History and Historical Sites in Lewis County
From rolling hills and valleys in the west to mountainous regions in the east, Lewis County, named after the explorer, Meriwether Lewis, suggests a feeling of times past. Even the cities of Centralia and Chehalis maintain their historic, small-town charm. This sprawling county, the largest and oldest in the state, has been home to many unique individuals.
Simon Plamondon discovered fertile ground
The first non-Indian resident of Lewis County was an important part of this rich history. Simon Plamondon was a French-Canadian who developed land for the Hudson’s Bay Company and proved to the world that the ground could be prosperous north of the Columbia River.
When the first documents of the Oregon Territory, Washington Territory, and Lewis County were being written up, Simon Plamondon was there to mark his signature with an ‘X’. With a reputation reaching tall-tale proportions this handsome man who some claimed to be seven-feet tall and have 60 children from 19 marriages might have been forgotten. Legend has it, Simon Plamondon was illiterate and could not write his own story.
Because of this his name nearly dropped from history.
George Washington claimed the land and fed the people
Another interesting piece of history is revealed through the life of George Washington, an African-American pioneer who founded Centralia, one of the first towns in Lewis County (initially called Centerville). His struggle for basic rights not afforded black men of his time led him to settle in this area in 1852.
Through his adoptive (white) father, Washington staked a claim for 640 acres where the Skookumchuck River flows into the Chehalis River. (It wasn’t until 1857 that Washington was allowed to own the land under his own name.) By 1891, he had sold 2,000 lots. During the Panic of 1893, Washington kept the town fed. Over the years, he grew wealthy and well respected. He remained involved in the town until his accidental death in 1905 at age 88.
Eliza Barrett constructed Chehalis’ first buildings
Around the same time George Washington developed Centralia, Eliza Barrett was impacting the future of the neighboring town of Chehalis. Against the wishes of men in town Eliza took her time dividing and selling her 300 acres of land. Unlike the men, Eliza was not willing to sell her holdings to make quick money. Her large land ownership and foresight gave her control over much of the way the town grew and expanded.
Together with her first husband Eliza claimed 300 acres of land in the Chehalis Valley. After nine years and five children Eliza and her first husband divorced. She remarried three times, had one husband leave her while the other two marriages ended in divorce. She had 3 more children by these marriages.
Through all this Eliza held on to her land and gradually donated it to the community. She constructed the first music hall, the Tyman Opera House, in 1889, the first Catholic Church also in 1889, a Catholic boarding school for girls in 1895, and the commercial building, Barrett block in 1891. The way Chehalis looks today can be attributed in great part to Eliza Barrett.
Centralia Massacre site nationally recognized
The Centralia Massacre of 1919 is recognized as a major event in the history of Lewis County as well as labor unions across the U.S. Although the original buildings are no longer standing, memorial markers at Washington Park (at Main and Pearl Streets) note the location of the Armistice Day Riot. The original site of the encounter is on the National Register of Historical Places.
To celebrate the end of World War One, the Centralia American Legion organized a parade. At the same time there was a group from the Industrial Workers of the World (I.W.W.) members speaking out against capitalism, the wage system, big business and big government. Viewed by the Legionnaires as unpatriotic and a threat to the community, the I.W.W. members or “Wobblies” as they were referred to, were a natural target. So it happened in 1919 that the Legionaires stormed the I.W.W. hall and the Centralia Massacre went down in history. Four Legionnaires were slain and eleven Wobblies were indicted for their murders.
Elements of Lewis County’s unique history are present today in the many historic landmarks throughout the country. For more information, call the Lewis County Historical Museum at (360) 748-0831.
Lewis County Adventures and Natural Attractions
In a state renowned for its parks and wilderness areas, Southwest Washington’s Lewis County boasts some of the best and most varied outdoor opportunities for camping, fishing, hiking, and family fun. Lewis County’s pastoral setting ranges from gently rolling prairies and river valleys in the west to the rugged Cascade Mountains in the east for skiing, mountain climbing, hunting, horse back riding, and wildlife watching.
National and working forest lands, cover approximately one third of Lewis County. Within county borders are portions of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie and Gifford Pinchot National Forests and the Mt. Rainier National Park. These areas contain a full spectrum of recreational, scenic, biological, and botanical treasures. Unspoiled and untrampled wilderness abounds in these treasured surroundings of Lewis County.
Nature: Its Canopy and Creatures
Lewis County possesses an incredible variety of flora and fauna. Old-growth forests of fir, hemlock, pine, spruce, and cedar cover the slopes. The forest understory and open meadows display a
dazzling assortment of wildflowers, ferns, berries, and herbs. Black bear, cougar, bobcat, deer, elk, eagles, and mountain goats inhabit this wilderness. An abundance of upland lakes and streams throughout the mountains converge at lower elevations to create the Cowlitz River for a generous supply of fishing opportunities.
Dominating the landscape for miles around is Mount Rainier, the second highest peak in the lower 48 states. Nowhere in the state are the major peaks of Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams more easily accessed than from the east end of Lewis County. Within the county’s boundary is 7,950 foot, Old Snowy Mountain, near the Cascade Crest Trail.
Mount Rainier National Park encompasses a dormant volcano, old-growth forests, abundant wildlife, 240 miles of trails, and 600 overnight campsites for wilderness camping. The east entrance is just outside of Packwood. Call Mount Rainier Guest Services at (360)569-2275 or the National Park Service at (360)569-2211.
The town of Randle is the gateway to the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument. A drive to Windy Ridge brings you within four miles of the gaping crater and provides the best views of Spirit Lake and blown down trees lying like toothpicks. The Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center and the Johnson Ridge Observatory, only six miles from the volcano’s crater, are reachable along a scenic route by taking Exit 63(Hwy. 505) off of I-5 through Toledo to Hwy. 504, the Spirit Lake Memorial Highway.
The Tri-Mountain territory provides a bounty of outdoor opportunities during winter and summer alike. Individual sports and family activities such as golfing, fishing, and hiking, aesthetic pursuits such as bird-watching, and exciting endeavors, including white water rafting, hang gliding, and mountain climbing are enjoyed here. Horseback riding excursions leave from stables in Packwood, and backcountry trips into the parks and wilderness areas originate in Randle. Here, archaeological enthusiasts will experience a rare glimpse into the past at the Layser Caves, revealed as recently as 1982.
Generous Servings of Untrampled Nature
The Gifford Pinchot National Forest offers a myriad of hiking trails in the warm months, and 19 sno-parks and hundreds of miles of trails for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling during the winter. The William O. Douglas, Tatoosh, and Goat Rocks Wilderness areas lie within the forest. These pristine areas offer wilderness seekers a generous serving of untrampled nature. Some of the best huckleberry fields in the Northwest, can be found in autumn. Emerging wild mushrooms and a kaleidoscope of fall foliage mark the change of seasons.
Lewis County Fishing Favorites
Riffe Lake, an 11,830 acre reservoir situated on the Cowlitz River, with an abundance of cutthroat, brown and rainbow trout, coho and kokanee salmon, as well as largemouth bass is a fisherman’s paradise. Mayfield Lake, only minutes to the west, has year round open season and is home to the fighting tiger muskies and rainbow trout.
Lewis County Alpine Skiing
Ski enthusiasts will find the driest powder in the Washington Cascades at the White Pass Ski Area. With a 6,000-foot summit and 1,500-foot vertical drop, White Pass averages 300 inches of snowfall a year. This was the training ground for Olympic medalists Phil & Steve Mahre. Call (509) 672-3100.
The second state park to be established in the state was Lewis and Clark State Park. Home to the nation’s last remaining old-growth lowland forest, huge hemlock and Douglas fir form a natural cathedral and softly-carpeted forest floor that creates an inspirational setting. Adding to the appeal of the park are well-maintained campsites and excellent interpretive signage. The park is on the historic Jackson Highway, near I-5 at Exit 68.
Camping & RV Facilities
Memorable parks include Rainbow Falls State Park 17 miles west of I-5 for wilderness camping options along the Chehalis River; Ike Kinswa State Park and Mayfield Lake County Park on opposite sides of Mayfield Lake, famed for its thriving population of Tiger Muskies; Riffe Lake’s Mossyrock Park and Taidnapam Park, both with RV sites, group sites and walk-in camping areas; two city parks in Chehalis include Stan Hedwall Park (with RV hookups and baseball fields) and Recreation Park with an extensive children’s playground and swimming pool; eight city parks and one county park in Centralia feature such attractions as an indoor swimming pool, ball fields, picnic shelters, playgrounds, access to lakes and rivers, and more. The Seminary Hill Natural Area in Centralia offers periodic naturalist lectures and tours.
Public Golf Courses
For devoted golfers, Lewis County has four public golf courses: 27 holes at the Newaukum Valley Golf Course (Chehalis), 18 holes at the Riverside Country Club course (Chehalis), and nine holes at both the challenging Centralia Public Golf Course and the forgiving Maple Grove Golf Course (Randle).
Lewis County Factsheet
LOCATION: Lewis County, located in southwest Washington state, covers 2,449 square miles(96×26 miles) from the summit of the Cascade Range in the east to the Chehalis River valley in the west. Following the path of the Cowlitz River, U.S. Highway 12, a scenic byway, is one of the four major year-round highways connecting western and eastern Washington. In the west, the county is traversed by Interstate 5. Centralia, Chehalis, Morton, Mossyrock, Napavine, Packwood, Pe Ell, Randle, Toledo, Vader, and Winlock make up the larger cities, towns and communities.
HISTORY: Founded in 1845, Lewis County is the oldest county in Washington state. Its boundaries once stretched from the Columbia River to what is now Sitka, Alaska. Because the land was so thickly forested, early development followed the rivers; steam-powered paddle boats brought settlers, goods and materials. The next path of development stemmed from the railroads, which linked the county to settlements in the Puget Sound and along the Columbia River. Timber and agriculture have been major industries throughout the county’s history.
HISTORICAL Lewis County Historical Museum
ATTRACTIONS: A restored 1912 train depot houses a variety of displays including an old-time parlor, kitchen, school house, Indian room, turn-of-the-century logging equipment and an extensive local history research library. Located at 599 N.W. Front Way, Chehalis, the museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9AM to 5PM and on Sunday from 1PM to 5PM. For more information, call (360) 748-0831.
East Lewis County Historical Museum(Morton)
Referred to as the “Old Settlers Museum,” this historical spot is located in the home of Gust Backstrom, a Swedish immigrant, and is a showcase for old logging and mining equipment. Located at 710 Main Street, Morton, the museum is open Saturday and Sunday(1PM to 4PM), Memorial Day through Labor Day, Free admission, call(360)496-6446.
A 1916 steam locomotive offers rides to passengers on weekends during the summer months. The train departs from Sylvenus Street, Chehalis, on a 12-mile round-trip that runs through the peaceful Chehalis River Valley. Dinner trains trips depart monthly. Call (360) 748-9593.
Centralia Historical Murals
Sixteen murals painted on the sides of buildings portray the history of the area. An informative walking tour map is available from Destination Centralia, 210 Railroad Ave., Centralia.
The Joseph Borst Home and Blockhouse Situated in Centralia’s Fort Borst Park, the blockhouse was built in the late 1850s to hold grain and military supplies. The home was built in the early 1860s, after skirmishes with the native people ended, to fulfill Borst’s promise to his bride. A model of a one-room schoolhouse is also located in the park. All three are open summer weekends from 1PM to 4PM. Call (360) 330-7688.
The Jackson House
An 1845 log cabin credited with hosting the first U.S. District Court north of the Columbia River, is located 10 miles south of Chehalis on the Jackson Highway, south of Mary’s Corner on Hwy 12. Call (360) 864-2643.
The Hillside historical district, on the east side of the historic downtown area is primarily located on Southeast Washington, Adams, Jefferson Avenues, Hillside Drive and Terrace Road. The area was first developed in the 1890s. The district was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.
Chehalis-Downtown Historic District Placed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1997, it encompasses the two block area generally considered the “Heart of Downtown.” The 23 contributing buildings provide an atmosphere of small town America of yesteryear.
Toledo – Saint Francis Mission
Simon Plamondon, the first permanent white settler, returned to his homeland in the Red River of Canada, a 3,000 mile trek, to request a mission be established to serve the five families employed by the Hudson Bay Company. On December 12, 1838, Mass was held at the first Catholic Mission in Washington state. The fourth church on this site was built in 1932. Notable are the historic cemetery and stained-glass windows. The church doors are open seven days a week.
Lewis County Parks and Wilderness Areas
Approximately one third of Lewis County is national forest. The county includes portions of the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie and Gifford Pinchot National Forests and the Mt. Rainier National Park, as well as the William Douglas, Tatoosh and Goat Rocks Wilderness Areas. The Mount Rainier summit, at 14,410 feet, is just 10 miles from the county’s northeastern boundary. Mount Rainier, Mount St. Helens National Monument and Mount Adams are easily accessible.
BOTANICAL INTERESTS: For those whose passion is plants, there are several farms (some organic) growing and selling culinary and medicinal herbs as well as ornamental corn, apples, gourds, pumpkins, flowers and bulbs. For a directory call the Washington State University Cooperative Extension (360) 740-1295.
Shopping in Lewis County
Lewis County is second only to Snohomish as an antique seeker’s destination. There are more than 350 antique dealers in nearly 20 shops and three malls concentrated in Centralia and Chehalis. Also in Centralia (at Interstate 5 Exit 82) are more than 50 name-brand factory outlet stores including Bass, London Fog, Levis, Lee, American Tourister, Carter’s and Pfaltzgraff. Besides the Centralia-Chehalis area, quaint country stores full of antique and contemporary treasures are found in every town.
Notable restaurants in Centralia and Chehalis include Historic Mary McCrank’s Dinner House, Plaza Jalisco, Rib Eye, Sweet Inspirations, Kit Carson, The Shire, Aldentes, La Tarasca and McMenamins Olympic Club, and a tourist favorite, Country Cousin. Elsewhere in the county are Peter’s Inn in Packwood, Mt. Adams Cafe in Randle and Brook’s Nook in Vader.
Accommodations and Hotels in Lewis County
Overnight guests have 800 rooms and a variety of places to stay from roadside inns to historic homes turned into bed and breakfast establishments.
Numerous recreational vehicle parks and camping sites are also available throughout the county. Many offer kitchen facilities, children’s playgrounds, picnic areas and water access and views.
GETTING HERE: The Centralia/Chehalis area is equidistant from Seattle and Portland, 87 miles from each, and 228 miles from Vancouver B.C. Interstate 5 provides access from the north and south. For Centralia, take exit 81 or 82, for Chehalis exits 76, 77 and 79. For East Lewis County, take exit 68 (Highway 12). Traveling from eastern Washington, take Highway 12 via White Pass. Hwy 6 west winds through rural countryside to the Ocean Beaches.
Destination Centralia, in conjunction with Amtrak, offers a visitor package that samples the history of the area. Amtrak’s “Shoppers Special” originates from Seattle, Tacoma and Portland. The package includes round-trip train tickets, a greeting at the 1912 depot, and trolley or van transportation to antiques stores, factory outlet malls, National Historic Registry homes, and the city’s historic murals. Overnight visitors are chauffeured to and from their lodgings.
Lewis County Convention and Visitor Bureau. www.tourlewiscounty.com, 1-800-525-3323.