Index founders were pioneers, not poets
The town of Index, Washington, was born more than a hundred years ago, the creation of homesteaders Amos and Persis Gunn. In 1889 the Gunns, with their son and five daughters, bought a squatter’s claim along the north fork of the Skykomish River. They built a home that doubled as a hotel for prospectors and railroad surveyors.
Everyone prospered. Miners found copper, silver, galena and gold. And the Great Northern Railway over Stevens Pass was completed in 1893, with Gunn’s settlement a stop on the line. That same year Amos Gunn had the settlement platted as a town site.
In a land offering endless scenic inspiration for imaginative names, Gunn named the north-south roads First Street through 10th Street. The roads paralleling the river became Avenue A and Index Avenue. These two routes had to be built up with gravel because they were former courses of the Skykomish — a situation the flood-prone river keeps trying to reinstate.
The new town was called Index, named for a nearby peak that resembled a giant index finger piercing the sky. That peak was later renamed Mount Baring, and the name Mount Index settled on the massive structure of coarse-grained rock that rises for more than a mile above the town site elevation of 550 feet. A serrated, horseshoe-shape ridge links Mount Index with the peak named for Persis Gunn.
Index reached its largest population ever — one thousand — with the mining boom at the end of the 19th century. Later, a large sawmill digested the land’s virgin timber; a granite quarry provided makings for the Capitol steps in Olympia.
The Depression, World War II and a changing economy robbed Index of jobs and population. Fires and floods also did their part in turning Index into the smaller, quieter town of today.
For history buffs content to trace the town’s lineage no farther back than 1889, resident and historian David Cameron has a reminder: The place was home to Skykomish Indians until terms of a treaty sent them packing downstream to a reservation in the mid-1800s. And their ancestors may have come here as early at 8000 B.C.
The census of 2010 put the population of Index at 178 — 84 males and 94 females. There were 170 whites, no blacks, and a sprinkling of other races. Median age was 42 (half over and half under) and median household income was $51,250. One hundred and twelve residents were high school graduates and 39 of these held BA’s or higher. Thirty-six of the 116 houses in town were vacant, used mainly as vacation homes.
For the 98256 zip-code area, the census reported a population of 420 — half males and half females. The median age was 50 years. In addition to Index residents, that area includes folks who live nearby along the north and south forks or main stem of the Skykomish (including Don and Jonelle of the Graydon Reserve, on the north fork about half a mile east of the general store).
Index continues to earn its clichéd description as a “sleepy little village” — except on sunny summer weekends when urban escapees crowd the general store, the river, the trails, the climbing crags. Index has been “discovered,” but it isn’t likely to grow much. The tight confines of the valley and a raft of land-use restrictions should see to that.