Hometown boy tells stories of what’s under 23-mile lake

The Chronicle (Centralia)January 1, 2014 

The town where Buddy Rose grew up no longer exists.

Rose, 65, born and raised in Riffe, remembers his neighbors and his family receiving condemnation letters from Tacoma City Light, now known as Tacoma Power, in the 1960s. The utility had plans to build the Mossyrock Dam on the Cowlitz River, which would inundate the towns of Riffe, Nesika and Kosmos.

Nearly 50 years later, Rose compiled stories he had written about Riffe into a book, “Stories of Riffe, Wash.,” which was recently published by Gorham Printing in Centralia.

“There is a lot of people that drive by Riffe Lake with no understanding that there were upwards of 2,000 people that lived there that were forced to relocate,” Rose said. “It’s important to put down the history of what was there before, a thriving community there.”

In the book, Rose writes about how Riffe was founded and how Tacoma City Light built the dam. Rose also shares first-person accounts about living in Riffe until age 15.

“This is a compilation of a bunch of stories I wrote individually for the East County Journal,” Rose said. “I just compiled all of those. It’s not really a chronological history of the town. There is a lot of first-person, and there is all kinds of stories about the people and places.”

Rose includes a list of all 376 family names on the condemnation list. Properties started to be condemned in 1959, Rose said.

Rose left Riffe with his family in 1963. By 1968, the gates of the dam closed, and the 23.5-mile-long reservoir behind the dam began to fill, Rose said, inundating the former towns.

“My family had come to Riffe not long after it was founded in the 1890s,” Rose said. “My family came there, and I have a long connection (to the town).”

The town of Riffe is now under Riffe Lake, which was first known as Mossyrock Lake and later as Davisson Lake.

Riffe Lake, which stretches more than 13 miles along U.S. Highway 12 east of Mossyrock, is a reservoir formed by Mossyrock Dam and has a year-round open fishing season, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The town of Riffe, settled mostly by people from Appalachia in the 1880s and 1890s, was named after the early settler, Floyd Riffe, who came to the area from West Virginia in 1893 with a group of about 60 people, according to Rose’s book.

Rose, who has sold nearly 300 of the first 500 copies printed, hopes his book serves as a way to remember the lost town.

Last spring, Rose took a boat out on Riffe Lake and stopped on the water above where the town would have been. Sitting in the boat is the closest Rose can get to his hometown.

“I went over to where the center of Riffe was and the depth finder was at 200 feet,” Rose said. “You will never be able to see any part of Riffe.”

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