Clang, clang, clang go the streetcars


Mystery abounds. Were there was one, two, three or more streetcar companies operating in the Twin Cities area? The following was discovered by searching the Lewis County Historical Museum files on transportation.

"That Centralia and Chehalis, the twin cities of Lewis county, will be soon brought into closer relationship seems now to be an assured fact. A company has been formed for the purpose of building and operating an electric car line between the two cities."

A Centralia News-Examiner item on Sept. 22, 1905 (also quoted above), names the Centralia-Chehalis Electric Railway & Power Co. as the company starting the streetcar line. By April 2, 1909, we learn, in another News-Examiner story, that a large force of men had begun clearing a right of way between Centralia and Chehalis for the streetcar tracks.

From one Henry A. Dunckley, in an Oct. 10, 1966, Daily Chronicle story, we learn that "Most of today's generations - and that includes those with white hair - think the Twin Cities never had more than one street car firm. But it did."

Dunckley's recollections include his questionable memory that the first streetcar ran in Centralia in the early 1890s.

He continued: "The name of the company is forgotten. Used was an old steam locomotive of the 'low down' type."

"The car barn was near what later became the corner of Alder Street and Tilley Avenue. That is not far from the end of Main Street. The car started from Main Street and went east to Tower Avenue, then turned north as far as Fourth Street. Evidently the venture was not too successful for the car did not operate any length of time. The engine was finally destroyed by fire and was not rebuilt."

Whether or not that early date was correct, Dunckley got us back on track with recorded history when he recalled:

"Time went by until just before 1910 when the Twin Cities felt a need for transportation between them. The first intercity traffic, outside of wagons, buggies and railroad steam engines, became trolleys operated by the Washington-Oregon Corporation. It began in 1910 with its electrical power from a power plant on Coal Creek."

"The street route between the Twin Cities was east of the former Pacific highway, along the base of the hill. The car route to Centralia included a towering, timbered overpass structure just north of the Southwest Washington fairgrounds to cross the mainline railroad tracks. The route then ran almost the full of Tower Avenue, turning to the west on Third Street. Some blocks down that street was the end of the line. Chehalis route ran down National Avenue, shifting over onto Pacific Avenue by the Union depot. The car continued then out to near the Green Hill school.

"The work began about midway between the two places, where the road strikes the hillside just beyond Salzer creek. From this point the work will be carried toward Chehalis first. The route into Centralia has not been fully decided upon at present. Work will be hurried so has to have the road in operation for the Southwest Washington state fair that is to be held between Centralia and Chehalis this fall."

It is May 20, 1910, in the Lewis County Advocate that we first find an article, other than Dunckley's, where readers are told that track was finally laid to the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds.

The fairgrounds picture accompanying this story is dated circa 1912-14, in keeping with that time line. A May 6, 1910, story in the Lewis County Advocate reported that a "Twin City Traction Company was putting down its rails" for a line between the two cities. Was this rail company working for the Centralia-Chehalis Electric Railway & Power Company? The story doesn't say.

It does say, "Without the flourish of trumpets, breaking of champagne bottles or driving of golden spike the actual permanent track laying of the Twin City Traction Company commenced Monday morning on Pacific avenue near its intersection with Park street. In fact, so anxious was the company to start the big work that they overlooked the fact that they had not yet filed their acceptance to the franchise changing the route. They were given opening enough in the street however, to keep their crew at work while that was attended to."

A May 27, 1910, Lewis County Advocate story states that on that date the first streetcar was introduced into Chehalis. On Dec. 9, 1910, in the Lewis County Advocate, we again read about the Twin City Light & Traction Company. This time, this company was mentioned for providing an increase in pay to its employees. On April 12, 1911, in the Centralia News Examiner, we learn that Twin City Light & Traction co. had broken ground for a new power plant and had received trucks for a new passenger car, which they intended to build for their own plant in Chehalis.

Finally, on Jan. 14, 1943, we learn in an Oregonian story: "Uncle Sam will probably get the 155 tons of streetcar rails that lay buried underneath more than a mile of Centralia streets, Mayor Ray W. Sprague revealed here (Centralia) Tuesday.

"Mayor Sprague said an agreement between the city and the federal agency will be forthcoming soon. Sale of the steel, to be used in the war effort, will bring the city only the sum of $1 as legal remuneration."

All this is too much for this amateur historian who has lived here only five years. The Lewis County Historical Museum is hard on the trail of the confusion over the rail companies. If you have documented proof of who owned what, when, contact The Chronicle at the numbers below.

Pat Jones is The Chronicle's lifestyle editor. She may be reached by e-mail at, or by telephoning 807-8226. The Lewis County Historical Museum's Internet address is