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Aberdeen lies at the confluence of the Chehalis and the Wishkah Rivers, facing Grays Harbor. The larger of the cities with compact blocks of substantial office buildings, stores, hotels, garages, and theaters along Whishkah Street, the main thoroughfare has the appearance of a small metropolis. North of the business section, the terrain rises to the higher ground of the residential area. until it reaches the heights of Bel-Aire, which, with its fine homes, is the social peak as well as the topographic apex of the city. Here a panoramic view of the city and Grays Harbor may be had, with Chehalis Point Lighthouse at the entrance, and a glimpse of the roiling Pacific to the west.

On the border of the planked streets fringing the mills and factories, were ”crackerbox” buildings whose shoddy rooming houses, pool halls, parlors, and shops cater to workingmen. In East and South Aberdeen, where most of the mill workers live, national origins were reflected in the Swedish cottages and in the octagonal-shaped Finnish houses with their many windows. Here too, still stand a few old farmhouses, with soot-encrusted shingles and weather-beaten sides.

The industrial area of the city stretched along the water front. Here were numerous sawmills, with their sheds, yards, and loading docks. Stacks of freshly cut lumber diffuse through the streets the pungent odor of fir, cedar, and hemlock. The greatest stand of Douglas fir ever found in the Pacific Northwest was located in tract “21-9” (meaning Township 21N, Range 9W) which lay adjacent to the harbor. This one prodigious tract, 6 miles square, was logged for over 30 years. Besides these splendid stands of fir, Sitka spruce and hemlock rose in great abundance, and some cedar was also to be found.

Straddle-legged lumber carriers, rolled swiftly about the yards. Large cranes swung arms laden with lumber from the yard to the deck of a ship berthed against the wharf. From the mill came the shrill whine of high-speed saws and the muffled thunder of a huge log as it was hurled about on a rushing saw-carriage.

In 1867, Samuel Benn staked a claim and was joined by Alexander Young and James Stewart by 1875. Establishment of the Aberdeen Packing Plant (fish cannery) soon followed and was named for Aberdeen Scotland, home to some of the stockholders.

For Grays Harbor, the early years of the century were busy and exciting, despite recurrent depressions of the lumber market. The 1929 depression hit the Grays Harbor district hard, closing many mills. World War I brought a return of industrial activity. Ships were built at a half dozen Harbor yards, while other industries, especially those handling lumber products, worked two and three shifts to meet supply needs. Both prior to and during the war, Grays Harbor County was in second position among counties in per capita employment in the basic industries, with the greater number of workers employed in Aberdeen and Hoquiam plants.

Following a brief period of readjustment at the war’s close, the local industries entered a new era of growing markets, with greatly increased demands for plywood and veneer board, and newly developed wood-process products. In 1950, Hoquiam and Aberdeen each had two Douglas fir plywood plants, two of them among the State’s largest.

Meanwhile, through the 1940s fishing, canning, and the production of sea foods continued to grow in importance. About 200 fishing vessels operated into Pacific waters. The oyster industry, after suffering a wartime set-back, staged a recovery.

The year 1950 saw the completion of the Heron Street hydraulic swing-span bridge across the Wishkaw River, relieving some of the traffic congestion on the older bridge a block upstream.


Ca. 1930 view of Aberdeen.

Source: Washington State Archives

Ca. 1910 image of the Donovan Lumber Co., Aberdeen.

Source: Washington State Historical Society

Ca. 1937 image of the Becker Building and downtown Aberdeen.

Source: Washington State Historical Society

1912 view of the Aberdeen harbor.

Source: Washington State Historical Society