General Issaquah History
The first residents of this area were the Coast Salish Native Americans. White settlers began arriving in the 1860s. They named the area Squak, a corruption of the Native American place name, which meant “sound of waterfowl.” In 1892 the town was incorporated as Gilman, after Daniel Hunt Gilman, who brought the railroad to town. In 1899, residents petitioned to change the town’s name to Issaquah, a closer approximation of the Native American place name.
Fertile farmland drew early settlers here, and the first major crop was hops, sold to Seattle breweries for use in beer. The settlement started to grow in the 1870s, when immigrants from many nations came into the area.
By 1889 the town had its own railroad depot. The railroad helped make mining a profitable operation, providing a fast way to transport coal to Seattle. As the coal mines flourished, saloons, hardware stores, boarding houses and other shops sprang up. Logging also brought workers into the town, as more immigrants arrived to fell trees and establish sawmills. Trains carried passengers, mail, freight, food and livestock into Seattle. Passenger service through Issaquah was available until 1922. Nearly all freight service was discontinued after 1958, when Northern Pacific closed the Depot. Trains stopped coming to Issaquah in 1996 as the result of the Burlington Northern Santa Fe merger, which vacated the local branch line and service to Darigold. After World War II, the boom-and-bust cycle of the natural resource industry was replaced by slow community evolution. The town’s population hovered around 1,000 until 1940, when the first floating bridge over Lake Washington was opened. The bridge brought Issaquah within easy driving distance of Seattle and the town’s transformation from a rural community to a bedroom suburb began.
Today, Issaquah is a thriving city, yet it retains many elements of its historical beginnings. We invite you to learn more about Issaquah’s past by exploring our website, digging into the collections or the Issaquah Press archives, or attending an event.