NEWCASTLE — For years, Newcastle was an unassuming pass-through town for drivers using its main thoroughfare, Coal Creek Parkway, to connect to Bellevue and points beyond.
But it was driving of another sort that helped put it on today’s Eastside map. The Golf Club at Newcastle — with 36 holes of championship golf and panoramic hilltop views — opened in 1999. Since then, Newcastle has been a destination unto itself.
Located south of Bellevue and east of Lake Washington, Newcastle has experienced rapid growth during the past two decades. But its history as a key supplier of coal and timber dates much further.
In the 1870s, Newcastle was producing 75—100 tons of coal per day. Initially, the coal was transported from mines to Lake Washington via tramway — a lightly laid railway — where it was loaded into flat-bottom scows and guided across the lake by tugboats to Seattle.
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Eventually, the Seattle and Walla Walla Railroad would pass through Newcastle and deliver the coal, along with local timber, to cities throughout the state.
No one would mistake Newcastle for a mining town today. According to the 2012 U.S. Census, about 10,800 people live there, which is more than twice as many residents as when the city incorporated in 1994.
That rapid growth has done nothing to diminish the small-town feeling that Newcastle has managed to maintain, says Imelda Dulcich, executive director of the Newcastle Chamber of Commerce. She was part of the influx of new residents when she moved from Atlanta in 1999.
“Newcastle is large enough to draw businesses and restaurants, and small enough to create the feeling of a close-knit community,” she says. “I can go to Safeway and get pulled into a hug by an employee who has been working at that store for 20 years. If I go to The Golf Club at Newcastle for lunch, neighbors who work there greet me and stay for a moment to chat at my table.”
Newcastle ranked 19th on CNN Money’s “Best Places to Live” list this year. It was also on the list in 2011 and 2009.
“Newcastle is a family-friendly city filled with small-town charm, big-city access, and distinct neighborhoods with tree-lined streets and open spaces,” Dulcich says.
The city is known for its walking system, which includes a well-planned network of pathways, sidewalks and natural-surface trails. A volunteer organization calling itself Newcastle Trails works to maintain, preserve and expand the system.
The 4.5-square-mile city also includes 19 parks. The largest is the 20-acre Lake Boren Park, which is the site of community events such as Concerts in the Park and Newcastle Days.
Above it all is The Golf Club at Newcastle, the flagship course of renowned designer Scott Oki that sits high about the city. It opened in 1999 with its signature course, Coal Creek. Two years later, China Creek added another 18 holes of championship golf.
At the center of the complex is a 44,000-square-foot clubhouse and restaurant. And all around it are the views — Bellevue’s skyline to the north, the Cascade Mountains to the east, and Lake Washington and Seattle to the west. Directly below, fairway mega-homes ring the course.
Another large chuck of land in Newcastle is destined for big things. According to Dulcich, AvalonBay Communities has contracted to purchase the 52-acre Mutual Materials site and plans to develop a collection of restaurants and residential and retail spaces.
“The site will be a hub of the city — a place for residents and visitors to congregate, and a central lawn to be used as a gathering spot,” she says. “The housing will include town homes and apartments at the upper end of the rental scale.”