head of Sequalitchew Creek  a bit west of the old town and hiked to down the stream valley along a gravel path that was a former narrow gauge rail line towards the shore of South Puget Sound. The main north-south Burlington Northern rail line passes along the waterfront along this shore with a large berm cutting off the mouth of the creek from the beach. The former narrow gauge line passes under the BNSF line and provides a nice pathway to the shore.

Remnant of narrow gauge rail passing through the BNSF railroad embankment.  

The former narrow gauge rail grade is now a trail down the stream valley and former site of Sequalitchew Village

The narrow gauge tracks end abruptly a short distance to the north.

The tracks are from the days when explosives were moved down from the uplands above to a long gone wharf for loading explosives onto ships. DuPont made explosives that changed landscapes elsewhere - Grand Coulee Dam and the Panamá Canal to name a couple of places.
The beach is a gravel/cobble beach with a fair fetch to the west-southwest and the shore armoring protecting the old rail lines has begun the slow failure process. I suspect the situation is not helped by the presence of miles of main line rail armoring along this shore reach cutting off shoreline bluff erosion and the sediment supply.

The view across to Anderson Island appears to be a possible large deep-seated landslide.

There are other bits of the old history of the DuPont Explosives days at the lower end of the creek valley.

But the fading remnants of the explosives plant operations obscure an older landscape. Sequalitchew is named after the original village that was located here prior to arrival of Europeans. First Nations peoples had occupied the area for an estimated 5,000 years and given evidence found elsewhere western Washington a few more millennium than that.

I suppose a good archeologist might be able to see some hints of that First Nations period, but the subsequent land uses not just at the end of the creek but elsewhere have obscured the landscape.

We do however, have descriptions of the landscape from the time Sequalitchew was used. Sequalitchew was very welcoming to the Hudson Bay Company and the Hudson Bay Company under the direction of Archibald MacDonald built a trading post/fort on the upland above the mouth of the creek in the 1830s. It was a very mutually beneficial arrangement. Hudson Bay Company used the site to gather furs from trappers and Indians, to raise farm crops and animals to supply their trade network and had a landing place at the south end of the Sound for traveling between Vancouver (on the Columbia River) and Langley (now Canada) and Victoria. The Indians were able to obtain trade goods in exchange for furs and other services and the presence of Hudson Bay Company provided protection from raiding tribes from the north.

The United States Wilkes expedition came to the site in the 1840s as part of the US exploration of the Oregon Country that was at that time under joint US and British occupation. HBC treated Wilkes very well and he left a group at the fort to make surveys and observations while he himself headed on the overland route to Vancouver and the Columbia River. He provides a very favorable description of the site and the prairie landscape surrounding the fort area and the farms that had been established by the HBC. The Indians had been utilizing the prairie for millennium in a form of agriculture for acorn gathering, camas harvest and hunting. Wilkes' accounts of the southwest Washington prairies are an important source of ecosystem information.

Wilkes did document one of the severe downsides of the Indian HBC interactions. Huge population declines associated with disease had already swept through some of the tribes and the landscape Wilkes was observing was about to change simply due to the population loss of the people that had been shaping and maintaining the prairie ecosystems for a great many centuries.

From the creek I hiked up an unmarked by clear trail to the bluff south of the creek. A marker has been placed at the site of the Wilkes Expedition Observatory on the top of the bluff.

From the observatory marker I headed overland along an unmarked gravel road to a clump of trees surrounded by a fence. There are no signs or anything to denoting the fenced area. If one did not know that this was the site of the fort the fence would be a curiosity. There are bits of concrete and rubble inside and just outside of the fence, but that has nothing to do with the fort. This fort site is the original HBC Fort site. The topographic map and the histories of the area note a second fort site was established in 1843. That fort location is a bit easier to reach as it is near the paved road. That larger fort built in 1843 was moved to Point Defiance Park in Tacoma; hence there is not much to see.

Original 1833 Fort Niscually site

The former prairie landscape and farm fields have been obliterated. This was the area where munitions facilities were located and the removal of the munitions facilities as well as some gravel mining and soil cleanup has removed any hints of the past prairie landscape. The landscape has been invaded by Scotch broom, a non native pestilence, and Douglas fir. Outside of the Scotch broom and fir invasion of the former prairie the alteration of the landscape has included a common anthropogenic landscape.

There is a remnant of the past prairie landscape near the new city hall.

Oaks and grass land, a remnant of the former oak/prairie landscape

The march of Washington State history and landscape changes continue at DuPont. Big changes have continued to shape the landscape in DuPont. To the north of Sequalitchew Creek is a very large open pit gravel mine and to the northeast buildings of a scale that make the word "big" an understatement.

Amazon's DuPont warehouse

Its a bit challenging to take in the scale of a 1,000,000 square-foot building

Another big building is the Intel facility built in the 1990s.

Computer chip maker Intel is selling the building and is moving or laying off most of the remaining work force. Some of the work force will be moved to Oregon. The building was never fully occupied and parts of the parking lot were becoming moss covered.

Regardless of the hard times for Intel facility there are other new business developments and swaths of new apartments and homes throughout DuPont. Excepting the rather small old company town, Dupont has the feel of an instant city.

DuPont, 1990

DuPont 2013


Glenn T. said...

Dan. Hello. Found your great site off of Dave Tuckers geology web site. Of particular interest to me is geology of Glacier Peak and Sauk River Wash. Areas. While up in and around Mt. Loop years ago, I noticed many huge clay and other landslide remains in or around the Sauk River areas? Also found couple neat bowling ball size copper blobs( should have kept them ) in the Sauk River near Bedal campground. Can you add to this? Thanks much Glenn T.

Dan McShane said...

I have a future post planned for one of the lower reaches of the Sauk. There is great geology and history on the Loop highway. The copper balls are consistent with some vague memory I have of the mining up there, but I don't have any details at the moment.

Katherine Lawrence - Works chemist said...

In the comments above, DuPont Works is erroneously identified as a munitions plant, as in "war." DuPont works only manufactured commercial explosives used for logging, mining, and excavating including explosives to build the Panama Canal and tunnels through the Cascades.

Dan McShane said...

Post corrected to strike munition and replaced with explosives