Finding the Ghost Town of Liberty
Date of Adventure: October 4, 2015
We had been through Liberty once, early in our history hunting days. As we learned more about the area, we knew we wanted to cover this site. So one fine fall day we set out to make it happen.
One of the many great things about Liberty is that no off-road vehicles are required. The drive was a straight shot north from Cle Elum on the 970/97 and then a left onto Liberty Road.
Since Liberty is not accessed by a trail, there is no official trailhead. There is a nice place to park on the right side of the road just as you enter town.
Since this location is about walking through the site, not to the site, there is no trailhead. There is however a good place to begin your exploration. Just beyond the parking spot is an interpretive sign and outhouses. This is also the original site of the meeting hall.
Next door is the Fire Station and Liberty town sign. In addition to information about the town, it features a very creative use for a pickaxe.
Instead of a trail taking you to the townsite, this trip was all about wandering through the town. It makes it a great spot for those with tiny kids, bad knees, or in wheelchairs.
Liberty is situated in the Swauk Mining District. As this sign indicates, the original townsite was founded in 1873, but the current townsite did not become Liberty until the post office relocated there in 1911. We have found sources with conflicting dates for when the post office relocation and townsite renaming actually happened, but for now we are assuming that the date on the town’s welcome sign is the correct one.
There is so much to explore in and around Liberty it is hard to know where to look. We were drawn to cross the street and begin at a large piece of machinery sitting alone in a field.
Much of the gold that was present near Liberty was found well below the bottom of the streambeds and it required a lot of digging to reach it. It’s probable that this excavator, also known as a cable shovel, was used in mining operations at one time. This particular excavator was manufactured by Northwest Engineering Company in Green Bay Wisconsin. Northwest Engineering Company’s earliest cable shovels were steam powered, but the one at Liberty is a newer version, relatively speaking, that ran on gas or diesel.
Since Liberty is only a partial ghost town with residents still living there today, machinery from a wide variety of eras is present. Most of the mines and camps we visit have 100+ year-old inline compressors and tanks whereas in Liberty you can find this compressor dating back to the 1940’s or 50’s.
Next to the field that held the excavator stood buildings that last belonged to the Gold Placers Inc. Formerly known as the Golden Thunderbird Mining Company. According to “Swauk Basin History: Gold Created a Community” prepared by Wesley C. Engstrom in 2006, The Golden Thunderbird Mining Company had a more than contentious relationship with the community. The details are too much to cover in this trip report, but we encourage you to take a look at Mr. Engstrom’s publication for the fascinating details: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~wakcgs/SwaukBasinHistory.pdf
An old Studebaker truck was sitting just east of the Gold Placers Inc. property. The truck was parked next to a tree that was officially recognized in 2012 as the largest Black Hawthorn tree in the United States. I wondered how old the tree was and how much of the town’s history it had witnessed.
The next site was a replica arrastra. It had been built to replace one that was destroyed by vandals in the 1970s. We were so fascinated by figuring out how it worked that we forgot to take pictures. Here's a diagram we located of the replica. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.
East of the arrastra sat the old Caldwell Store and Post Office. The front porch chairs that now look out on a paved road rather than a wagon road. The building has been very well maintained, but a few plants are still doing their best to absorb it back into the landscape.
Across the street and farther east from the Caldwell Store sits the Barker Cabin and Liberty Livery Stable. The structure is still occupied so if you visit please respect the owner’s privacy and property.
We weren’t sure what the story was with this wooden cowboy and another that were guarding the driveway to one of the Liberty residences. One of the local chipmunks sure seemed to enjoy it as a sunning spot though.
On the way out of town we stopped at the mostly intact cabin of the town’s founding father Thomas Meagher. Depending on the time of year you visit, the cabin may be partially obscured by the surrounding vegetation. On the day we visited in early October it was surrounded by the colors of fall.
The backside of the Meagher Cabin faces Williams Creek. The old creek channel has been extensively worked to extract the wire, crystalline, and nugget gold that drew early miners to the area. This is the view of the cabin from a dug out area directly behind it.