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Seat of Grays Harbor County and one of the oldest cities in the region, this town lies at the confluence of the sluggish Wynooche (Ind. “shifting sands”) and Chehalis rivers. First settlement was made on the south bank of the Chehalis, almost opposite the mouth of the Wynooche, by Isaiah Scammon, who had come from Maine. His journey to this corner of the country is illustrative of the difficulties that beset travelers in his day. He came around the Horn to San Francisco and thence to Astoria by boat; crossed the Columbia River to Ilwaco near Fort Canby, then went by stage to what was known as Peterson’s Point (now Westport). From there, he crossed Grays Harbor and went upstream to the present site of Montesano. The settlement was known for a long time as Scammon’s; later, as Wynooche.

Chehalis County was created April 14, 1854, and the home of D. K. Welden named county seat. Virtually at the head of navigation on the Chehalis River, the settlement made up a popular subscription and built the steamer Enterprise in 1859 to run between Satsop and Grays Harbor. On February 9, 1860, the Enterprise, loaded with troops of Company A, Fourth Infantry, under the command of Captain M. Maloney, stopped at the harbor mouth to establish a fort at Point Chehalis (Westport).

In 1860, the county seat was removed to the J. L. Scammon place. The name Montesano, which by then had been given to the settlement, derived from monte (Spanish, “mountain”) and sano (Spanish, “health”), was probably suggested by the large hill back of the town (now usually known as Boy Scout Knob).

Settlers came in increasing numbers, but many of the newcomers crossed to the north side of the Chehalis and began a second settlement. The new site was bought up in 1870 by C. N. Byles, of Elma. A town was platted and given the name of the old settlement, which then became known as South Montesano. The new Montesano prospered during the 1870s and 1880s. The first store was established by John Esmond in 1872. The Arland brothers set up a hand-shingle mill in 1881 and received as much as $200 per thousand feet for products shipped to San Francisco. In 1881 Squire Zenor put up the first hotel.

Joseph E. Calder and James W. Walsh founded the Montesano Vidette (meaning “outpost”), later becoming Chehalis Valley Chronicle, in February 1883. When the two young men heard that the government was going to require filers on timber claims to advertise notice of application and notice of final proof, they hastily moved to Montesano, with a $400 roller press and eight fonts of type. In 1883, the Vidette had a circulation of 480 and most of the revenue came from publishing timber claim legal descriptions. Although it was only a four-page affair, with the front and back printed in Portland from stock forms, the two editor-printers experienced many difficulties. It is unclear when the newspaper changed its name to the Chronicle, but it was changed back to the Vidette and sold in 2002 to Stephens Media Group, which also owns the Aberdeen Daily World.

When Calder retired after ten months, his profits had reached 2,400 percent. More than anything else, this indicated the number of timber claims being taken in the region, particularly up the Wynooche River. Mills were springing up all along the Chehalis River also; and in the early 1880s a mill was built on Lake Sylvia, just in the back of the townsite. Montesano turned on its first electric lights in October 1889, approximately a month before the Northern Pacific Railroad stopped its first train at the boxcar station.

Schaefer Brothers operated a shingle mill employing 90 men; their sawmill here burned in 1931, cutting off the largest industrial pay roll in this community.

Lumber is still the main industry in town. Just south of the main business area is the Marys River Lumber Company plant near the site of the old Schaefer Mill.


Historic view of highway near Montesano.

Source: Washington State Archives

Historic view of the WHR listed Montesano City Hall.

Source: Washington Dept. of Archaeology and Historic Preservation

1968 view of the Schafer (or Schaeffer) House. Photo by Werner Lenggenhager.

Source: Washington State Digital Archives

Ca. 1950 aerial view of Montesano.

Source: Washington State Digital Archives

Points of Interest Points of Interest icon

Blue Mountain Pea Cannery

The Blue Mountain Pea Cannery, started in 1936, was significant. It moved to Pomeroy in Garfield County in 1941 and processed peas for the national Green Giant label. The plant closed in 1960.

Residential Districts

The residential districts were notable for the number of large and elaborate dwellings. Numerous timber operators, who had grown up with the county and acquired wealth in the process, settled here and built lavish homes. Most striking reminder of these days is the Albert-Schaeffer Estate, covering a city block east of the courthouse. In the 1960s, the house was sold to the city, which in turn sold it back to a private owner shortly thereafter. The house was then moved one block north to make room for the city’s administration building, a modern structure that shares the block with the historic courthouse. The home remains a private residence today.

City Hall

The present City Hall, an impressive building for a small town, is the result of cooperation between city departments, private clubs, and private businesses. The building was constructed at the initiative of local volunteer firemen. They decided that their building could serve more than one function and considered a combination opera house and fire hall. When the building was completed, it was jointly occupied with firemen using some of the space for their own activity and the remainder, given over to the city government and the Eagles Lodge. Some of the other organizations using the building have been the American Legion, the City-County Library, the Boy. Scouts, and the local water and electric company. Because of the involvement of government, private organizations and business, the building is symbolic of the unity and spirit of co-operation of Montesano. The Montesano City Hall is also significant because of its attractive architecture. It is not unmarred by alterations, however: the original building had only two doorways for fire trucks, and these were arched. A third has been added and the arches have been changed to a more rectangular shape to accommodate higher and wider fire trucks. The main entrance was originally located where the south fire equipment bay is now, and there were arched windows where the present entrance is now located. Arched windows have also been replaced on the south facade. The windows of the second story have been modernized and, as previously mentioned, there are three small additions in the rear. In spite of these changes, however, the building retains much of its original contours and character.

Grays Harbor County Courthouse

The Grays Harbor County Courthouse, a sandstone-faced building with coppered dome, dominates the town and the wide valley to the south. When the lumbering industry was rich and location of timber property netted heavy tax returns for Grays Harbor County, the citizens built the courthouse, one of the outstanding county structures in the State. It was designed by the late Watson Vernon, Aberdeen architect. Among the murals decorating the interior is one by F. Rohrbeck, a Milwaukee artist, depicting the discovery of Grays Harbor by Captain Gray on May 7, 1792. Flanking it are panels of timber and mill scenes by F. Biderstein. Another Rohrbeck mural Governor Stevens Treaty with the Indians, February 25, 1855, is also flanked by panels done by Biderstein. The courthouse was the scene of the trials in the “Centralia Massacre” case between January 26 and March 12, 1930.

Mckenzie-Elmer Plaque

The Mckenzie-Elmer plaque in the courthouse memorializes county deputy sheriffs Colin McKenzie and A. V. Elmer, who were slain by John Turnow (or Tornow), known variously as the “Beast Man,” “The Wild Man of the Olympics,” and the “Human Gorilla.” Between 1910 and 1913 Turnow was a half-legendary figure of terror in the Grays Harbor and Olympic Wilderness country, a muscular giant, 6 feet 5 inches tall and weighing 250 pounds. He is said to have known the woods and its creatures intimately, to have clothed himself in skin and bark, and to have been a dead shot. Turnow escaped in 1909 from an institution for the insane in Salem, Oregon, and a year later killed two young hunters in Grays Harbor County. In March 1912, he was reported to be seen near Oxbow, on the Satsop River. Sheriff McKenzie and deputy Elmerwent after him, only to be found shot to death 13 days later. With a reward of $5,000 offered, and at times a thousand men combing the wilderness looking for him, Turnow baffled his pursuers for many months. On April 16, 1913, deputy sheriff Giles Quimby, Louis Blair, and Charles Lathrop stumbled on his hideout. In the rifle battle that followed, Blair and Lathrop were killed, Quimby’s bullet ended the bearded giant’s life.

U.S. Post Office

An unaltered example of a small-town single-purpose post office. Although the building retains Classical symmetry and proportion, it is a modern building. It is one of the first examples of the Starved Classical design used for a post office in the state. It is also the first and only federally constructed post office in Montesano, constructed during the Depression era.