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.