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Nice to Know

Things to know about the Maple Valley Area

Lake Wilderness resorts


Dolores Gaffney, daughter of Tom Gaffney, reported her father and his brother Kain purchased the property on Lake Wilderness in 1926 from Abraham and Sam Cohen. The family moved to the lake and the resort opened in the spring of 1927 as Gaffney’s Lake Wilderness.

At that time there were three small family resorts on the lake. Dieckman with his two sons, Jeff and Don, had just started one, and across the lake was McKinney’s. McKinney’s also had a dance hall that was two stories high that they eventually turned into a skating rink. In April 1939 McKinneys sold their place to Gaffneys.

One of the older buildings was used for a dance hall, said Dolores, and they used kerosene lamps. In 1936 they built a new dance hall after the old one burned down. They had a 30-foot-high diving board as well as cabins, tennis courts, picnic areas, ball fields, and playgrounds.

In 1949 Diekmans and Gaffneys were combined and the Gaffneys decided to build a lodge. The design was developed by Young, Richardson and Carlson and won the grand prize from the Washington Chapter of Architects in 1951 and the top award from the American Institute in New York in 1952. The center column totem pole was carved by the famous Doug McCarter. It is 35 feet tall and weighs ten tons.

From 1950 to 1959 there was an airstrip operating behind the lodge, said Dolores, and “when the planes took off it was like they were coming right through the dining room.”

The [state] of Washington purchased the property in 1967 and it belonged to King County until [2002]. King County then turned it over to the City of Maple Valley

Janet Bertagni, Gaffney granddaughter, said she moved to the lake when she was eight years old in 1949 and her memories were mostly work, work, work. She would get up at 4 a.m. and go on “pick patrol” picking up all the debris from the day before—cigarette stubs, Popsicle sticks, napkins. Being the youngest she also got stuck with cleaning the bathrooms in the cabins and going on garbage detail. Occasionally, she would get a reprieve and ride to the bank with the profits.

She said the dance hall stayed open until 2 a.m. The resort would open around Valentine’s Day each year and go full blast until Labor Day in September. “My Dad was general manager of the resort and he never really went to bed in the summertime, but slept in a recliner chair.”

“Mother had one ritual, even in the summer. No matter what ever was going on for the full six months the resort was open, we all came home for dinner at 5 p.m. When the resort closed down and the people went away, it was wonderful, 160 acres and just family, said Bertagni. She graduated in 1959 and left the lake before it was sold.

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