Roslyn, WA

January 19, 2011

Roslyn is best known as the setting for the 1990’s sitcom, Northern Exposure. Despite that image of rugged, remoteness,  this pint-sized town has a lot to offer — from a rich history to outdoor adventures and even fine wine and art.

Roslyn, Washington

A Little History

Founded in 1886, Roslyn originated as a somewhat rough and tumble logging and coal mining town where men worked all day and then blew off steam at the bar. One of these establishments, The Brick, is still open today and is the oldest, continuallly operating tavern in Washington.

Inside "The Brick"

At the time the town was established, Washington was only a US Territory and the coal from the mines was used to fuel the new train systems snaking from the mountains to the coast. The prospect of work brought immigrants from all over western, central, and eastern Europe. When a strike in 1888 disrupted operations in the mines, rather than negotiate with the strikers, the Northwest Coal Company transported 300 black workers across the country to keep the mines working.

Relics of Roslyn's Coal Mining Past

This was the largest population influx of African-American people to the territory at the time, making Roslyn one of the most diverse places in Washington. To further underline its diversity, the town boasted a popular, cross-dressing Italian, who after working all day in the mines would hit the bars in full drag. Roslyn also elected Washington state’s first black mayor in 1976.

HUGE chain saw!

Like any town, Roslyn has had its share of tragedies (and no, I’m not talking about the recent development of Suncadia). In 1892 a mining explosion shook the town like an earthquake, causing dozens of roof fires, destroying several buildings, and claiming the lives of 45 miners in its wake. For a town this small, the event was truly catastrophic.

Around Town

Today the town’s history is kept alive by its tiny, donation-run museum on Pennsylvania Avenue and its historical cemeteries, which are quite beautiful in the snow and have numerous old and unique headstones. If you take a stroll through its neighborhoods you’ll also see a wealth of charming, older homes and a small, but well kept church.

Roslyn's historic cemetery

The downtown area (i.e. 4 blocks along Pennsylvania Avenue) also features a gallery run by the local artist guild. There you can find a wide range of work from local artists for very reasonable prices, including paintings, woven baskets, glass art, pottery, sculpture, and handmade jewelry.

Local Artist Guild Gallery

There are several other craft and gift shops along the main drag. The Crazy Quilt Shop, for instance, has a really impressive selection of handmade quilts on display, a huge inventory of fabrics, and specializes in retreats for quilters and other crafty folks.

Display at the Crazy Quilt Shop

For days when the town is enveloped in a cloud, the one-room Roslyn Theatre on Dakota Avenue offers first run movies, delicious popcorn with real butter, cushy seats, and wood fire heat.

Roslyn Movie Theatre

As you’d expect from its past, the town also has a few bars, the good old Brick among them, and even a brewing company that happily offers tastings during open hours. Dining options are along the lines of cafe or bar food, but from what I saw the quality was pretty good. The only restaurant in town I can recommend from experience is Village Pizza, which offers a variety of very, well done American style pies.

Roslyn Brewing Company

If you are looking for something a little more upscale, I’d drive to the Swiftwater winery just up the road at Suncadia. This resort community is a contentious topic in Roslyn. Some hate it for bringing in the yuppie crowd and buying out forest lands previously open to the public. Some feel it has been a job creator and boosted the economy and tourism. No matter what your opinion, there is a serious dichotomy between rustic Roslyn and Suncadia. The winery for example, is mammoth and it’s quite obvious that a lot of money was spent to build it.

Goofing off in front of Swiftwater Cellars

When we first pulled up to Swiftwater Cellars in the evening fog, it was almost jarring. The grand entry has an enormous, covered passageway you can drive 2-3 large vehicles through at a time and a huge fire pit. To add to the mystery there is no signage outside, which made us wonder if we were in the right place, but there wasn’t anything else around.

While we missed the happy hour, we were still about to get 5 tastings for $9 a person at the bar. The service was a bit uneven and the venue was overwhelming, but the food was quite good. Their flat bread pizzas were served in a crispy, Neopolitan style and the ingredients were extremely fresh. (I definitely had more than my fair share of the margherita.) We also shared a tasty salad and some crab cakes that had a Mexican flair.

The Outdoors

For the last two years, I’ve made a trek out to Roslyn in January and can say that it is truly a winter wonderland. There are a number of great snowshoeing areas and snowmobiling opportunities abound. For snowmobile rentals, just head down the main road towards Ronald. While I haven’t made it out there in the summer yet, I’ve heard it also has superb hiking and mountain biking trails and Cle Elum Lake draws tons of boaters when the temperatures start to rise.

Cle Elum Lake on a cloudy day

For hiking or snowshoeing, nearby Hex Mountain offers gorgeous views of the valley and lake. If you continue down Highway 903, there are flatter snowshoeing trails along Salmon la Sac Creek and Cooper River. Slightly further a field, you can reach a multi-day snowshoe trail along Indian Creek in the Teanaway Valley or head out towards Blewett Pass, which winds along Highway 97 and has several trail options. For more detailed information, I’d recommend Dan Nelson’s Snowshoe Routes Washington.

Nelson Dairy Farm

If the weather is mediocre or you are looking for something more low key, you can always walk through the cemetery along Memorial/Nelson Dairy Road, check out the old Nelson Dairy Farm, and snowshoe or hike a short 1.5+ miles through Suncadia to a lovely creek. The area also offers a paved 6 mile Coal Mine Trail that runs from Ronald through Roslyn to Cle Elum and provides a history of the sites along the way with wooden placards.

Where to Stay

There are a number of places to stay within the Cle Elum/Roslyn area. For larger groups I’d recommend trying to find a rental cabin in Cle Elum or nearby Ronald. For smaller groups, there are nice hotel rooms available at the Suncadia Lodge and a few inns and bed and breakfast places in town. However, for location and comfort I’d only stay at the Huckleberry House Bed and Breakfast.

Huckleberry House

Located just off the main drag on Pennsylvania Avenue, the yellow house has a nice view of town and is within easy walking distance of all its attractions. The home is a piece of history itself, dating back to the turn of the century as a boarding house. Each of its four themed rooms sleeps 2-3 people and features a large comfy bed and claw foot tub.

Clawfoot tub

There are several common areas in the house. A cozy library on the second floor is stocked with books, classic movies on VHS cassette tapes (the rooms only have  VCR’s), and a collection of every episode of Northern Exposure. The large downstairs kitchen has an old wood burning stove and is open to guests. It is well stocked with all the essentials, a gas stove, and a full-sized refrigerator. Being able to prepare your own meals and eat or play games at the dining room table really adds to the feeling of home.

Antique wood burning stove

Each morning of your stay you’ll also enjoy a fabulous, full breakfast usually prepared by Don, one of the innkeepers. So far I’ve had hearty egg scrambles, country style bacon and sausage, eggs cooked to order, delicious scones, and huckleberry pancakes cooked to perfection for the house’s namesake.

Downstairs there is also a large open room that serves as a yoga studio, which is also available to guests. Sibyl, Don’s wife and fellow innkeeper, teaches yoga here a few times a week and offers classes by request to guests. We had a very relaxing and private (only 3 of us) class the first evening we arrived, which really helped us unwind and settle into the weekend.

For further relaxation, outside there is a hot tub for soaking after your outdoor adventures or just taking in the stars. The home’s wraparound porch also offers the perfect place to lounge with a book or simply daydream in the summer months. And for those who simply can not unplug, the house is also equipped with wireless, high speed internet.

Both Don and Sibyl are incredibly helpful. When we had trouble pulling up the icy driveway, Don jumped in the driver’s seat and got our car parked safely. Depending on what you are looking for, the innkeepers are happy to chat with you and give you recommendations or simply leave you alone and give you absolute privacy. They also make a big effort to be sustainable and use green paper and cleaning products and use local, organic ingredients for breakfast whenever possible.

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