Just beyond the most-distant Eastside suburbs sits century-old Carnation, which has maintained a feel and look that have disappeared from much of the fast-growing region.
It may seem like the land that time forgot, but Carnation has just spiritedly resisted the charms of change.
The development that radiated eastward from Seattle and reformed Bellevue, Redmond and Sammamish, has hardly touched Carnation, a square-mile stretch of country in the Snoqualmie Valley south of Duvall.
Vast expanses of green farmland stretch for miles into the Cascade foothills, and working barns are the landscape’s most prominent buildings. As it celebrates its centennial this year, Carnation looks much as did in 1912, and residents are proud of that.
Growth, such that it has occurred, has come in the form of new residents, said city mayor Lee Grumman, who owns and operates Miller’s Mercantile on Main Street.
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Those include people who fled the bustle of downtown Seattle for the outlying suburbs years ago, and who lately have found reason to move again.
“There are quite a few people who used to live further west of us who abandoned it and moved here because they wanted to get back to (a smaller community),” Grumman said. “The Redmond and Bellevue and Issaquah that used to be like Carnation are now so not.”
Grumman herself moved to Carnation 16 years ago, figuring she’d give rural living a try after spending her entire adult life to that point in the city. As she got more involved in the community, Grumman fell in love with the area. So did Stuart and Kim Lisk, who relocated from Kirkland nearly 20 years ago.
“What really got us out here was how pretty it was,” Kim Lisk recalled, “but what got us to stay was a combination of neighbors and a little bit of property.”
They became deeply involved in the community — Stuart served on the City Council and was chosen to activate the city’s first stoplight last winter.
Kim Lisk is the longtime chairwoman of Carnation’s annual Fourth of July celebration, an event that attracts thousands to Carnation every summer.
The city’s rural grounding and commute time help keep home prices lower than they might be in places like Redmond or Bellevue, said Windermere Real Estate agent Nicole Ji, who lives in Duvall.
During the past six months there have been 35 single- family home sales in Carnation ranging in price from $101, 900 to $1.35 million, according to Windermere.
The median value of all single-family houses in Carnation, not just houses that have recently sold, was $316,200 in April, down 10.5 percent year-over-year, and down 1.7 percent month-over-month, according to the Zillow Home Value Index.
The median rent for single-family houses in Carnation was $1,786 in April, up 0.7 percent year-over-year, and down 0.3 percent month-over-month.
Along with relatively lower home prices there are other bonuses, too.
“Once they move in and start to really understand how we’re laid out and what the less obvious amenities are, they realize we’re very walkable,” said Grumman, noting that several parks and walking trails ring the city.
The older, central part of Carnation is considered “very walkable” and got a rating of 83 (out of 100) from Walk Score, a Seattle-based company that provides automated walkability ratings
In addition to the flag-bedecked Fourth of July celebrations, visitors are drawn to Carnation’s Remlinger Farms, the family-run farm that evolved from a corn and strawberry wholesaler to a family fun U-pick farm, complete with hay rides, a steam train and 4-H barnyard.
There’s also Camp Korey at Carnation Farm, dedicated to giving sick children a complete (and cost-free) summer camp experience.
Carnation, officially incorporated Dec. 30, 1912, got its first traffic light in December and didn’t have a sewage-treatment plant before 2008, which is partly why the community has remained small.
But there’s another reason, too: Every few years the Tolt River floods, briefly turning the city into an island.
Longtime residents have learned to see flooding not as a cause for panic, Grumman said, but approach it with a snow-day mentality.
“If you’ve never seen the valley flooded, it’s absolutely beautiful,” she enthused. Submerged underwater, the valley resembles “a giant mirror,” she said.
Lisk, who estimated that the valley floods about “every third year,” insisted that flooding not bother her, even if every Wednesday at noon a piercing siren rings out downtown, testing the Tolt River Dam Warning System.
“There’s no perfect place in the world, and you just take the good and the bad,” Lisk said. “Fortunately, the good outweighs the bad.”
Regarding the alarm, however, “I think a lot of us who bought houses here moved in and then heard the Tolt Alarm System on Wednesday and were like, ‘What’s that?!’ ” Grumman admitted.
“Filling up again”
It may look like the land that time forgot, but the recession reached even the Snoqualmie Valley.
In spite of new residents, Carnation’s population has fallen slightly during the past few years, and business on Main Street has been busier.
But while effects of the downturn did reach Carnation in a way that development has not, the small city may be beginning to see some recovery, too.
“We’ve had a lot of empty storefronts. And slowly things are filling up again,” Grumman said.
“It’s slow and hand-wringing work. But people are still here.”
Blythe Lawrence: firstname.lastname@example.org