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The city came into existence in the early 1870s, when a railroad under construction from Kalama to Tacoma located a camp on the site of the present town. Some local historians relate that the name of the city was taken from the number of the engine that ran on the line—No. 1090, ten-nine-o. Others insist that the Native Americans called the town “Tenino” (“junction,” or “fork”), when the railroad came through and connected with the Olympia mail stage.

In 1890, an event occurred which almost split the town in two. The depot was moved to a rail junction outside the town center, and a settlement was vigorously promoted at the new site. A hotel was hastily placed on rollers and hustled along after the depot. Several buildings were constructed; business began to spring up, and about 500 people were drawn there. The Tenino fathers, in a desperate effort to keep the original town intact, offered free real estate to anyone who would settle in it and the tide of emigration was stemmed. The truant hotel and other buildings were soon trundled back to the original site.

Tenino was front page news in the Nation’s newspapers in 1932, when it issued wooden money following failure of the local bank. The experiment seemed to work; and later, what started as a desperate emergency effort turned out to be very profitable: about $11,000 of the “lumberjack” was sold to collectors throughout the Nation. An echo of the Tenino adventure in “wooden money” was heard in the State when, following enactment of the State sales tax, veneer tax tokens were used during a temporary shortage of metal tokens.

Tenino sandstone, from near-by quarries, has been used in the Old Capitol Building at Olympia, and Science Hall at Pullman. On February 17, 1912, a blast in which two carloads of powder were exploded was shot at the No. 2 quarry of the Hercules Sandstone Company to supply the first Grays Harbor jetty with 375,000 cubic yards of rock.

A small shingle mill and neighboring farms support the town. Dairy farms and berry fields are seen along the country roads in the vicinity, where one strawberry farm, two thousand acres in extent, is situated.

Points of Interest Points of Interest icon

Tenino Depot

Now a museum, this small stone depot was built for the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1914. It is constructed of the native grey sandstone so prevalent in the area. The depot was moved from its original location in 1975.

Ticknor School

This one-room schoolhouse is now a companion to the depot, but originally sat on the site of the first school in the Skookumchuck Vallley. It was moved in 2002, and is considered the best example of a one-room schoolhouse in Thurston County.

Tenino Stone Company Quarry

The place that defines Tenino, the quarry is a terraced “box” cut out of a hillside. After it ceased operating, springs in the quarry created the community swimming pool. Prominent buildings constructed of Tenino sandstone include the historic courthouses in Thurston and Grays Harbor Counties and many post office buildings in Washington and Oregon.

Tenino Downtown Historic District

Tenino flourished as a transportation hub in the 1870’s when the Northern Pacific Railroad line running from the Columbia River to Puget Sound came through town, and a spur was eventually constructed from Olympia. Quarrying began in the 1880’s. A devastating fire in 1906 resulted in the construction of the sandstone buildings in downtown today. The transportation theme continued in the 1920’s when the Pacific Highway (Highway 99) came through. Alas, Tenino was bypassed by Interstate 5 in the 1950’s, leaving the impressive collection of sandstone buildings in downtown to be rediscovered in the 21st Century.

Hercules Sandstone Company Office

The first occupant of the Tenino City Hall and Library was the Hercules Sandstone Company. Founded in 1891, it constructed this building in 1913 of local stone. By 1922, the company had folded, and the City purchased the building and moved it from a nearby quarry its present location.