At Dickman Mill Park, all that’s left of Tacoma's heritage as the “Lumber Capital of the World” are some concrete foundations, remnants of the docks and a sign explaining the history of one of the busiest mills on the waterfront.
That's about to change, thanks to a generous gift to the community from a modern health solutions company that traces its roots to 1917 and the heyday of Tacoma’s lumber industry.
Cambia Health Solutions, the parent company of Regence BlueShield, is making a significant community gift to Metro Parks Tacoma to restore a 15-ton throwback to Tacoma’s history – the last known “head saw” in Washington. The bulk of the donation will cover the cost of expanding Dickman Mill Park to update the park and make room for the display.
“In 1917, we were founded by timber workers who pooled a small percentage of their weekly wages to provide a safety net in case of sickness and injury. As Cambia reflected on our centennial, we want to recognize our hometown of Tacoma and the industry from which we came,” said Mark Ganz, president and CEO of Cambia Health Solutions. “This restored head saw will immortalize the legacy Cambia shares with the logging industry, the Dickman family and with this city. We hope by honoring our roots in this way, we give something back to be shared and enjoyed by this community for the next 100 years.”
Large head saws were rendered obsolete in the latter half of the 20th century thanks to modern logging practices. The Dickman Mill saw is listed on the state and local registers of historic places and artifacts.
“Metro Parks developed part of the Dickman Mill site into a beautiful park in the 1990s, and we’ve always wanted to expand it in a way that would use the head saw as an educational tool,” said Andrea Smith, president of the Metro Parks Board of Commissioners. “This partnership with Cambia is the perfect fit.”
The old Dickman Lumber Company head saw – named because it made the first cuts into logs brought to the mill – was a mechanical marvel manufactured by Sumner Iron Works in Everett and installed in 1923. Powered by a 350-horsepower Westinghouse motor, it could cut boards as long as 65 feet, and cut up to 150,000 feet of lumber a day at its peak in the 1920s and 1930s. Two huge wheels held a 15-inch-wide band saw that was changed twice a day and re-filed. Logs were placed on the 12-foot by 45-foot carriage, or “head rig.” A stream of water ran down the saw to lubricate it.
The 9-acre Dickman mill, which closed in 1977, was the last operating saw mill on the Ruston Way waterfront. The head saw, which stood 34 feet high during its operations, has been lying in pieces in Point Defiance Park’s maintenance yard for some time.
“That head saw is an important symbol from Tacoma’s past,” said 92-year-old Ralph “Bud” Dickman II, whose father bought the mill in 1922. “I am so grateful to Cambia for their generous gift. I’ve been waiting years for the right partner to come along and see the value in restoring it so the public can appreciate it.”
Now the saw is destined to return to its original home on Tacoma's waterfront, which today features more than 2 miles of parks and is one of the most popular attractions in the region. The project is expected to take two to three years to design, obtain permits and build.
About Metro Parks Tacoma:
Founded in 1907, Metro Parks is the oldest independent park district in Washington State. The district is governed by a 5-member elected board and manages more than 2,800 acres of land and attractions, including two zoos, the Fort Nisqually Living History Museum, and more.
About Cambia Health Solutions, Inc.
Cambia Health Solutions, headquartered in Portland, Oregon with offices in Washington state, Idaho and Utah is dedicated to transforming health care. We put people at the heart of everything we do as we work to make the health care system more economically-sustainable and efficient for people and their families. Our company reaches more than 70 million Americans nationwide, including more than two million people in the Pacific Northwest who are enrolled in our regional health plans. To learn more about us, visit CambiaHealth.com or Twitter.com/cambia.