Mountain Loop Hwy

The history of the Mountain Loop Highway begins when gold was discovered in the Cascade Mountains in 1889.

Prospectors flooded to the area to stake their claim and get a piece of the action. The problem became, how to get the ore out of these mountains to be processed? What was needed was to attract investors to the area
In the summer of 1890 Fred Wilman and some friends in conversation around a campfire, wondered what to name this mining camp deep in the mountains? The name needed to promote the wealth of the area, a name that would get investors to take notice. It seemed Fred Willman had brought a good reading book with him, “The Count Of Monte Cristo,” published in 1844. It was decided that night that the mining camp be called Monte Cristo, a name that was soon to be the talk everywhere. Money did begin to pour into Monte Cristo from big names like Hoyt, Colby and John D. Rockefeller. A road needed to be built to move in the heavy equipment that would be used to develop the mining camp, this road would run from Sauk City on the Skagit along the Sauk River south to Monte Cristo. By the Fall of 1891 a caravan of horse and oxen moving tons of equipment had reached Monte Cristo, blasting and building a road as they went. Another mining settlement sprang up at about the half way point on this road called, "Starve Out," near where Darrington is today. Further down south of the wagon road was the Bedal homestead and logging camp, near the present day Bedal Campground and east of Bedal was the settlement named Orient.

In 1891 John Quincey Barlow, a surveyor discovered a good route to bring a railroad up from the smelter of Everett to the mining town of Monte Cristo.  Construction of a railroad began in 1892 and was estimated to be done that same year. A severe winter hit the area with freezing temperatures of 22 degrees below zero and heavy snows and work was stalled. The Northern Pacific Railroad reached Monte Cristo in 1893 and having the longest tunnel in the newly formed Washington State which was1500 feet long. This new railroad was plagued with severe wash outs in 1897 and then again in 1903 putting the train out of service until repairs could be done
Mining had pretty much petered out by 1899, but by 1915 a new wealth had been discovered for Monte Cristo, tourism for the wealthy. Two brothers, Wyatt and Bethel Rucker, owners of a sawmill at Hartford near Lake Stevens, leased the railway renaming it the Hartford Eastern. These brothers had a big dream to bring wealthy tourists to the beautiful mountainous wilderness and construction began to create a destination that would become legendary! The Construction of an enormous hotel called Big Four Inn was completed in 1921. The wealthy, celebrities and dignitaries arrived daily on the Hartford Eastern Gas Car which traveled the railroad.  Money was no obstacle for such lavish experience.  This extravagant endeavor to create Big Four Inn cost $150,000.00 and included a nine hole golf course, tennis court, and an artificial lake created by damming Perry creek for the generation of electricity.


When the stock market crashed in 1929, the wealthy could no longer afford such excursions as Big Four and business dried up. The year of 1932, during the Great Depression, were some of the worst floods in Snohomish County history, and the Hartford Railroad was devastated by washouts. The railroad had washouts before, but this time no wealthy investors were willing to invest in the railroad and the Inn closed. In some ways it was the Great Depression and WWII that helped build what we call the Mountain Loop Highway.  Access into the area was very difficult, the old pioneer wagon road coming down from Darrington, being little used, reverted to more of a horse path except where Penn Mining had done improvements in the Elliott Creek area.  Motorcars would at times drive the old railroad, a troublesome journey fraught with breakdowns and damage. The old routes to Monte Cristo would again see new life when President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Cabinet came up with a plan to get the country back on its feet again. It was called the “New Deal.”  Men were enlisted to the Civilian Conservation Corps, “CCC” to build needed infrastructure for America.  On an average, a skilled worker was paid $1.20 an hour, an intermediate worker $.75 an hour and unskilled worker was $.50 an hour. Work began on a road that will later be named the Mountain Loop Highway on March 23, 1936 to connect Granite Falls, Silverton, Monte Cristo and Darrington. Tracks were being pulled up on the south end where a road would replace them and the boys from Camp Darrington began work on the north end restoring much of the preexisting pioneer wagon road. 

Unfortunately in building this road there was an error in their land survey and the road strayed onto the the land of Sam Strom, a local prospector, collapsing one of his mining tunnels. Sam took on a different sort of prospecting and put up a toll gate charging 25 cents to pass. Sam made a point in protesting the illegal access of this road cutting through his place, he'd sit with his shotgun by his gate which had a sign that read:
"In Everett and Seattle there are lawyers and politicians that operate in ambush by trying to obstruct justice and build entanglements born to delay and deception and status of limitations. It is to protect my rights against these that I constructed this toll gate on government built CCC road for which I assume full responsibility."
Most of the time the gate stood open and in truth Sam admired the contributions of the CCC.  He made a point, however, to collect from any government official passing through.


In December, 1941 the Camp Darrington crew from the north and the Verlot crew from the south connected completing the road. For a short time the Mountain Loop Highway was open for tourist traffic, but then when the USA became involved in WWII, the backroad was closed to civilian traffic. The Big Four Inn was occupied by the U.S. Coast Guard as a “Duty Station” for men awaiting active duty. The military occupation of Big Four Inn prompted the Federal Government to improve the road grade a portion of the road was straightened and bypassed the  the old railroad grade.  This portion is now the Old Government Trail #733.  The old railroad bridge that was nicknamed “Red Bridge” because of its rusting condition, even though it was badly sagging in the middle was not replaced but was adapted for automobile traffic. It would not be until 1955 that this bridge would be replaced when the country was again prospering in post war times. The bridge was moved up river to a new location straightening the road. There is a way trail to the original site where you can still see the old concrete bulkheads, downriver to the west. When looking at this site, remember this was an old railroad bridge, it is quite amazing how much of a bend the train had to make at this point. Nostalgically the new bridge was painted the same rusty red color as the old bridge and is still called “Red Bridge” today. When the WWII ended in 1945 there was speculation that the Big Four Inn would reopen but it never did. On September 7, 1949 at 6:30 am, flames were spotted coming from the main portion of the inn and the massive wooden building quickly burned to the ground. All that remains today of the Rucker brothers dream to build a resort paradise in the mountains is the fireplace and side walks that now seem to lead to nowhere at the Big Four Picnic Area.

It was big dreams that made this road starting with the gold rush of Monte Cristo. It has been rerouted modern bridges replaced old ones in the 1970s and 1980s.  It has been plagued by washouts from the three scenic rivers that make it such a destination.  In 1990 the Mountain Loop Highway moved to the west side of the Sauk River due to a washout disconnecting the original CCC road that caused all the trouble with Sam's mines back in 1936. This portion use to connect from Sauk Prairie to White Chuck, however you can still get to either side and they still special destination to three waterfalls and Sam's remaining mines.  The Mountain Loop Highway span 55 miles from Granite Fall to Darrington with seasonal splendor and inspiring views of its rivers, lush forest and majestic mountains.  As of 2011 the Mountain Loop Highway will be 70 years old. Today you can drive the historical and beautiful Mountain Loop Highway, without having to pay Sam his 25 cents, next time you travel this scenic byway, take a little history with you.  A historical marker in Darrington where the old pioneer trail once passed stands as a reminder to how it all started for the town of Darrington and a road we now call the Mountain Loop Highway.