Mittge Commentary: Centralia to Hear Hot Sounds of Cool Jazz in the Park

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Tonight the streets of the Hub City will be owned by the classic cars of Billetproof, which proudly calls itself “the world’s least important car show.” Before the engines roar, however, downtown Centralia will be snapping, tapping, singing and swinging to the sounds of jazzman Dmitri Matheny this afternoon during the year’s first “Music in the Park” concert.

What a sweet start to summer as the temperature rises: Hot rods and cool jazz.

Matheny is an acclaimed performer, composer and recording artist. His instrument of choice is the flugelhorn, a flared cousin of the trumpet. 

This year Matheny’s touring schedule takes him across the country, from Louisiana and New York to Arizona. This afternoon’s concert is a special stop, however, because it’s only his second public concert in his new hometown.

I caught up with Matheny this week. He’s excited about today’s show, in part because it fits with a dream he’s had since moving to Centralia: giving a concert in honor of the 200th birthday of Centralia founder George Washington. 

When he decided to move to the Northwest in 2015 (he’d lived in San Francisco for 20 years before briefly moving to Arizona), he wanted a place central to Seattle and Portland. He looked at different towns, but after they walked through downtown, he and his girlfriend fell in love with the Hub City. 

“George Washington and his story, and learning about the history of the town, was kind of the thing that pushed us over the edge into buying a home here,” he said. 

He was also impressed in meeting people like Scott White at the Fox Theatre, Neil White and the Aerie, and other Centralia natives who had moved away then returned.

“I thought, ‘That’s exactly the kind of place I want to live,’” Matheny said.

This is his second show in Centralia. As it happened, he played exactly a year ago, but his concert was later in the evening as the Billetproof cars were revving their engines. To help cut down on the sound competition, they moved this year’s show to earlier in the afternoon at 2 p.m. 

He’ll say a few words today about the founder of the town. It should be a great show. I’d encourage anyone looking for a pleasant afternoon in the park to come down early, find a shady spot, and enjoy a beautiful afternoon in Centralia.

 

George Washington: A Foster-Father’s Love — and Legal Protection

The continuing story of Centralia’s founder in his bicentennial year.

George Washington had crossed a continent and found the land he had dreamed of as a child. He had built a cabin, tilled the soil, and planted crops — and now two passers-by were about to claim the land out from under him by taking advantage of the Oregon Territory’s laws banning blacks from settlement. 

Washington had overheard them talking when they stayed in his cabin overnight. Their plan was to file claim to his land, then offer him some money to vacate the cabin and improvements. With no legal protections because of his race, they figured he’d have no real options but to take the raw deal. 

Washington didn’t see it that way. 

He turned his cows loose and set out walking the 25 miles to Cowlitz Landing to enlist the help of his foster father, who as a white man had legal rights to which Washington was denied. James and Anna Cochran hadn’t filed for land of their own yet. Washington proposed that they file claim to his land, paying him $200 for his cabin and other improvements. They agreed. 

James Cochran mounted his pony and rode quickly north, arriving at his new claim shortly before the men returned from Olympia, having made their arrangements to file on the land after buying the improvements from Washington.

Fortunately, the settler was a step ahead of them, and had friends willing to stand in where the laws wouldn’t let him go.

The Cochrans took out a donation land claim on 640 acres. Historic maps of the area show Washington’s homestead under the James Cochran name.

The “old people,” as Washington fondly called them, stayed with him for the rest of their lives. Four years later, after they have proven up on the homestead, Washington paid them $3,200 in cash to buy back his land from the couple who had saved it from being stolen away.

Next week: The Neighbors Stand Up for George Washington

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Brian Mittge is proud to be among those who moved away and returned to raise a family in his hometown of Chehalis. Drop him a line at brianmittge@hotmail.com.

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