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If you’ve never heard of Franklin Townsite, you’re not alone.
The site near Black Diamond is home to a once-bustling coal mining community that flourished in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The town, which no longer exists, was serviced by a railroad. It had a general store, a school and housing. Today, it is a heritage site managed by Washington State Parks.
Parks stewardship staff have been working hard to preserve the cultural resources at Franklin Townsite. In addition to remnants of the coal mining industry, there is a cemetery on the property, which has been heavily vandalized. Graffiti covers the remains of old structures, and many of the headstones have been stolen or destroyed.
In an effort to recover lost information about those buried at Franklin, I was tasked with creating a list of individuals interred at the cemetery. During my research, Parks Collections Curator and NAGPRA Specialist Alicia Woodsforwarded an exciting email from the Black Diamond Historical Society.
We learned that an individual, Ben Weedon, had found the headstone of an infant from Franklin in the Siuslaw National Forest near Corvallis, Ore., some 260 miles away.
Ben is a member of the Gambler500, an off-road adventure group whose members clean up litter and abandoned vehicles on public lands. During one of their events, they came across an abandoned trailer. As they dug through the debris, they discovered the headstone (pictured at left) of Antti Johnson, an 11-month-old girl who had been buried in Franklin, Wash. in 1897. Her father, Martin, was also interred in the Franklin cemetery in 1902.
It just so happened my wife and I were headed to Eugene to visit friends that weekend, so I reached out to Ben on a Wednesday to set up a meeting. As Sunday came around, I still hadn’t heard from him, so I figured I’d be coming home empty handed.
Before we left town, we stopped for breakfast at a pancake house. Just as we ordered our food, I got a message from Ben. It turned out he lived 15 minutes away!
After making the exchange and talking for a while, we shook hands, took a photo and parted ways. I headed back to State Parks Collections, where the headstone currently sits.
While the days of Franklin as a bustling mining town are long gone, its legacy lives on. It serves as a reminder of mining’s importance in the development of the Pacific Northwest. This story is also a reminder that the public can play an important – even heroic – role in preserving our parks and the cultural resources within!
What to do if you find an artifact
State Parks extends our gratitude to Ben and his group for recovering this important piece of Washington history.
Removing such artifacts as Antti’s tombstone can disrupt, even destroy our history. It can also have heartbreaking consequences for people in our community – like the descendants of the Johnson family after the tombstone theft at Franklin Townsite.
If you find an artifact or something you think may be an artifact in a park, please track down park staff and email artiFACT@parks.wa.gov. Please do not post it on social media.