One of Renton’s homesteaders, Erasmus Smithers, gave a
portion of his property to the Seattle and Walla Walla Railroad
with the stipulation that the railroad would construct a tunnel
to allow his dairy cows to get from one area of his farm to
the other. He instructed the railroad company to make the
tunnel four cows wide. Houser Way and Shattuck Av S


How Renton Washington was named.

From: Renton, Where the Water Took Wing. An Illustrated History By David M. Buerge, 1989.

A trustee of the S&WW (Seattle and Walla Walla Railroad) was William Renton, a rumpled bear of a man who in 1873 was one of the most successful businessmen in the territory. Born in Pictou, a seaport in Nova Scotia, Renton began a life at sea at age 11. Skill in mathematics led him into the ranks of ships officer at 18, and by 25 he was master of his own vessel. A shrewdly intelligent man, Renton arrived in San Francisco in 1850 and realized quickly that fortunes awaited those who could satisfy that city's ravenous appetites, especially for lumber, as it was in the habit of burning itself down every few years. Loading saw mill machinery onto a ship, Renton and several associates sailed north to Puget Sound where, song had it, timber grew "thick as hair on the back of a dog." After a few false starts, Renton settled at Port Blakely, near George Vancouver's landing site on Bainbridge Island, and built what became the largest lumber mill on the continent.

By the 1870's Renton and his partners were looking for profitable ways to invest their fortunes. An independent railroad heading into huge strands of virgin timber looked like a pretty good prospect. The deal was sweetened by the fact that Smither's coal mine was several miles closer to Seattle than the Newcastle mines and right on the route surveyed by Thomas Morris, the engineer hired by the railroad.

With Renton's financial backing, Smithers, Morris , and Charles Shattuck, president of the Seattle Coal Company, the organization running the Newcastle mines, organized the Renton Coal Company.

Once the deposits were surveyed and found workable, the Renton Coal Company's manager Ruel Robinson, purchased the mine from Smithers and other nearby land owners. On March, 15, 1874, the company was incorporated with a capital stock of 30,000 shares at $100 each. To encourage local stock purchases, company officer Charles Burnett was authorized to offer shares for $50 and the option of buying coal from the mine for $4 a ton - half the normal rate.

With money and strong management the mines boomed. Workers picked and blasted tunnels into the rock, erected hoists, and constructed huge bunkers to hold the coal. A tramway from the bunkers was built to deliver the coal to barges on the Black River. The Renton Company

Six months later another coal seam, an extension of Smither's discovery was uncovered about a mile southeast of the Smithers mine, and another company, the Talbot company was organized the develop the new site. Like those of the Renton Company, many of Talbot's officers and trustees, such as John Leary, James McNaught and Seattle mayor John Collins, were heavily involved in the S&WW.

They had the steam tug Addie and several 80 foot long barges built at Hammonds shipyard in Seattle in order to haul coal. Cannon boomed and steam whistles blew as the Addie slid down the ways, and it was soon busy bringing the Renton Company's coal to the bunkers built on Yestler's wharf. To transport its coal to its bunkers, The Talbot Company brought the steam tug Wenat up from the Columbia River.

Within a year the Black River area was transformed from a rural farming community into a bustling mining center. To provide lumber for the buildings rising in the valley, lumberman David Parker and his sons Leroy and James set up their sawmill near what is now the intersection of Third and Mill streets. With deafening crashes the big trees were felled and sweating millmen fed the ponderous trunks to the screaming saws.

In an atmosphere heady with coal smoke and sawdust, Smithers and the other officers of the Renton Coal Company considered the time ripe to plat a town and offer lots for sale. ON September 4, 1875, Smithers in association with Morris and Shattuck filed a plat with the county auditor in Seattle. The town boundaries ran south from the Cedar River along Burnett Street three quarters of a mile to Seventh Avenue, east five blocks to Cedar Street, and north back to the river.

To honor its financial patron, the town was named Renton.