Renton is the 9th largest city in Washington, with a population of more than 100,000. Yet it has been overshadowed by neighboring Seattle and Bellevue, which rank 1st and 5th, and by its association with industry and jobs–coal mining, clay works, Boeing and PACCAR. Even though it has a 405 and Rainier Avenue, the main routes of travel, bypass the main street at a fast clip.
During its centennial in 2001, the city marked a walking tour with markers designed by Doug Kyes with text by Barbara Nilson. Number one is land where the Duwamish had lived for hundreds of years, at the confluence of the Cedar and Black rivers. The Cedar River still runs through the middle of the city, but only a remnant of the Black River remains after the lowering of Lake Washington in 1916.
The community of Renton began when seams of coal were discovered near streams in 1873. A lumberman, Captain William Renton, financed the Renton Coal Company, which opened a mine on the north side of Renton Hill. He was also a trustee of the Seattle and Walla Walla Railroad which transported the coal. The town incorporated in 1901. Located at the south end of Lake Washington along the railroad and a road to Seattle, Renton became a place where Seattle workers lived.
Renton’s moment of historical significance in Washington, its period of largest growth, was during World War II. The Seattle Railroad Car and Manufacturing Company, which became PACCAR, had moved to Renton in 1907 and produced 30 Sherman tanks a month during the war. The Boeing Airplane Company located a major factory on the north side of Renton and began turning out B-29s at the peak rate of six a day. Thousands of workers flocked to the city seeking work, and the War Department helped build multi-family units. In the decades after the war, Renton became the “Jet Capital of the World.”
The latest new neighbors are the Seattle Seahawks, with a training facility on Lake Washington. Like many cities along Puget Sound, Renton must deal with contaminated properties on its waterfront, particularly the Port Quendall properties where creosote and coal tar were manufactured. The city has enhanced enjoyment of the Cedar River with a walking and biking trail and the city library built over it.
To discover the real downtown of Renton, follow the “History Lives Here” walking tour, available online or by brochure at the Renton History Museum, 235 Mill Ave. South.
And does anyone know if there is any historical significance to this mural painted on a building in downtown Renton?