A military post in the 1860s. By the 1940s it became the largest industrial town in the region, and home of the Northwest Magnesite Company, which manufactured Thermax board, a mineral composition material used in building. The first newspaper in Stevens County, the Stevens County Sun, was published here. The town maintained The Chewelah Independent, and had six churches, two banks, and a library.
Thomas Brown filed a land claim in 1854 that included the present town site. A military post was established in the 1860s and an Native American agency in 1873. When the Spokane Falls & Northern Railway reached Chewelah in 1889, extensive mining operations began, including a smelter.
It once boasted the largest magnesite operation on the American continent with employment for about 200 persons and manufactured a variety of mineral products. Rock quarries were on Quartzite Mountain, about a mile distant. The name, adopted by settlers in 1883, is the Native American name meaning small, striped snake. Other spellings include Cha-we-lah, Chi-chel-awah, Che-we-lah and Chiel-Charle-Mous. The last one was used on the 1897 U.S. Land Office map.
Today Chewelah, nestled between the Huckleberry and Selkirk mountains, pleasantly blends its past with its industrial-rich present. The downtown area boasts a fine assortment of turn-of-the-twentieth century brick buildings that are filled with modern shops and businesses, including the Independent office, which is still located on Main Street. Manufacturing, agriculture, mining and logging are the primary industries.