The Town of Kosmos Buried under Riffe Lake


Dean J. Koepfler/The News Tribune Low water levels in Riffe Lake make remembering Kosmos easier this winter for longtime residents John Carnahan, foreground, and brothers Harold, left, and George Cooper. The Lewis County town, near Glenoma, lived maybe 70 years. In the early 1960s, Kosmos submitted to Tacoma Power's wish to build a dam at Mossyrock and submerge the town in a manmade basin that became Riffe Lake. The $133 million Cowlitz River Project inundated Kosmos. Its lumber mill closed, its logging town vanished in a payoff of $2.4 million. But when winter comes and the water table drops, Kosmos reappears.

Flooded town emerges Kosmos up from the muck

Bart Ripp; The News Tribune


"The shapes arise!

Shapes of the using of axes anyhow, and the users and all that neighbors them."

- Walt Whitman, "Song of the Broad-Axe," 1855.

GLENOMA, Lewis County - Mists unveil Dog Mountain.

The mountain was home to camps where trains and trucks hauled logs cut by men. Dog Mountain is gone to sport utility vehicles with manly names and hang gliders sailing down sunny days to the town that drowned.

Kosmos lived and died in Dog Mountain's shadow. The town lived maybe 70 years. In the early 1960s, Kosmos submitted to Tacoma Power's wish to build a dam at Mossyrock and submerge the town in a manmade basin called Riffe Lake.

The $133 million Cowlitz River Project inundated Kosmos. Its lumber mill closed, its logging town vanished in a payoff of $2.4 million. And yet, come winter chill, Kosmos reappears.

Like Alder, the Pierce County town that was submerged when Tacoma Power needed to build a reservoir, Kosmos resurfaces in muck, summoned by receding water and visible with foundations of houses and places. These forms whisper that something happened here.

Unlike Alder, Kosmos was not moved up the hill. The mill closed, people moved away, Kosmos died. The last buildings were razed in 1965, the Cowlitz River filled the manmade lake and Mossyrock Dam first generated power for Tacoma in 1969.

"A lot of the older people, they died within a short period of time after the move," John Carnahan said. "They were uprooted from their homes. They couldn't adjust."

Carnahan is 91. He came to Kosmos in 1937, broke. He had gone bust farming in King Hill, Idaho. From 1945 to 1960, Carnahan owned the Kosmos Korner Store.

"We sold everything from .22 shells on up," Carnahan said. "Cork shoes, work boots, logging clothes, axes, White Owl cigars, plugs of chewing tobacco I sliced with an old cutter. Big, 20-pound wheels of cheese I got from Darigold and then aged and cut myself. I told folks I've got whatever they want - if I can just find it."

One sunny afternoon in about 1952, state police cars and motorcycles roared up to Kosmos Korner Store. Troopers and men in suits came in for bottles of pop. One man bought five cigars and handed John Carnahan a silver dollar.

"That'll be 75 cents, including tax for the governor," Carnahan said.

"That would be me," said Gov. Arthur B. Langlie, who had come from dedicating the new White Pass Highway up past Packwood.

Like the governor, everyone who came to Kosmos asked about the name. There is a Cosmopolis near Aberdeen in Grays Harbor County, and a Cosmos in southwestern Minnesota, but Kosmos was a unique moniker.

Kosmos was coined by a Coiner. Ida Hare Coiner was Iowan by birth and literary by nature. She came up with Kosmos - taken from the Greek word for universe - when her husband, Col. B.W. Coiner, became one of the Cowlitz Valley's first settlers.

He was a real colonel. No hokey handles for Col. Beverly Waugh Coiner. He was from Mount Pleasant, Iowa, the son of a Methodist minister killed in the Civil War. Col. Coiner taught English in Brazil, returned to his hometown of Mount Pleasant to be the mayor at age 26, came west to Tacoma to practice law in 1884, served as an Army officer in the Spanish-American War of 1898, was Pierce County prosecuting attorney, United States attorney appointed by President William Howard Taft, and died in Tacoma in 1932, age 74.

Coiner had a 95-acre farm on the Cowlitz between Kosmos and Nesika, also named by his wife. Ida preferred the house they built at 717 N. I St. in Tacoma.

"I know she hated living way out there. That's why they lived in Tacoma," LaVonne M. Sparkman said. She is a Morton resident who has written four books on East Lewis County history.

"Nobody knows where she got the name," Sparkman said.

Kosmos' corner of the world had 500 men working in Kosmos Timber Co.'s mill; a lumber camp recreation hall called The Blue Room; from 100 to 150 people living in town; the Kosmos Korner Store; a dance hall; a tavern named the Circle-H that became Big Dick's, after owner Dick Wierdt; and a post office that doubled as home to the Palorose Cafe.

Carnahan's sister, Elizabeth Barrett, and husband, Kenneth Barrett, ran the restaurant. Kenneth Barrett raised palomino horses. Elizabeth Barrett, postmistress for 40 years, nurtured a garden with 350 rose bushes, some 35 varieties of rhododendrons, 2,500 gladiolus and more than 100 varieties of dahlias. Palorose was a hybrid of palomino and rose.

"Her mother (Lissa Barrett) had been a professional cook, and she baked pies for the Palorose," said Harold Cooper, 73, a former Lewis County commissioner, and partners with brother George in the family logging business.

"People came all the way from Chehalis for her blackberry pies," Carnahan said.

In the dried mud bed that was Kosmos, red and green tiles survive on a concrete foundation - relics of the Palorose floor. A few cement pads mark where the Kosmos Korner Store stood.

The foundations emerge in February, but this is an exceptional winter. Riffe Lake, 778 feet elevation when full, and normally 680 to 700 feet, has sunk to a record low of 648 feet. Tacoma Power and the state Department of Fish and Wildlife have placed additional signs and vehicle barriers on the lake bed. Citations run $71 to $500.

"I was out here a couple of Sundays back," Harold Cooper said, "and couldn't find a place to park."

Being a Kosmos native - a Kosmopolitan? - Cooper knew the way to trails at the base of Dog Mountain. The Cooper brothers know logging roads where they can see foundations of the lumber mill, a sketchy outline of the town, and an eddy in the Cowlitz where kids caught trout and steelhead salmon. Everyone called it Kosmos Pool.

A big puddle remains where the Kosmos Timber Co. powder house left this world one night in 1962 - a concussive harbinger of the town's demise. The powder house exploded with a boom that uprooted alders, broke windows and lifted houses from their foundations. Nobody was hurt beyond scratches from flying glass. It was a kids' prank.

"Damn near took me out of bed," George Cooper said. "If they hadn't taken two tons of dynamite out of the powder house that very day, the whole town would have blown."

The explosion left a murky pool where the powder house sat. Come February, the powder house pool marks where the mill stood and Kosmos lived.

"You know how the South treats a Yankee? That's how we feel about Tacoma," George Cooper said. "It's a hell of a feeling when somebody walks up to your door to buy you out and you know you have to sell."

He received $33,000 for 12 acres with 13 buildings, including his house. Behind George Cooper's house in Glenoma, on a ridge above Riffe Lake, is a tall shed full of tools and memories. It's the only building left from Kosmos, salvaged by Cooper when he moved up the hill.

On cold days when mists swirl Dog Mountain's woods and Riffe Lake's waters trickle to Mossyrock Dam, George Cooper goes out back to get a hammer or an ax. Every time he walks in that hulk of a shed, he thinks of a place just down the hill and never forgotten.

- - - * Reach staff writer Bart Ripp at 253-597-8678 or bart.ripp@mail.tribnet.com.

- - - SIDEBAR: learn more

To read more about Kosmos and East Lewis County, LaVonne M. Sparkman's books are still available.

"From Homestead to Lakebed," published in 1994, and her "Before It's Gone: Old-Timers' Tales" (1998) cost $29.50 each, including tax and postage. Sparkman's "Nowhere to Look But Up!", an early history of Morton and Mineral, is available for $22.25.

Contact LaVonne M. Sparkman, PO Box 15, Morton, WA 98356.

Credit Bart Ripp

The News Tribune, Tacoma, Wa.

02/20/2001

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