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Snoqualmie Building

The Snoqualmie Building, built as a power substation, shown here as the UW Tacoma library reading room
Snoqualmie Building | Photo courtesy of University of Washington Tacoma

Built in a formal, neoclassical style, the Snoqualmie Falls Power Co. Transfer House was constructed in 1902. The building housed massive transformers, distributing hydroelectric power to run the streetlights, streetcars, industry, and houses of Tacoma.

Harnessing the power of the falls+

Water abounds in the Northwest – and many of the region’s early boosters saw this as another natural resource to be capitalized on. In 1899, the Snoqualmie Falls Power Company constructed the Snoqualmie Falls Dam, harnessing the power of the 270-foot falls in the Cascade Mountains. 

Though the City of Tacoma had purchased Tacoma Light and Water in 1893, the system was slow and unreliable, and the City continued to rely on private utilities.

To bring power to the citizens of Tacoma – illuminating streetlights, powering streetcars, and fueling the growing manufacturing industries – the Snoqualmie Falls Power Company needed to reduce the voltage of the power arriving from the falls. They constructed the Snoqualmie Falls Power Co. Transfer House to house the facility's giant, voltage-reducing transformers.

Modern electricity, neoclassical design +

The location along the Prairie Line was strategic. The power was distributed to several of the warehouses along the nearby spur lines, powering their electric elevators. At the time, the building provided most of the power to Tacoma, in a time when cities across the country were just beginning to see the widespread use of electricity. With the construction of the Nisqually Dam and Substation in 1911, just a few blocks South of the Snoqualmie Falls Transfer House, the availability of affordable power in Tacoma increased exponentially.

Built with neoclassical proportions, the building is reminiscent of a Greek temple. That neoclassical architecture was put to good use in 1996, when the University of Washington Tacoma repurposed the building as the library’s reading room.


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