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Centralia

Near the junction of the Chehalis and Skookumchuck Rivers, the city is often referred to as the “Hub City” of southwestern Washington. The town, an early railroad center, was served by four railroads.

With its sister city, Chehalis, it occupies a strategic position halfway between the cities of Puget Sound and Portland, Oregon, in a region rich in timber, mineral, and agricultural resources. By the 1940s, lumber manufacture was Centralia’s leading industry, and farm trade was an important commercial asset. Coal mining once active near by, was closed down by the 1940s, but today is active once again. The largest coal mine in the state is located just outside of town.

In pioneer days the town was the halfway stopover point for stagecoaches operating between-the Columbia River and Seattle. In 1850, J. G. Cochran, coming from Missouri with a young African American slave named George Washington, filed a donation land claim on the town-site. Later, Cochran freed his slave, adopted him as a son, and in 1852 sold him his claim for $6,000. The new owner built a home and filed a plat for the town of Centerville, offering lots for $10 each, with one lot free to buyers who built houses.

In 1891, the population—over 1,000—found its mail confused with that of another Centerville in the State, and the name of the town was changed to Centralia.

Images

1935 view of downtown Centralia.

Source: Washington State Historical Society

Ca. 1912 postcard of the Northern Pacific Railway depot in Centralia.

Source: Washington State Historical Society

Points of Interest Points of Interest icon

George Washington Park

George Washington Park, named for the freed slave who gave it to the city, occupies a square block in the downtown business center. In the center of the park are the buildings and grounds of the Carnegie Public Library, housing 12,028 volumes.

Centralia College

Centralia College is the oldest continuously operating community college in the state of Washington. Founded in 1925, the college has a rich heritage of professional and technical skill programs serving the community. The college is located in the center of the town on a tree-lined, 29-acre campus.

Centralia Downtown Historic District

This handsome 15-block downtown district sports one and two-storey brick buildings constructed between 1900 and 1930. Founded by the son of a slave (George Washington), Centralia (or “Hub City” for its transportation connections) is infamous as the site of the Centralia Massacre. In recent years it has revitalized itself as a “hub” for arts and antiquing day trips from Seattle and Portland.

US Post Office

Centralia’s first and only main post office, this building dates from 1937. Its familiar design can be seen throughout the West, with different building materials and decorative flourishes. Inside is a Kenneth Callahan mural, “Industries of Lewis County”, which is one of 18 murals in the state sponsored by the Federal Works Agency Section of Fine Arts during the Depression.

The Sentinel

The imposing bronze statue, designed by Alonzo Victor Lewis, was dedicated in 19244 to the four Legionnaires murdered during the Centralia Massacre. It depicts a US Infantryman from World War I and is inscribed with patriotic prose. The memorial is a political statement of the times and the history of the incident it commemorates is hotly disputed to this day.

Olympic Club Saloon

The colorful past of this saloon is alive again after an extensive renovation. Built in 1910, and decorated in Art Nouveau flourishes in 1913, its mahogany bar and French chandeliers have witnessed gambling and bootlegging, power plays and political intrigue. Today it is the centerpiece of a hotel, movie theater and pub complex.

Centralia Union Depot

Originally the Central Union Depot, the Great Northern Railroad constructed the station for its use as a passenger and freight depot in 1912. The Great Northern and other local lines also used the station. Restoration efforts began in 1996. Today this impressive building anchors downtown and continues its original function, serving as an Amtrak stop.

Armistice Day Riot

A seminal moment in labor history, this incident occurred on Armistice Day, November 11, 1919. A long-simmering feud exploded into violence when American Legionnaires and members of the Industrial Workers of the World (“Wobblies”) clashed following a parade. In the chaos, four Legionnaires were killed. That evening, a Wobbly charged with the murders was taken from his jail cell and lynched on a nearby bridge. The causes and the blame for the incident continue to be debated to this day.

George E. Birge House

Built in 1890, the Birge House is a fine example of the Queen Anne architectural style adapted to a small city. George Birge was a prominent businessman, involved in various timber-related concerns. He was twice elected Mayor of Centralia and served on the city council.

Frances and Mina Hubbard Bungalow

The home of a lumber baron, this large Arts & Crafts-inspired bungalow was built in 1908, and boasts Rookwood tile fireplaces and extensive decorative painting and stenciling. Frances Hubbard owned Eastern Railway and Lumber – one of the largest mills in Southwest Washington. He was deeply involved in the Armistice Day Riot. Known as having a rabid hatred of labor, he chaired the Citizen’s Protective League, which likely inspired the lynching of the Wobbly charged with murdering four Legionnaires. He was never questioned or charged.