Washington’ only living ghost town

LibertyHistoricTownsite_signReturning from an overnight trip to Leavenworth (always a must-see if you happen to be in the Wenatchee National Forest), I spotted a sign along US-97 pointing the way toward Liberty, Washington, which billed itself as the only living ghost town in the state. Only two miles off the main road, I decided to take the extra few minutes to check out what Liberty had to offer. What I found was more than I expected.

To begin with, the route from Cle Elum to Leavenworth on US-97 through Blewett Pass is an absolutely beautiful drive; a real idyllic sample of Washington State’s beauty. Turning away from the pass and into old mining country gave me a sense of just how rich in history this area was. As I slowed down to take in the view along the two-mile trek, I rolled the windows down and shut off the music to get a sense of what it sounded like. “Clear” would be the best word I could use to describe it.

LibertyMainDragAt first sight, Liberty appeared to be just another collection of old buildings along the side of a road nobody uses anymore, but it only took a few seconds before it became clear that it was different. I first drove slowly through town until I reached the far side, which essentially ended in a forest service road entrance. I was a little uneasy at the realization that I hadn’t seen a single person on my way through. After all, it was a Friday afternoon.

As I sat at the turnaround I also realized that I hadn’t seen any vehicles either. Or animals…no dogs barking or birds chirping. Or movement of any kind. In fact, if it weren’t for the colorful American flags atop flagpoles in front of several of the buildings you could have convinced me that the town had either been abandoned and forgotten long ago or I had arrived between performances as if the town were a roadside attraction.

Returning through town, I began to see tiny signs of life that proved there were still residents in these buildings. A few cars were parked around the back of buildings. I spotted an elderly man unloading something from his truck behind his house. One of the historic buildings that now served as a residence was hosting a yard sale, which made me chuckle wondering just how many people likely come through each day.

I stopped at the town circle, which appeared to be roughly the center of town.  Some of the buildings had informational signs near them, so I made my way over to investigate.

Meaghersville – which is was Liberty was called until around 1912 – was a mining town making its living off the gold in Swauk Creek and the nearby hillsides. Liberty was known for its large gold nuggets as most of the placer gold recovered from streams in the Swauk District has been coarse gold. Companies like Gold Placers Inc. had extensive mining operations in Liberty up through the 1960’s and a few dedicated miners remain who still have faith in the Swauk deposits and expect to find a mother lode any day now.

LibertyArrastraAlso in the center of town is a replica of the the Liberty arrastra…possibly the only workable arrastra in the United States and certainly the only one using a horizontal undershot water wheel. The use of such a water wheel appears to have been started by some local pioneer miner in the Liberty area as the design is found nowhere else.

The Liberty arrastra (an ancient mill for pulverizing ores, especially those ores containing gold) was completed in 1976 and is patterned after one that was on the Virden claim about three miles east of Liberty on Williams Creek. Virden’s arrastra survived intact until 1976 because he built a structure over it to protect it from the snow in the winter. However, in 1976 it was destroyed by vandals. Other local arrastras fell victim to the weather and very little remains today to illustrate the inventiveness and craftsmanship of Liberty’s early miner.

Originally the arrastra was powered by man or animals but as technology developed, water wheels were used where water power was available. However, these water wheels were overshot wheels and required much structure to make them work. A substantial frame was required to support the water wheel in a vertical position and a gear mechanism was needed to turn the vertical shaft that dragged the large stones around in the tub.

LibertyBigTreeAn interesting final note: Liberty happens to also be home to the largest black hawthorn tree in the United States. This particular species of hawthorn was discovered and named by Lewis and Clark during their epic westward trek, and Liberty’s “Big Tree” is the largest example.

As I started up the car to return to US-97 and head home I noticed there is creekfront property for sale in Liberty. So for anyone interested in escaping the trappings of suburban life, nestling into the peace and quiet of the lower Wenatchee National Forest and possibly stumbling upon the largest gold discovery in Washington in over a hundred years…Liberty may just be the place for you. Check out and share the photos from Pinterest:

Follow Washington Our Home’s board Liberty, WA on Pinterest.

 

10 thoughts on “Washington’ only living ghost town

  1. Hi! I wanted to thank you for this post. My family and I were out in Leavenworth, looking for something fun to do outside of town, and my dad sent me a link to this post of yours. Reading it just once made up my mind to go! We had a great time, and I so appreciate the happy spirit in your writing.

  2. So pleased that you enjoyed the article and were able to take the detour to see Liberty! I’ve often thought about what it would take to turn it into a recreational destination similar to Virginia City, NV, or Cripple Creek, CO. With the right investors, Liberty could become a wonderful heritage tourism destination!

  3. would you by chance, know what time, the Fourth of July parade, and picnic starts???? I would love to see the little parade they have on the 4th, and come to the picnic too………..thanks a million

  4. I’m sorry, but I don’t have any of that information and there is absolutely nothing on the internet that I can find other than someone’s picture on Pinterest from a Liberty parade in a previous year. I would suggest contacting the Kittitas County Chamber of Commerce and asking them for more information. You can reach them at http://www.kittitascountychamber.com/ or by calling (888) 925-2204. Best of luck, and if you make it to the parade send me an e-mail or pics to let us know how it was!

  5. Thx for your info on Liberty! Went today, spent 2 hours looking around, talking to resident Bill. I asked him when the 4th of July parade starts and he said 11 A M. Hope this info can get to person who was asking (for next year 😉) It was a wonderful visit. We had seen the sign for Liberty on our way back home from Eastern WA via Blewett Pass this summer but decided to not stop then. But we wanted to go as we had just done a driving trip of ghost towns in Eastern Washington, WOW to that trip! So we were in that groove. So glad I found your blog. Here is link to site for Eastern Washington ghost town tour (took us 8 + hrs, w/2 meal breaks).
    http://www.onlyinyourstate.com/ghost-town-road-trip-in-wa/

  6. I am hoping to take the drive to Liberty in the morning. What should I look for, what might I find? Anything you can tell me before I arrive??? Are there any abandoned buildings there???

  7. Yes! As you enter town, there’s an old cabin on your right that’s about to collapse. That belonged to early homesteader and prospector Thomas Meagher, after whom the original townsite was named (it used to be called Meaghersville – pronounced “Meersville”). Once you park in the town center, there are a few nearby buildings that are open to the public and restored to their original state. The fire house across the street is open to the public too. Have fun looking around!

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