A Brief History of The Ruston Way Mill Ruins

A century ago, Tacoma’s waterfront was a nearly unbroken string of lumber mills. The city was home to at least 38 of them, together churning out 100 million board feet of lumber every day. That’s enough lumber to build a two story house every 30 seconds, day in, day out. The ruins of many of these mills, some dating from the 1800s, are prominent features along Ruston Way.

One of the longest lasting, and most well known, was the Dickman Mill. Built in 1889, it stayed in business through the Great Depression until finally closing in 1977. Most of the structures were destroyed in a fire in 1979 and the remains have been slowly succumbing to nature ever since. One of the most recognizable lasting features is the 60 foot circular foundation of the wigwam burner, an enormous furnace built to consume the many tons of scrap wood produced by the mill.

Metro Parks will be restoring and replacing Dickman Mill’s 15-ton head saw at its original location over the next two or three years. Brass plaques installed along the waterfront path tell the stories of other mills at their original locations throughout history.

  1. Looking at these photographs is like being there in person at the edge of history, on the water. Thanks for the tour!

  2. My, time does march ever onward towards the big enchilada. Buddy’s mom was the bookkeeper at Dickman mill. He got a job as the night watchman out of high school. We used to ride our motorcycles down there in the middle of the night, drink bootlegged Coors, smoke Mexican dirtweed and hunt rats wIth a pellet rifle, all perfectly normal back then, multiple felonies now, probably. Tacoma actually has some pretty wild history, more’s the pity no one remembers…

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