The City of Auburn, located 20 miles south of Seattle, was home to some of the earliest settlers in King County. Nestled in a fertile river valley, Auburn has been both a farm community and a center of business and industry for more than 150 years. Auburn is located near the original confluence of the Green and White rivers, both of which contain runoff water from the Cascade Mountain range. The valley was originally the home of the Skopamish, Smalhkamish, and Stkamish Indian tribes. The first white men in the region were explorers and traders who arrived in the 1830s.
Settlers first came to the valley in the 1850s. On October 27, 1855, an Indian ambush killed nine people, including women and children. In November, a military unit led by Lieutenant William Slaughter camped near what is now present-day Auburn. On December 4, 1855, a group of Indians attacked, killing Lt. Slaughter and two other men.
A new treaty was written which provided the establishment of the Muckleshoot reservation, which is the only Indian reservation now within the boundaries of King County. The White River tribes collectively became known as the Muckleshoot tribe.
White settlers, the Neely and Ballard families began returning to the area. In 1891, the town of Slaughter incorporated. Although many older citizens considered the town's name as a memorial, many newer residents understandably felt uncomfortable with it. Within two years, the town was renamed Auburn, taken from the first line of Oliver Goldsmith's poem, The Deserted Village: "Sweet Auburn! Loveliest village of the plain."
Auburn had been a bustling center for hop farming until 1890 when the crops were destroyed by aphids. After that, the farms were mostly dairy farms and berry farms. Nevertheless, flooding was still a problem for Auburn farmers up until the Howard Hanson Dam was built in 1962. This dam on the Green River, along with the Mud Mountain Dam on the White River, provided controlled river management, which left the valley nearly flood-free.
Another impetus to Auburn's growth was the railroad. The Northern Pacific Railroad put a rail line through town in 1883, but it was the Seattle-Tacoma Interurban line that allowed easy access to both cities starting in 1902. The Interurban allowed farmers to get their product to the markets within hours after harvest. The railroad, along with better roads, caused many new companies to set up business in Auburn, among them the Borden Condensery (which made Borden's Condensed Milk) and the Northern Clay Company.
Auburn grew through the twentieth century like many American towns. The 1920s were prosperous for citizens, but the Great Depression of the 1930s left many in need. World War II brought great hardship to many local Japanese farmers when they were moved to internment camps and their land taken from them. At the same time, local boys were sent to fight in the Pacific, and some died in battle.
The postwar era was prosperous to Auburn, bringing more businesses and a community college to the city. In 1963, The Boeing Company built a large facility to mill sheet metal skin for jet airliners. As time went on, many farms disappeared as the land was converted to industrial use. In the 1990s, a large super-mall was built in the valley, enticing consumers from all over the Puget Sound region.
Auburn has made the transition from small farms to large industries, but much of the city's history remains. A monument in the memory of Lieutenant Slaughter, erected in 1918, still stands in a local park. The Neely Mansion, built by the son of a pioneer in 1891, has been refurbished and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Auburn's downtown still maintains a "Main Street U.S.A" appearance.
Clarence B. Bagley, History of King County (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Co, 1929) Vol. 1, 712-727.
Also see: Josephine Emmons Vine, Auburn - A Look Down Main Street (City of Auburn, 1990).