September 24, 2001
Restoring the Washkuhn Sawmill
By Bronwyn Wilson
Sinking its large carbide teeth into logs, a monstrous saw roared for years over at the old Washkuhn Sawmill on 176th NE. It cut lumber, baseboards and specialized pieces to order.
No more. Woodinville's last surviving sawmill shut down in the 1980s. Deteriorated from old age, its demolition seemed certain. But before its destruction could happen, Dean McKee, the city's Permit Center Director, and the Woodinville Historical Society came to the mill's rescue.
McKee met the mill owner back in the 70s when he hired Henry Washkuhn to cut up the logs taken from his property. McKee took a liking to him and had an appreciation for his sawmill. Over the years, McKee would often run into Washkuhn when he was downtown. Then one day he was saddened to learn that Washkuhn had passed away. As McKee drove by the aging sawmill, he noticed it had partially collapsed.
In the meantime, the Woodinville Historical Society began making plans to buy the mill. They realized it was an important part of Woodinville's early history and they hoped to restore it. McKee also wanted to see the mill restored and offered his help. He contacted Washkuhn's daughter and told her of their hope to rebuild and display the old mill. "She said, 'if you can get it off there, you can have it.'"
McKee and some City inspectors spent a day dismantling the sawmill. "I think we put in 16 hours that day. Anyway, we got it all moved," said McKee.
A local contractor donated a track hoe and big trailer to transport the disassembled sawmill to a safe storage place where it has remained for the past five years.
"Most of the metal pieces are there but the timbers need to be replaced," said Gladys Berry, Woodinville Historical Society president. Many original parts are still in tact, including the saws, some of the belts and the log carrier. It's believed that the mill was once run by a steam engine, though there wasn't one at the mill when it was dismantled. A local antique collector has offered to locate a steam engine to complete the sawmill display. Many others have offered their help in restoring the Washkuhn Sawmill to its original condition. "We do have local people willing to help," said Berry.
McKee and the city inspectors sketched the saw blades and belts as they took them apart so they could rebuild the mill exactly as it was. Said McKee, "We took real accurate measurements so we can reconstruct the mill either the same configuration or a similar configuration."
But before reconstruction begins, funds are needed for the project. A Benefit Buffet, Auction and Historic Fashion Show are scheduled for Oct. 5 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Harvest Home Festival held at the Red Barn Country Inn in Woodinville. All proceeds will go toward the mill project. President Berry also hopes for grants and donations from local businesses. McKee would like to see a lumber company donate rough-hewn wood for the mill's framework.
A place to display the mill after completion has not been decided yet, but the Society is studying two or three possibilities. "We will put it where it will be open to the public. It will not be a working mill but we'll have videos to show how it works," Berry said.
An 80' by 80' piece of property not in use and near the Sammamish River would be an ideal location for the mill display, said McKee. "It had actually been on the Sammamish River, I think, at one time," he explained. "The proximity and the fact it was moved once or twice seems, to me, pretty logical."
What is known for certain is that the original mill opened for business in April 1946, when Henry Washkuhn needed wood for fencing on his small farm (now Leota Junior High). Rather than purchase wood from Seattle, which he thought was too soft; he decided to cut his own. He didn't have any sons to help him at the mill, but according to Berry, "I'm thinking one of his daughters was his right- hand person."
The Woodinville Historical Society provides a brochure on the sawmill and its history. In it, the closing statement reads: "The restoration of this sawmill will benefit Woodinville's residents as well as tourists drawn to the area by Molbak's, Columbia Winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle and Redhook."
President Berry commented on why the restoration project is important. "We need to let our children and children's children know what it was like when people first came to Woodinville. I feel it's really important to preserve that part of our history."
The Red Barn Country Inn is located at 16708 - 140th Place NE, across from the Woodinville Alliance Church.
Call 1-888-400-BARN for reservations to the Benefit Buffet, Auction and Historic Fashion Show. Donation: $35 per person.