This information was provided courtesy of Roberta Emerick, North Clark Historical Museum Coordinator. Special credit is given to the following people who supplied additional information: Louise Allworth Tucker for her book Battle Ground-In and Around; Louise Frasier for her book A History of Amboy; Orville Stout for his book Yacolt History; and North Clark Historical Museum historians Jeanine Liston and Margaret Colf Hepola.
Northern Clark County
Clark County was organized in 1850 with Vancouver the county seat of government. The Donation Land Act of 1850 provided free land for settlers and opened the entire county for land claims. In 1853 the Washington Territory was created from the Oregon Territory with the Columbia River separating the two territories.
The large upper drainage area of Chelatchie Creek near Amboy attracted settlers early in Clark County's history. Chelatchie is an Native American name meaning "Valley of the Tall Ferns." Ferns and low bush were commonly covering the land as a result of an early fire which devastated the valley. When the brush was cleared for cultivation, the valley was found well suited for growing grain and vegetables.
Early settlers took claims along the East Fork of the Lewis River near the current site of LaCenter. John Timmen, Aurelius Wilkins and John Pollock all arrived in 1852. As the settlers were arriving, they began coexisted peacefully with the Native Americans in the northern Clark County area in spite of false alarms. In 1855 word reached the people in isolated homesteads that renegade Native Americans would attack the settlements. Women and children were rowed across the Columbia River to the St. Helens blockhouse in Oregon. This false alarm resulted in the formation of the Lewis River Rangers, 44 volunteers representing the valley homesteaders. The Rangers did a great deal of drilling and marching for four winter months. The regular army in Vancouver did not like "farmers marching around playing soldier." Fortunately there was no fighting because the local Native Americans got along well with the settlers. When spring came, tensions subsided and the Lewis River defenders went back to plowing and stump clearing.
The Lewis River, Lewis River Valley, and Lewisville were named after the first settler on the river, Adolphus Lee Lewis. He was a county surveyor in 1856 and probably had bearing on the name of the river being changed from the Native American name Cathlapootle to Lewis River. In 1866, Lincoln, one of the first settlements along the river, was founded. This small trading post and post office were located at the mouth of Lockwood Creek, named after Reuben Lockwood who settled the area.
John Timmen founded the town of La Center in 1871. It was the center of trade for many years until the condition of the roads improved. Steamboat Captain William Weir built the first house and store with a post office. A devastating fire consumed the wharfs and warehouses in LaCenter in 1890.
Stoughton, located at the end of the Native American trail was established in 1872 by Mr. Stoughton. This settlement has a small trading post and mail was deposited there until 1875.
In 1874, Adam Reid, a timber businessman, founded Etna, located eight miles east of Woodland on the North Fork of the Lewis River. Mr. Reid named the settlement after Aetna Greene, Indiana, where he was born. James Forbes homesteaded near the mouth of Cedar Creek in 1882 and built a house, store and steamboat dock providing essentials to early loggers and mill workers.
The Garner family came to Yacolt Prairie in 1887, homesteading 160 acres, and raising a family of five children.
Steamboats appeared on the river in 1854 and stayed for 60 years. They carried passengers and freight daily to Etna, located on the North Fork of the Lewis River at the mouth of Cedar Creek, and up the East Fork to La Center and Stoughton.
Though the steamboats encouraged travel along the river, they did not facilitate travel across the river. Since it was not practical to build bridges across the wide North Fork in the early years, other means to cross the water were found. The Mason and Cresap ferries operated as businesses and served travelers in Cowlitz and Clark County.
With availability of consistent ferries, the construction of roads was needed inland. Farmers could build roads in lieu of paying county road taxes; most took this option along with an allowance for use of any equipment such as wagons and horses.
Lewisville was located near a ford on the East Fork of the Lewis River. During the winter, fording at this spot was very dangerous, prompting the settlers to stock up on basic provisions during the fall. Hall's Bridge, a wooden structure which crossed the river, was swept away in 1883. Three months later another bridge was built with a cover to protect the wooden planking. A sign on the bridge stated "$10 fine for riding or driving across the bridge faster than a walk."
Logging and Grist Mills
As people settled the area, they brought the desire of commerce with them. Logging was one of the first business enterprises in the area. The first logging enterprise at LaCenter was recorded in 1876 and owned by Titus and Banzer. This firm put 700,000 feet of logs into the East Fork. The process of hauling the logs to the river or mill required several animals. Oxen were used in logging. To position the logs in denser foliage, lightweight cayuses were used and heavier draft horses steadily pulled the logs over the long skid roads made of logs en route to local mills.
Grist mills were built along creeks to take advantage of the available water power. The Cedar Creek Grist Mill was built in 1876 by George Woodham & Sons and operated until 1901. Farmers took their home-grown "grist of grain" by wagon to the mill to be ground into flour, bran and middlings. Middlings was coarsely ground wheat mixed with bran. The grain was fed between huge round stones with grooves cut into their flat surfaces. One stone was rotated against another stationary one.
Water-powered sawmills soon joined the grist mills along the Lewis River's banks. In 1880 Adam Reid and Victor Fievy built a water-powered mill on Cedar Creek below the Cedar Creek Grist mill. Their mill supplied building materials to local homesteaders and folks across the river near Woodland and lumber to refurbish the grist mill.
Amos Ball built a sawmill on the east bank of the Cedar Creek in 1887, adding to the fledging community of Amboy. The mill provided sawn lumber for the local residents to use in building their homes, barns, and road planking. The planking produced by this mill enabled the entire road through Chelatchie Prairie to be planked at one time. Later many more mills sprang up throughout the county, north of the Lewis River.
In response to the growing agricultural community, granges were organized. The LaCenter Grange was founded in 1874 and Mt. Valley Grange, which originated in Chelatchie Prairie, was founded in 1889. The grange helped farmers gain buying power, develop markets, and exert pressure on elected officials for improvements.
With more people moving to the Clark County area, schools were desperately needed. In 1886 there were 20 school districts in the county and only 11 qualified teachers. Rural schools were located next to mills or farmlands such as those found in Tum Tum, Amboy, Yacolt, Charter Oak, Fairview, Oakdale, Etna and La Center among others. Some school classes in earlier days were held in farm homes. Log buildings, the "one room school," were constructed on donated land. Other schools emerged and consolidated as communities grew and transportation improved in later years. Green Mountain School was formed when several small area schools consolidated.
Settlers along the Lewis River found it easier to get mail by traveling to St. Helens, Oregon, just down the Lewis River and across the Columbia River. Local communities petitioned the United States government for post offices which were operated in homes or small stores. In 1870 private carriers began once a week delivery. These early "star route" carriers usually hauled freight and passengers on their routes to make the trip profitable. Mail for the Amboy/Chelatchie Prairie area came via anyone picking up supplies in LaCenter or Stoughton.
The first post office to serve the Yacolt area was established by Joseph Eaton in 1876. It was operated out of at his home near Rock Creek and wasn't officially established until 1895 with two locations, one named Garner and the other named Yacolt. The old Yalcolt name prevailed. Yacolt was named after a legend, "the place haunted by evil spirits." Some Native American children strayed from a camping party and were never seen again. The Native Americans believed spirits had taken them away.
Amos Ball, a Civil War veteran, petitioned in 1886 for the first post office in Amboy which was located in his home. Mr. Ball is credited for selecting the town name. The naming has many variations: Amos was stationed at Amboy, New Jersey during the Civil War; he chose a name any schoolboy could spell; several men in the area with the initials A.M. were called the "A.M. Boys." Mail was delivered from LaCenter each Saturday. In 1888 the route was changed and mail came twice a week from Vancouver via Lewisville. Tri-weekly delivery began about 1889 to Amboy and all points between there and Vancouver.
Religion was also important to the settlers. Catholics in the Lewis River area were served by priests on horseback. These Belgian Fathers rode to isolated homesteads around the county, bringing the Sacraments and saying Mass in private homes and schools. In 1869 the first mission chapel was built and dedicated on land near what is now Ridgefield Junction. A Lutheran congregation was organized in 1883 by 11 Norwegian families and four German families. In 1887 the Highland Lutheran Church was constructed with donated land and materials. This church is one of the oldest Lutheran church buildings west of the Mississippi River still used for religious purposes.
Territorial Towns or Settlements
Amboy - name was a created by the A. M. Ball family, who settled in 1879 and operated the post office in 1880.
Eatonville - was settled by Joseph Eaton, this region is now called Rock Creek.
Etna - was named when a post office was founded in 1874 by Adam Reid and Nathan Davis, whose former home had been Etna Green, Native Americana.
La Center - was platted in 1874 by John Timmen and earlier had the name Podunk. The area was head of navigation on the Lewis River and center of shipping and travel. This region was renamed as "the Center" of commerce.
Lewisville - was first called Hall's Crossing, then Hall's Bridge. In 1936, the County Government purchased the struggling little town, and the WPA built what is now called Lewisville Park.
Stoughton - was settled in 1872, by Mr. Stoughton.