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Hoquiam is situated on deep water at the mouth of the Hoquiam River, 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean, facing Grays Harbor which is often blanketed by the fog or rainfall characteristic of the region. Pioneer settlement of the Grays Harbor region, it is the elder of the two cities. In economy, industrial development, and general character it is much like its sister city. West of the river the streets starting from the water front, run diagonally through the business are until they join with the east-west avenues. To the north is a residential area dominated by Hoquiam Heights. East of the river, streets run from the flats of the water front up to the heights of Campbell Hill.

The industrial area of the city stretched along the water front. Here were numerous sawmills, with their sheds, yards, and loading docks. Stacks of freshly cut lumber diffused through the streets the pungent odor of fir, cedar, and hemlock.

The earliest recorded visit of an American to this Part of the coast occurred in 1792, when Captain Robert Gray sailed his ship, the Columbia, over the bar and into the harbor which today bears his name. No attempt was made to establish a permanent settlement, however, until 1859. James Karr and his family were the first arrivals, followed shortly by the four brothers named Campbell. By 1869 a post office was established and in 1873 a school opened.

A trading connection between Grays Harbor and the Columbia River settlements was established in 1879 when the schooner, Kate and Ann began to offer service between the two points. This was followed in quick succession by the beginning of logging operations on the lower Chehalis in 1881; the unloading of the first sawmill equipment on consignment to George H. Simpson in 1882; the construction of a mill and the platting of the townsite of Hoquiam in 1885.

By the middle of the 1880s, business and industry in the Grays Harbor settlements were sufficiently active and the population large enough to invite the publication of a newspaper. The Grays Harbor News was started in Hoquiam in 1885, followed in 1886 by the Aberdeen Herald and in 1889 by the Aberdeen Weekly Bulletin (later the World). and the Washingtonian weekly, in Hoquiam. The completion of telegraph lines to the Harbor in 1890 gave the newspapers wire service. School facilities were provided, a hotel was built in Hoquiam in 1884, and in 1890 a planked road was laid between the towns, presaging their united development.

For Grays Harbor, the early years of the century were busy and exciting, despite recurrent depressions of the lumber market.

The 1929 depression hit the Grays Harbor district hard, closing many mills. World War I brought a return of industrial activity. Ships were built at a half dozen Harbor yards, while other industries, especially those handling lumber products, worked two and three shifts to meet supply needs. Both prior to and during the war, Grays Harbor County was in second position among counties in per capita employment in the basic industries, with the greater number of workers employed in Aberdeen and Hoquiam plants.

Following a brief period of readjustment at the war’s close, the local industries entered a new era of growing markets, with greatly increased demands for plywood and veneer board, and newly developed wood-process products. In 1950, Hoquiam and Aberdeen each had two Douglas fir plywood plants, two of them among the State’s largest.

Meanwhile, fishing, canning, and the production of sea foods continued to grow in importance through the 1940s. About 200 fishing vessels operated into Pacific waters. The oyster industry, after suffering a wartime set-back, staged a recovery.

The year 1950 saw the completion of the Heron Street hydraulic swing-span bridge across the Wishkaw River, relieving some of the traffic congestion on the older bridge a block upstream.


Ca. 1914 birds-eye view of Hoquiam, showing part of Grays Harbor in the distance.

Source: Washington State Historical Society

1951 view of the Carnegie Library (Public Library) in Hoquiam.

Source: State Library Photograph Collection, 1851-1990, Washington State Archives

Ca. 1940 view of downtown Hoquiam, showing the Emerson Hotel (center).

Source: Washington State Historical Society