Lester Became a Ghost Town When Its Last Resident Died at the Age of 99

Samantha Franco
Photo Credit: Gregory A. Minaker / Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain and BryonDavis / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

Lester, Washington was a small logging town located near Stampede Pass in the Cascade Mountains. Its economy thrived on the logging and railway industries, but when those dried up, so did the town. Its last resident stayed well past the height of the town, and following her passing, Lester also died.

A small but thriving logging town

The street facing side of the train depot that once existed in Lester
The Northern Pacific train depot at Lester, Washington, as seen around 1910, now demolished. (Photo Credit: Unknown author / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)
Steam-engine trains stations inside a rail station with men in front
Lester, Washington, about 14 miles west of the Stampede Pass tunnel, was once an important stop on the Northern Pacific Railroad. Before the advent of diesel engines, steam trains stopped at Lester to take on coal or have the engine serviced. This photographic postcard, postmarked June 29, 1912, shows the six-engine roundhouse at Lester. (Photo Credit: V.S. Waters / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)
An old photograph of a general store storefront
In addition to a hotel, saloon, and restaurant, Lester had a general store, owned by E.C. Morgan, the city’s postmaster. (Photo Credit: V.S. Waters / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

The town of Lester was founded in 1892 after Deans logging camp, originally established there, was large enough to be considered a small town. It was then renamed after a telegraph operator, Lester Hansacker. He worked with the Northern Pacific Railway Company when they set up in the area to lay a railroad across Stampede Pass.

At its peak, the town boasted a population of about 100 people and offered many amenities to its citizens. There was a train depot, a hotel, and even a school. The logging industry provided the town’s primary source of income, which the railway industry supplemented. Although it was small, Lester was bustling in its earlier years.

The steady decline of Lester

The front of a small wooden house
The Lester Guard Station, Barclay Building, Forest Service Road No. 45, Lester, King County. (Photo Credit: Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)
The side-front view of an abandoned building with vines growing along the walls
Here is the Barclay Building circa 2013, abandoned but prior to demolition. (Photo Credit: Bryon Davis / Wikimedia Commons CC0)
The front of a small wooden house
Lester Guard Station, Ranger Station House, Forest Service Road No. 45, Lester, King County. (Photo Credit: Library of Congress / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)
The front view of an abandoned house with no doors or windows
Here is the Ranger Station circa 2013, abandoned but prior to demolition. (Photo Credit: BryonDavis / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

Unfortunately, Lester’s economy took a major hit following a series of railway-related forest fires that occurred in 1902. These fires engulfed about 30,000 acres of the surrounding area which drove the logging industry from the town for a while. Logging did not return again as Lester’s primary income until the 1940s and 1950s.

By then, the railway industry was improving its locomotives, transitioning from steam to diesel engines. With no reason to stop in Lester, the railway presence was drastically reduced and ultimately caused a lot of jobs to dry up. People were no longer able to support themselves in Lester and were forced to move.

Problems with the city of Tacoma

The side view of multiple decaying buildings lost in shrubbery
The buildings were all left standing in Lester until they were finally demolished in 2017. (Photo Credit: Diablo_119 / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
A decaying shed with a red roof and tall bushed in front
The surrounding forest seems to have engulfed the remaining buildings left in the ghost town. (Photo Credit: Diablo_119 / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
A boarded up grain shed
The windows of this grain shed have been boarded up, leaving it in surprisingly good condition considering its abandonment. (Photo Credit: Diablo_119 / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
The ruins of a wood building that had been destroyed in a forest
This was the state of the fire station years after the town of Lester was abandoned. (Photo Credit: Diablo_119 / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The already-declining town of Lester received a major blow after issues with its neighboring city Tacoma arose in the 1960s. Tacoma was interested in preserving and protecting the drinking quality of the Green River watershed. In order to gain control of Lester, Tacoma began buying up the land where Lester was located.

Once they had ownership of the land, the city of Tacoma cut off access to the one road that led into Lester. Anyone who wanted to enter the town would have to walk two miles into the forest in order to find it. Without any railway or foot traffic, Lester really fell off the map.

The final citizen passes away

A sink and medicine cabinet inside an abandoned bathroom
Taken in 2012, this photo shows the state of the bathroom in one of the abandoned buildings located in Lester, Washington. (Photo Credit: Diablo_119 / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
The decaying walls of a kitchen with rusted appliances
The appliances and cabinets in this kitchen were left to rot and decay as Lester was abandoned. (Photo Credit: Diablo_119 / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
A kitchen table with a fridge in an abandoned home
Before demolition, these houses stood empty and abandoned in Lester, available only to those willing to walk two miles to explore the ghost town. (Photo Credit: Diablo_119 / Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

One woman, Gertrude Murphy, stayed in Lester until her death in 2002, at the age of 99. By that point, the town had essentially disappeared, but throughout its decline, she remained an active citizen. Murphy was a schoolteacher and served as a board member for the school until its closure in 1985.

Murphy fondly explained life in Lester: “Once, just once, I saw the fog freeze on the trees, it was so cold. It was lacy and light and feathery, just beautiful. In the fall, when the vine maples came in, they were like big bouquets all over the hills.” Murphy would be the last person to remember the town of Lester.

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The final three buildings that were left standing and rotting in Lester were finally torn down in 2017, officially rendering the town dead.