Lester is one of the few ghost towns in the U.S. state of Washington. Although most remaining freestanding buildings were demolished in 2017, numerous foundations from the settlement remain.
The town of Lester, Washington, was initially founded in 1892. It was created in response to the bustling economy required by the Northern Pacific Railroad as it laid track over Stampede Pass. The logging industry was driven out by forest fires in 1902, but became the town’s primary industry again in the 1940s and ’50s. At its peak, Lester was home to about a thousand people.
By the 1950s, steam engines and passenger service were declining, and so was the population of Lester Washington. But the 1960s and all throughout the 1970s would see big changes happening for the town of Lester. And not for the better. In 1962, the Tacoma port city started buying property in Lester. Their goal was to protect the Green River watershed by blocking all access to the town. The Green River, which stretched along Lester’s steep mountain valley, provided the citizens of Tacoma with drinking water. And they had every reason to be concerned because the quality of the water was diminishing.
Lester steadily shrank as economic opportunities left the upper Green River region. The city of Tacoma made an agreement with local logging companies to not hire Lester residents, which forced some Lesterites to move away in search of paying work.
The Lester in one form or another lasted until 1984, when mothballing of the rail line across Stampede Pass and legislation sponsored by the City of Tacoma essentially killed the town. By 1984, the town was abandoned.
Gertrude Murphy was one of the 26 people left living in the town by 1980. She had been a schoolteacher in Lester, but as the town dwindled, she became a champion for the town as well as a board member for the school. The school was closed in 1985, when the state legislature determined that the town was too small to operate a school, and Murphy worked full time to save Lester. In 1993, her home burned down, and she moved a mile and a half out of town into a cabinLester’s last resident, Gertrude Murphy, died in 2002 at age 99. Without anyone living there, Lester died too.