On Jan. 8, 1875, George Washington and his wife, Mary Jane, file the plat that establishes the town of Centerville, soon to be renamed Centralia. George Washington, a pioneer from Virginia, is the son of an African-American slave and a woman of English descent. For the next 30 years, he is a leading citizen, promoter, and benefactor of the town he founds.
Washington was born in Frederick County, Va., on Aug. 15, 1817. When his father, a slave, was sold and taken from the area soon after George’s birth, his mother left him with a white couple named Anna and James Cochran (or Cochrane), who raised him.
While George was still a child, the Cochrans moved west to Ohio and then Missouri. As an adult, Washington tried his hand at several businesses in Missouri and Illinois, but was frustrated each time by discriminatory laws. By 1850 he decided to head farther west in the hope of finding more freedom. The Cochrans joined him, and on March 15, 1850, the family set out with a wagon train heading west. They settled first in Oregon City, but within a few years crossed the Columbia River into what would soon become Washington Territory.
Platting the Town
On Jan. 8, 1875, the Washingtons filed the plat for their town, which they called Centerville, at the Lewis County courthouse in nearby Chehalis. The initial plat consisted of four blocks platted into lots, which Washington offered for sale at $10 per lot to anyone who would settle in the town.
Washington later filed additional plats, adding to the size of the town. The Washingtons gave land to their Baptist congregation for a church and cemetery, and helped build the church. They also set aside land for a public square, which became Centralia’s City Park, now named George Washington Park.
The town grew steadily. But while settlers liked the location, and the favorable terms Washington offered, they did not care for the name Centerville, in part because the town was confused with one of the same name near Goldendale, Klickitat County. By 1883, the name was changed to Centralia, based on the suggestion of a settler from Centralia, Illinois. In 1886, Centralia was incorporated.
By 1889, when Washington Territory became a state, the population of Centralia was nearing 1,000. Those were boom times, and within little more than a year, the population had climbed to more than 3,000. By 1891, George Washington had sold 2000 lots.
A Civic Leader
Mary Jane Washington died in 1888. George Washington remained an active civic leader in the town he and his wife had founded. He was noted for his willingness to help fellow residents in many ways, including selling property for little money down, offering loans at no interest, and providing work when no other was available.
Washington’s assistance became crucial when the panic of 1893 hit and Centralia, along with the rest of the country, went into an economic downspin for most of the decade.
Although population and property values declined, Centralia survived and by the end of the decade began to rebound, entering the twentieth century with a population of around 1,600.
For more information and to support a project to build a statue of George and Mary Washington, visit ourgeorgewashington.com.