Writings on the walls rarely include FW history

The Barker Cabin rests at the entrance to the West Hylebos Wetlands Park, 411 S. 348th St. The homestead was originally built in 1883 near what itoday 7th Avenue South and South 312th Street. The building is the oldest standing structure in Federal Way, according to the Historical Society of Federal Way. - Jacinda Howard, The Mirror
The Barker Cabin rests at the entrance to the West Hylebos Wetlands Park, 411 S. 348th St. The homestead was originally built in 1883 near what itoday 7th Avenue South and South 312th Street. The building is the oldest standing structure in Federal Way, according to the Historical Society of Federal Way.
— image credit: Jacinda Howard, The Mirror

In neighboring cities, historic photographs and paraphernalia, reminding residents and visitors how the city came to be, are proudly displayed in eateries, businesses and government buildings.

These items are mostly absent from Federal Way establishments.

Unlike many cities, Federal Way was not founded as the result of industrial prosperity. Gold was not struck here. Massive amounts of coal were not found. The fishing and boating industries were not the building blocks for the city. Logging took place, but it was not the city’s backbone.

Instead, the area was settled as structures, such as roads and businesses, were established. If one looks hard enough, Federal Way’s history can be discovered.

“I’ve seen change because of development,” Federal Way resident Lynda Jenkins said.

Beginning in the 1800s, the Federal Way area served as stomping grounds for explorers, American Indians and pioneers on their journey from one location to another.

In 1792, Captain George Vancouver landed on the beach in Poverty Bay, according to the Historical Society of Federal Way’s online timeline at What is now Federal Way once provided housing to American Indians during the summer months, said Barbara Barney, Historical Society of Federal Way administrative assistant.

In 1860, Old Military Road, traversing Pierce County to Seattle, was completed. In 1915, Highway 99, now called Pacific Highway South, was built by the Army Corps of Engineers using federal funds, according to the timeline.

Federal Way resident Vern Jenkins remembers traveling from Federal Way to Auburn in the 1960s via a dirt path called Peasley Canyon Road, he said.

The completion of roads drew people to the area. Around 1881, John Barker built his cabin in Federal Way. The Barker Cabin now resides in the city’s Historic Cabin Park at the entrance to the West Hylebos Wetlands Park at 411 South 348th Street.

The Barker Cabin is the oldest original structure still standing in Federal Way, Barney said. The cabin is not the only historic artifact that can still be seen, though.

“The buildings are there,” Barney said. “You just have to know what you are looking for.”

By the 1930s, the Federal Way area had permanent residents, grocery stores and schools. In 1926, Redondo Heights Grocery was built at 27905 Pacific Highway South, according to the timeline. The store was the first of its kind to be located between Tacoma and Seattle, according to the timeline.

The construction of Highway 99 created the necessity for this store, according to the tour guide brochure. Sutherland’s Gas Station and Grocery, located at South 342nd Street and Military Road South, was built in the 1930s. Despite its deteriorated look — chipping white paint, sagging corners and overgrown vegetation creeping up the store’s walls — the building still stands today.

Several small schools were also operating during this time period. Federal Way High School, located at 30611 6th Ave. S., was built in 1929. Students continue to attend classes there.

By the 1950s, the city was becoming more populated. The year 1955 brought noticeable changes to the city. Federal Shopping Way, a mall and entertainment structure, was built by J.R. Cissna. The attraction occupied land on the west side of Highway 99 between what is now South 312th Street and South 316th Street.

Federal Shopping Way included Santa Fair, a children’s amusement park of sorts, complete with rides such as roller coasters and Ferris wheels, a skating arena and double-decker bus for transportation.

Old World Square, featuring a European-inspired theme of shops and a clock tower, was also located on the property. A miniature train traveled the tracks circling the Federal Shopping Way.

“(Cissna) had some big plans for the shopping center,” Barney said.

Before Cissna’s ideas for Federal Shopping Way could be completed, he ran into legal difficulties and declared bankruptcy in 1967, Barney said. In 1995, what remained of Federal Shopping Way was demolished. Pavilion Centre now occupies the land. The only item salvaged from the center was the clock tower, which is kept locked up by the Historical Society of Federal Way so that it is not stolen, Barney said.

The 1970s and 1980s brought more retail growth and thoughts of establishing Federal Way as a city. SeaTac Mall opened with 42 stores in 1975. A year later, 90 stores occupied the mall, according to the timeline.

In 1971, the first vote for incorporation failed, with 1,519 people voting “no” and only 314 voting “yes.” The issue would be voted upon three more times — in 1981, 1985 and 1990 — before it passed.

Although Federal Way has been titled a city, it still struggles to operate cohesively, Federal Way resident Vern Jenkins said.

“Federal Way is still a bedroom community,” he said.

Growth became a theme for the city in the 1990s and 2000s. Today, the city is home to more than 83,000 people.

St. Francis Hospital has served its residents since 1987. Large corporations, such as Weyerhaeuser and World Vision, have made their homes in Federal Way. Likely to go down in history books is the City Council’s recent decision to build four high-rise buildings in the downtown core of the city where the former AMC Theater used to stand.

Despite all the change and development, Federal Way is still young and its history is still in the making. Federal Way has not been around long enough to create a copious amount of history, Barney said. This is partly the reason why residents cannot view the city’s history on many restaurants’ walls or in City Hall’s corridors, she said.

However, Mt. Rainier National Bank, located at 33515 9th Ave. S., displays historic Federal Way photos. The upcoming Applebees being constructed near The Commons at Federal Way as well as Banner Bank have both requested photos to display at their establishments, Barney said.

Contact Jacinda Howard: or (253) 925-5565.

Learn more:

Federal Way history has been documented by the Historical Society of Federal Way. To view a timeline of historical events or find out more about Federal Way visit the society’s Web site at or visit the Historical Society of Federal Way at 31850 7th Ave. S.W. To view more historical Federal Way photos visit The Mirror’s photo gallery at

More history:

The Historical Society of Federal Way provides a Federal Way Historical Tour Guide brochure, which features 30 historic landmarks, for one to explore. Included in the self tour is Barker Cabin, built in 1881 by Federal Way pioneer John Barker. The cabin can be viewed at the entrance to the West Hylebos Wetlands Park, located at 411 South 348th Street in Federal Way.

For more than 10 years the Historical Society has worked to restore the structure back to its original luster, Barney said. A volunteer work crew completed installation of a cedar floor in the cabin, August 28. Now, the Historical Society will begin searching for authentic timepieces to furnish the cabin, Barney said. It will then be opened for the public to see, she said.

“We are being as authentic as we possibly can,” Barney said.

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