Snoqualmie since 1939
Snoqualmie Days (formerly known as Snoqualmie Railroad Days) is the annual celebration of the Snoqualmie Valley, its people, and its culture! The festival was originally organized by volunteer firefighters to celebrate the arrival of the town’s first Fire Truck in 1939. 83 years later, and we’re still celebrating!
Many thanks to the Snoqualmie community, sponsors, and volunteers for all of your support.
For more information or to learn how you can help, please contact the festival coordinator.
The Whole Story
Snoqualmie Days (formerly known as Snoqualmie Railroad Days) is an annual festival that celebrates all things “Snoqualmie”, but the original Snoqualmie Days celebrated a specific and important event – the arrival of the town’s first fire truck.
Before the fire truck, fires were suppressed using two hose carts operated by volunteers. When a fire was detected, a volunteer would run to the fire siren (still heard downtown each day at noon) to summon help. The first volunteer to arrive would grab a hose cart and run to the fire. Despite best efforts, volunteer firefighter and later fire chief, Martin Fringer, recalled that even an “average fire meant a completely burned building.”
By the 1930s, efforts to establish an official fire district and raise funds for a community fire truck were underway. In March of 1939, voters passed a $5,000 bonds measure for the purchase of new firefighting equipment.
“The Church is on fire!”
Before the new truck arrived, however, disaster struck. In the early afternoon of May 10, a fire started in the downtown church woodshed. The origin of the fire has never been determined. However, a group of boys seen running from the woodshed as the fire quickly spread caused speculation.
Volunteer firefighters and community members immediately jumped into action. Margaret Hackney rushed into the burning building to save the hymnals within. Her husband, volunteer firefighter Frank Hackney, arrived with the hose cart. The “water pressure…was not strong enough to break the windows to get water in the church” he recalled, “We had to use rocks.” Despite being dressed in a “nice new grey suit with a grey fedora hat,” Charlie McGarrigle, an ex-firefighter from Renton and manager of Puget Power, also ran towards the fire. According to Frank, Charlie “grabbed the [hose] nozzle and…went so fast I tripped on the step, and the only thing that kept me up was hanging on to hose.”
Lorna Jean (Wallace) Young was in second grade arithmetic class when the fire started. Hearing shouts from other students, she looked out her window and saw “smoke billowing up over town.” Her teacher, Miss Peggy McKay, insisted students return to their desks and work for the remaining ten minutes until lunch recess.
“Five volunteer firemen of the Snoqualmie fire department narrowly missed death when a 400-pound church bell plunged down from the burning steeple – barely five feet from the firemen.” – Snoqualmie Valley Record, May 11, 1939
As Young fled home, she was “stopped dead in her tracks,” horrified at what she was witnessing. As she gathered herself, she heard yelling come from inside the church. “Then, I saw the men run out just a fraction of a second before the [church] bell came crashing down.” The bell was so hot, it was said, that it sizzled in the water that was collecting on the church floor.
Despite the damage, the church structure was saved and rebuilt six months later. And the old bell that came crashing down was re-installed in a new steeple.
Fire truck arrival and celebration
While the church fire was devastating for the community, the arrival of the new fire truck just two months later was cause for celebration. On July 29, residents came out to participate in the first Snoqualmie Days festival, later to be known as Snoqualmie Railroad Days, and then known once again as Snoqualmie Days! Volunteer firefighters sold red cardboard fireman hats for 25 cents to raise funds for the department. Any man caught without a red hat was said to be subject to a 10 cents fine. The event included a parade, street dance, carnival and even a water fight between the Snoqualmie and Issaquah fire departments.
“Trains, Timber, Tradition”
Today, Snoqualmie Days celebrates many aspects of the city, its history, and its community members. The Snoqualmie Firefighters Association continues their central role in this event by hosting an annual fundraiser pancake breakfast, raffle, and silent auction. And the fire truck? It remains a central feature of Snoqualmie Days and continues to be included in the annual Grand Parade, nearly 80 years later.
Thanks to our friends at Snoqualmie Valley Museum for providing historical accounts of the church fire and the early Snoqualmie Volunteer Firefighters. Historical images provided by Snoqualmie Valley Museum. Pancake breakfast image provided by Snoqualmie Firefighter’s Association.