Roadside sights bring history alive


New this year to the circuit are historical markers more than 100 years in the making.

In late April, the Lewis County Historical Society celebrated the 100th anniversary of pioneer Ezra Meeker's trip across the Oregon Trail by placing Meeker markers near City Hall in Chehalis and the Claquato church.

In 1906, Meeker traveled the Oregon Trail from west to east to promote keeping the history of the famed trail alive. Meeker had formerly traveled the trail with his wife and infant son in 1852 to reach their eventual home of Puyallup.

"Ezra wanted to make sure people didn't forget about the Oregon Trail," said Edna Fund, who worked on the Meeker Marker project. "He was very serious about this. He sold postcards and raised money for the cause."

During his trip, Meeker asked towns along the route to erect stone markers to commemorate his trip, and to honor the Oregon Trail. In Lewis County, signs were promised in in Toledo, Centralia, Chehalis and Claquato, but the latter two were never delivered until this year.

The placement of the markers by the Lewis County Historical Society was marked April 27 with a large celebration in Centralia's Fort Borst Park.

In conjunction with the markers and the 100th anniversary of Meeker's trip, children may pick up a passport at the Lewis County Historical Museum in Chehalis through the end of September. By visiting Lewis County's Meeker markers, children may answer the questions on each page of the passport. Completed passports may be returned for a chance at prized furnished by Security State Bank and a local Rosie the Riveter member.

In addition, the Lewis County Historical Museum will show its pioneers exhibit through November, featuring real artifacts that came to Washington via the Oregon Trail with pioneer families, said Karen Johnson, museum curator. Other activities related to pioneers will be planned throughout the spring and summer. Call the museum at 748-0831 for more information.

Other roadside markers that can be found in Lewis County include:

Jackson House, Lewis and Clark State Park, south Chehalis

Near Mary's Corner off U.S. Highway 12 south of Chehalis, the John R. Jackson House was the first American pioneer home built north of the Columbia River. It was constructed in 1845 by John R. Jackson and served as the first U.S. district courthouse north of the Columbia River. The house has been restored, but it is open for tours only with advance notice. Unannounced visitors may peek inside the windows for a view of the inside. An accompanying interpretive sign tells the story of the Cowlitz Indian people who resided throughout the Cowlitz River basin, and the arrival of the first white settlers.

Information: (360) 864-2643.

Claquato Church, Chehalis

West of Chehalis off state Route 6, the historic Claquato Church and its neighboring cemetery are popular stops on a history buff's tour of Lewis County. Once the county's seat, Claquato was a bustling burg until it was bypassed by the railroad in the 1870s. Its famed historic church has stood the test of time and continued the memory of Claquato's old glories. Built in 1858, the building is believed to be the oldest Protestant church in the Pacific Northwest still in its original location and in its original form. One uncommon feature of the building is its topping of a crown of thorns. The church includes an interpretive sign about the history of Claquato and the church, which is on the national register of historic places.

Info: 748-4551.

McKinley Stump, Chehalis

Plenty of areas have claims of varying probability that someone famous was once there. Chehalis has the stump to prove it. Located next to Chehalis's outdoor pool on 13th Street, the McKinley Stump is where President William McKinley was to have stood to deliver a speech in 1903, according to an interpretive sign next to the outdoor feature. However, McKinley was assassinated before he could come to Chehalis. Later, his successor in the White House, Theodore Roosevelt, spoke from the stump. Originally located next to the railroad tracks at the Lewis County Historical Museum, the stump was moved in later years for its protection. It is also claimed to be the origin of the term "stump speech."

Historic depot, Chehalis

Built in 1912, the mission-style brick structure housing the Lewis County Historical Museum is itself a part of Chehalis' history. A sign at the former Northern Pacific Railway depot tells the story of the all-important railroad coming through Lewis County, and how Chehalis was at first bypassed for a depot. If the decision had stayed in effect, Chehalis' fate may have been the same as many of its neighboring communities, many of which exist in name only today. Instead, the town fathers had an idea. The railroad was obliged to stop anywhere there wasn't a depot, but where they saw someone by the side of the tracks waving a handkerchief. Townspeople were organized to wave down each passing train as it came by Chehalis. Eventually, the railroad got the message — and Chehalis got its depot.

The restored 1912 train depot houses a variety of displays including an old-time parlor, kitchen, school house, Indian room, logging equipment, research library and a model railroad. The depot is located at 599 N.W. Front Way. The museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays.

Information: 748-0831.

Central Hatchery building, Winlock

Just across Kerron Street from the famous Winlock egg landmark in Vern Zander Park, the Winlock Community Center bears a historical marker telling of the history of the Southern Lewis County town. The community center building is the old Winlock Central Hatchery, where chicks were hatched in the town's heyday as the egg capital of the world. The sign tells the history of farming, industry and other interesting facts about Lewis County's first incorporated city.

St. Urban Church and Cemetery

The St. Urban, built in 1891, was the first public structure of the St. Urban settlement, and the only remaining original public structure to date. At one point the church, along with a general store, school, and community hall were the urban center of this farming community near Winlock. Now the church and its adjacent pioneer cemetery are all that remain. The church was almost demolished, but a group called the St. Urban Settlement Foundation has worked with the Archdiocese of Seattle to protect the building. The site has been listed as one of the 10 most endangered historic properties in Washington by the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation.

The facility is undergoing renovation, and will be used for educational events, tours, nondenominational weddings, funerals and other community events in the future.

The St. Urban Church is located on the corner of North Military Road and

Sargent Road, just outside of Winlock, Washington.

Information: Joe Bremgartner at (360) 740-5692.

Klaber Hop Fields, Curtis

A roadside sign built by Baw Faw Grange 34 commemorating the world's largest hops field in the now nonexistent town of Klaber stands next to Boistfort Elementary School.

The sign is a tribute to the work of hop baron Herman Klaber, whose empire was cut short when he perished on the Titanic in 1912 while returning from a hop-selling expedition to England. Klaber, who lived in Tacoma, bought 360 acres in the lush valley that local people called Baw Faw, which is how they thought the area's French name Boistfort was pronounced. At one time, the town had 2,000 people, most tending Klaber's hop fields. The largest single hops field in the world was there, spanning 200 acres.

Underwater ghost towns, East Lewis County

When Tacoma Power's Mossyrock and Mayfield dams were completed in the 1960s, the towns of Mayfield, Riffe and Kosmos had to make way for progress — literally. The lakes created by the dams flooded these towns, leaving behind underwater ghost towns, the remnants of which have sometimes peeked above the water's edge during extremely dry years. In East Lewis County, roadside signs off U.S. Highway 12 near the Mossyrock Dam tell the stories of these towns and their demise.