Frank Merritt (holding shovel) and George Morris (with mustache) after the fire
Back in the early 1900s, you might have said the streets of Wilkeson were paved with coal. That’s not exactly true, but it does sum up the industry, which fueled this east Pierce County town from the 1880s onward.
In fact a Welsh immigrant to Wilkeson named George Morris opened a large coal vein right in the middle of town shortly after arriving in the early 1890s.
In time, the Morris family operated coal mines a mile northeast at South Willis and Spiketon. George’s sons, Abe, Jonas, John Henry, and brother-in-law Frank Merritt organized the South Willis mine in 1912. But like saw-mills of the day, fires sometimes ravaged the bunkers and plants where coal was processed.
This photo shows Frank Merritt (holding shovel) and George Morris (with mustache) after the fire, which consumed the South Willis facilities perhaps around 1917. Like a phoenix, rising from the ashes, the Morris family soon rebounded selling their coal holdings in Pierce County and acquiring Cassidy Coal Company’s Eureka mine in 1918. It was later renamed the Cumberland Coal Mining Co. In 1921, the family reorganized itself again as Morris Brothers Coal Mining Company, Inc., which acquired the town and mines of Durham, located between Selleck and Palmer-Kanaskat.
John Henry Morris next helped establish Palmer Coking Coal a company that incorporated in Durham in 1933. That company became the last to operate an underground coal mine in the state of Washington, closing the Rogers No. 3 in 1975. Today, Palmer sells sand, gravel, topsoil, and landscape products from the same sales yard it’s occupied in Black Diamond since the 1950s.