Heritage Tours:

Search for a tour by category:

Search site:

string(50) ""


The city has the brisk air of a small metropolis, compact with stores and business blocks. The industries of the town are assembled along the highway, paralleling the Cowlitz River.

In 1847 the founder, Peter Crawford, a surveyor from Kelso, Scotland, took up a land claim in what is now the northeast section of the town. It was on the main artery of travel between Vancouver and the Puget Sound country; many pioneers on their way north stopped here, and, attracted by the rich bottomland along the river and the timbered hills, decided to go no farther. Gradually, a settlement took form, and in 1884 Crawford platted a townsite, naming it Kelso for his home town in Scotland. Logging on the forested slopes made Kelso an important lumber center, and the town spread west across the river and absorbed the villages of Freeport and Catlin, which now constitute West Kelso.

Kelso was known as “little Chicago” early in its history because of the large number of taverns and whorehouses that catered to local loggers. The economy continues to be based largely on wood products. After the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens, many areas of the city were built on volcanic ash that was dredged from the Cowlitz River from the mudflow caused by the volcano’s eruption.


1925 postcard of a Kelso street.

Source: Washington State Historical Society

Ca. 1950 image of the Cowlitz County Courthouse in Kelso.

Source: Washington State Historical Society

Points of Interest Points of Interest icon

Cowlitz River Bridge

Form the bridge in the 1940s, the river presented a busy scene between January and March, the smelt season. Kelso was one of the world’s principal smelt centers. At this time, the river was crowded with small boats, from which nets were lowered and pulled to the surface laden with the tiny fish. Under the bridge, from time to time, great log rafts once drifted slowly on their way to the mills. Houseboats once lined both sides of the river within the area of the town.

US Post Office

The building is a one-story red brick example of the classic standardized plans for US Post Offices. It is noteworthy for the mural by David McCosh, “Incidents in the Lives of Lewis and Clark”. McCosh was a midwestern artist in the style of Grant Wood, who exhibited nationally, was mentioned in “Who’s Who in American Art”, and developed murals for the 1932 Chicago World’s Fair. He was a long-time instructor at the University of Oregon.

Adam Catlin House

Known as “Catlin Place”, this 1885 classic American Foursquare-style home was built by a prominent local farmer whose family holdings encompassed much of today’s downtown Longview. A member of the Washington Territorial Legislature, Catlin and his wife, Mary, founded the town of “Marysville”, across the river from Kelso about 1889. It was an important stop for travelers and freight between the Willamette Valley and Puget Sound, but by 1907 it had declined and was absorbed into Kelso. The house ended up becoming a boarding house in Kelso’s “red light” district in the 1930’s and 40’s before being renovated in the 1980’s.

“Old” Nat Smith House

This imposing Victorian was considered the finest mansion in the county when it was built in 1885. Smith was a sawmill operator and steamboat captain who came to the area then known as “Monticello” in 1854 to work with his brother, who had the first steamboat operation on the Cowlitz River. The house was purchased by Tom Fisk in 1919. Fisk was an attorney and judge who was also pivotal in the planning of the City of Longview.