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South Bend

The seat of Pacific County and a lumber and shingle-manufacturing center. Proximity to the great oyster-growing beds of Willapa Harbor has made oyster canning an important industry. The stores and dwellings of the town, built on a narrow shelf between the hills and the river, are crowded close to the principal street and highway for a distance of nearly two miles. An annual event is the Water Carnival, held on the Willapa River each Labor Day.

In the 1860s and 1870s, South Bend was the metropolis of the County and a key point in the water and stagecoach transportation system of Washington Territory. Many quaint buildings, ornamented with scrollwork and filigree and crowned with cupolas, reflect this early-day glory.

The pastoral calm of the little settlement was greatly disturbed in 1892, when the town won the county seat from Oysterville, a rival across the bay. After a heated argument over the elections, during which the opposing town refused to give up the county records, a body of South Bend citizens appeared suddenly in Oysterville, one Sunday morning in February 1893, and departed unceremoniously with books and records.

In 1895, the Northern Pacific Railroad tapped the rich timberland adjacent to South Bend, and a period of swift expansion began. Promoters built a turreted 400-room hotel on the crest of the highest hill; opened it with a grand ball and riotous celebration; but closed it immediately afterward, without its ever having sheltered a paying guest. The real-estate schemes of the period were similarly deflated, but they did succeed in attracting many settlers. Lumber, shellfish, and improved transportation facilities aided in stabilizing the town, which became the political center of the region.


Historic view of flood damage in South Bend.

Source: Washington State Archives

Ca. 1915 image of the Pacific County Courthouse in South Bend.

Source: Washington State Historical Society

Points of Interest Points of Interest icon

Port of Willapa Harbor

Port of Willapa Harbor, where in the 1940s there remained numerous warehouses, docks, derricks, and other shipping facilities. Ocean-bound freighters were seen loading lumber at the port. Here the Willapa flows through a channel at the foot of a great hill. The channel was not visible from the highway, and it was a startling sight to behold an incoming ocean freighter riding high and apparently pushing its way on dry land around the base of a small mountain.

Pacific County Courthouse

The Pacific County Courthouse, constructed in 1910 and 1911, commemorates the close of the pioneer period in Pacific County and the beginning of the modern era. The building was designed by C. Lewis Wilson and Company of Chehalis and Seattle. The old-fashioned, silver-domed courthouse on Vine Street, in a carefully landscaped park overlooking the city, recalls the days when the streets echoed the soft clop-clop of horses’ hoofs and the quiet rattle of buggy wheels.

South Bend’s First School

South Bend’s first school, built 1875, is remembered for the novel method of instruction employed by the first teacher, John Dodge, an elderly man with long gray hair and flowing beard. Dodge insisted on teaching his pupils the alphabet by singing it to them. Lewis R. Williams in Our Pacific County states that “it took beginners about two years to learn it under his system, and although many of his pupils were sixteen and seventeen years old, he made it plain they were not old enough, nor sufficiently advanced, to take up the study of English grammar!”

Masons Lodge

The old Masons Lodge, a concrete structure that served as South Bend’s opera house and is now a sweater store.

Residential Development

Evidence of South Bend’s role as a lumber center remains in the handsome, well-maintained houses overlooking the river. Several fine examples of Queen Anne-style architecture, with shingled exteriors and ornate woodwork, can be found in the neighborhood.

South Bend Carnegie Library

The South Bend library was established in 1907, and the city was promised a Carnegie grant of $10,000 in January of 1908. Construction of the permanent library, however; did not begin until 1912. Little is known about the architect other than that he was the husband of a local girl whose father was a city councilman. The contractor was Willapa Construction, which bid $8,970 for the job. The building has served as the city library without significant changes since it opened in 1913.

Lumber Exchange Building

The Lumber Exchange Building is a two-story, concrete block commercial structure located in the center of the South Bend business district. Constructed in 1907, the building is situated at a prominent intersection on the city’s main waterfront thoroughfare, facing the Willapa River. The building is the most substantial (and one of the few masonry) structures in a district characterized by small scale frame buildings.

Russell House

The John Russell House is significant to the city of South Bend as a primary example of boom period construction dating from the arrival of the railroad in the Pacific Northwest. A particularly well-preserved specimen of Queen Anne architecture, the house is thought to have been designed by its owner, architect John Russell, in 1891. The dwelling was occupied by the S. H. Eichners, a prominent South Bend banking family, between 1904 and the mid-1930’s. Sited high above town in the Alta Vista Addition, the Russell House has become a well-known visual landmark in South Bend. It remains today a reminder of the town’s formative, energetic years.