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Chehalis

Near the confluence of the Newaukum and Chehalis Rivers is Chehalis (“shifting sands”), the seat of Lewis County. The business district, compact with modern structures and trim shops, has an air of prosperity and leisure. The city began as a settlement around a warehouse beside a railroad track in 1873, when the Northern Pacific built northward from Kalama to Tacoma, and ignored Claquato, then the county seat, three miles to the west. Some settlers in the vicinity decided that, if the railroad would not go to the county seat, the seat must go to the railroad. By 1874, a store was added to the warehouse, several houses were constructed, and the county seat was moved to the new settlement, leaving Claquato little more than a historic landmark. The new town was first named Saundersville, for S. S. Saunders, on whose donation land claim it was founded. In 1879 the name was changed to Chehalis.

Logging soon began in the near-by forests. Lumber workers of Scandinavian, Anglo-Saxon, and Scotch-Irish descent arrived, and remained to settle in the neighboring valleys. By the 1940s dairying, poultry raising, and fruit growing were carried on here. Besides lumbering, local industries include milk condensing, fruit and vegetable packing, brick and tile manufacturing, coal mining, portable house manufacturing, and fern shipping.

Points of Interest Points of Interest icon

O. B. McFadden House

The O. B. McFadden House is a historic landmark. This two-story, eight-room dwelling was built in 1859 by S. S. Saunders for O. B. McFadden, who was later (1881) appointed Chief Justice of Washington Territory. It served for a time as the Saundersville Post Office. The house, preserved by frequent repair, has been occupied continuously since 1859.

Church of the Epiphany

Church of the Epiphany, perhaps the most interesting building in the city. Left unchanged since it was built in 1884, it resembles the early Episcopalian churches of New England, with its trussed ceiling and ornamented spire. Through stained-glass windows the light sifts in on handmade furniture of native red cedar.

Chehalis Downtown Historic District

The downtown Chehalis of today is actually its third city center. Following two disastrous fires in 1892, downtown was re-built through about 1930 using brick and stone. The historic district today contains about thirty-five of the community’s most important buildings.

Hillside Historic District

The homes of Chehalis’ working families are found in this district, lying one block east of downtown. An eclectic mix of Craftsman bungalows, English Tudor, late Victorian and American Foursquare style reflect the economic and social mix of its early residents.

Pennsylvania Avenue-West Side Historic District

The “gold coast” of Chehalis, this district includes over 50 buildings generally constructed between 1900 and 1915. Located immediately west of downtown, these homes, on large landscaped lots, housed the civic and business leaders of the community.

O.K. Palmer House

A good example of the American Foursquare architectural style, this home was built in 1910. Mr. Palmer owned Palmer Lumber Company, a millwork and cabinetry firm that was associated with early pre-fabricated catalog homes. His millwork was featured in Montgomery Ward catalogues.

St. Helens Hotel

This six-story building is the tallest in Chehalis. It was built in four stages beginning in 1917 by William Francis West, the son of a local pioneer, and a prominent philanthropist. It opened in 1921. It was converted into apartments in 1977.

US Post Office

This classic red brick Georgian Revival post office (one of only two so designed in the state) was built in 1934.

Lewis County Courthouse

Local architect Jack DeForest Griffin designed this impressive Beaux Arts styled courthouse, built 1925-27 of brick sandstone. Over the years it saw its share of inappropriate additions and bad remodeling. But determined preservationists have lead a years-long successful effort to renovate the interior and exterior.