Linda Van Nest
The Early Land and People
Thousands of years before there was a city of Kent, the White River flowed from a glacier on Mt. Rainier through this fertile valley on its way to Puget Sound. The valley floor featured wetlands, and rich soil that provided nutrients for thick vegetation. Plants and large trees grew abundantly. The river itself was the home to salmon and waterfowl, while the surrounding woods housed many indigenous animals. Many of the First People of this valley lived in villages along the river. They were of Coast Salish heritage and spoke in the Southern Lushootseed language. The first white pioneers to the White River Valley came in 1853. Two years later the native people and the pioneers were in conflict over the land and war erupted. In 1857 the Muckleshoot Reservation was created and the native people of the valley were relocated to that site. Over time the small town of Kent expanded as settlers farmed and raised animals. Hops were grown in the area and some residents made a fortune on the crop. Others turned to the forest for their livelihood.
From Lumber to Earthworks
In 1890 the Kent Lumber Company began operating on Mill Creek at the base of Kent’s East Hill. Loggers wearing caulks and carrying peavey poles would use oxen to pull huge logs along the skid road to Mill Creek canyon. Logs were hauled to the canyon’s edge and rolled down the slope into the mill pond. The mill was owned by George Saar and the Smith family: Lysander, Zibbie, Albert, and George Smith. Connected by the Northern Pacific railroad line through Kent to Seattle and Tacoma, the mill advertised “telegraph and telephone poles, rough and dressed lumber, and bridge timbers” among other specialties. The Mill Creek plant was part of a larger operation including a mill at O’Brien, and two more in Kent. Eventually, the Kent Lumber Company logged off most of the East Hill area. When the mill operation closed, the canyon and mill pond became part of the town’s wooded area and later a rustic park.
Linda Van Nest is presently the Executive Director of the Kent Historical Museum in Kent, Washington. She holds a M. Ed with a School Administrator credential, a BA in Anthropology and a Museum Studies Certificate. For fifteen years Van Nest worked for the Kent School District. She has been a King County Landmarks and Heritage Commissioner, and was also on the county Cultural Education Committee. She has been on the board of several historical societies: the Greater Kent Historical Society, the Neely Mansion Association, the White River Valley Historical Society and Points Northeast Historical Society. Publications include the educational curriculum: “Kent, A Historic Overview” and “An Overview of Puget Sound Country,” as well as pictorial research for the book “Kent, Valley of Opportunity.” In 1989, the Washington Trust named Linda Van Nest the Washington State Historic Preservationist of the Year.
1. Logging scene when oxen were used to haul the logs, c. 1880. Size 4" x 6¾." White River area (Kent). Photo provided by The Kent Historical Society.