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Chewelah

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.

Images

Ca. 1945 image of a magnesite mine (quarry), southwest of Chewelah. This mine operated from 1916-1954.

Source: Washington State Historical Society

Historic panoramic image of the landscape near Chewelah, showing farms and mountains (Quartzite Mountain and Chewelah Peak have snow).

Source: Crossroads on the Columbia Collection, Washington State Digital Archives

1910 bird’s-eye view of Chewelah.

Source: Crossroads on the Columbia Collection, Washington State Digital Archives

Ca. 1945 image of the Northwest Magnesite Company’s plant in Chewelah.

Source: Washington State Historical Society

Points of Interest Points of Interest icon

Colville Indian Agency Cabin

The Old Indian Agency building was erected about 1870, and is the only surviving structure belonging to the original agency group. The Colville Indian Agency headquarters was moved from Fort Colville to Chewelah in 1873, to administer the newly-created Colville Indian Reservation, as well as the older Spokane and Couer d’Alene Indian Reservations. Major John A. Sims, the first Indian agent stationed at Chewelah, used the building as both a headquarters and a home. Constructed of squared-off logs with open mortise and tenon joints, the building retains its rustic character and was built without the use of nails.

St Francis Regis Mission Cemetery (First Site)

The St. Francis Regis Mission was established by Father Peter DeSmet, S.J., on August 4, 1845. DeSmet accompanied a group of mixed ancestry, Cree and Canadian, to a site they selected for their village. The members of this group were the first permanent settlers in the Chewelah area. In April of 1848, Father Louis Vercruysse, S.J., was sent from the St. Ignatius Mission to take up residence at the St. Francis Regis Mission. He built a chapel and living quarters of hewed logs for the priest. The mission was closed in 1854 and soon after burned by settlers in the area. The cemetery is the only known remnant of the mission.

Quarries

Located in Quartzite Mountain which rises 1,500 feet above the town. Rocks suitable for terrazzo, cement, stone, and stucco building materials were quarried here.

Eagle Mountain

By the 1930s multiple mines operated at the base of Eagle Mountain, including Blue Star Mine and United Copper Mine, and Amazon Mine