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A History of Cowlitz County
Cowlitz County was one of the first seven counties established when the Washington Territory was formed in 1853. Currently, its southern borders are defined by the Columbia and Lewis Rivers. Four other rivers, Kalama, Coweeman, Toutle, and Cowlitz and several deeply gorged creeks contribute to the rugged landscape that challenged early settlers. Timber and transportation were major factors in the county’s development. The combination of waterways, railroads and highways west of the Cascade Mountains from the Columbia River to Puget Sound has become known as the Cowlitz Corridor.
Monticello, one of the first towns in the area, was located near the mouth of the Cowlitz River. Two years after founding the town, Darby Huntington hosted the Monticello Convention in his home. On November 25, 1852, 44 delegates signed the petition requesting Congress to create a separate territory north of the Columbia River. Monticello became the County Seat when Washington Territory was established in 1853. The town grew as a transportation stop between Vancouver and the Puget Sound area when the most efficient means of travel was by boat, but it was frequently flooded. In 1867 a devastating flood destroyed most of Monticello, and by the 1880’s almost nothing marked the town site.
About a mile or so up the Cowlitz River from Monticello, Nathaniel Stone established the town of Freeport on his Donation Land Claim. In June 1866, Freeport was the second County Seat of Cowlitz County. Although the town was located along the river and subject to flooding, it remained prominent for a number of years. Today Freeport is part of the City of Longview.
As railroads began penetrating into Washington Territory, there was a need for additional towns along the railway. Kalama was built by Northern Pacific Railroad in 1870 during construction of the rail line north to the Puget Sound. For the first years (1874 to 1884), passengers and freight would transfer to Columbia River steamers to continue their journey to Portland. It became the third County Seat of Cowlitz County in 1873.
With no bridge connecting the Oregon and Washington banks along the Columbia, a ferry was needed to ship supplies across the river. The Northern Pacific Railway Company, which built a railroad on the Oregon side of the Columbia River to Goble, Oregon, bought the second largest ferry in the world. To ship this ferry to Oregon, crews disassembled the ferry into 57,159 pieces. They shipped it around Cape Horn, and reassembled the ferry in Portland, Oregon. The ferry, The Tacoma, transported trains - engines, cars, and all- across the Columbia between Kalama and Goble from 1884 until 1908 when the railroad bridge was built to connect Portland and Vancouver.
With the increase of settlers to the area, more towns developed. Kelso was platted by Peter Crawford in 1884 on land he had claimed in 1847, the first legal claim registered on the Cowlitz River. Named for his hometown in Scotland, Kelso was originally located on the east bank of the Cowlitz River along the railroad and continued to grow during Territorial days. Today, as the only scheduled railroad stop in Cowlitz County and the current county seat, Kelso is a thriving community.
Castle Rock was charted in 1890, but its history as a landmark to riverboat captains was known to founder William Huntington. In the 1850s Huntington established a post office near the large rock at the south end of town. In October 2002 Castle Rock celebrated its 150th anniversary with a ribbon cutting ceremony and a walk to the top of the Rock on a newly refurbished path.
Woodland grew into a town from Woodland Farm that had been settled by Squire and Millie Bozarth on the southern boarder of Cowlitz County. Their sons established the first school and the first post office in the area. The Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens in the center of Woodland are built around the 1889 home built by Hulda Klager’s parents, Mr. & Mrs. Theil. Mrs. Klager was an internationally known lilac expert and developed many strains of lilacs. Today the gardens are open for viewing year round and in the spring (about the middle of April until Mother’s Day) the house is opened and lilacs and other gifts are available.
Beginning in the territorial period, there has been a growing understanding of the connections, physical and cultural, within our region. This sense of place, a cultural intimacy, was formally recognized as early as 1890 when Cowlitz County pioneers began to meet to remember and celebrate their heritage. In 1953 during the Territorial Centennial the Cowlitz County Historical Museum opened, and now 50 years later the museum is expanding to better serve the community. An appreciation for our history continues into next year with the territorial sesquicentennial commemoration and for many years to come.
Monticello—established in 1850 by Darby Huntington and surveyed by Peter Crawford. Monticello was the first county seat. In December 1867 the Cowlitz River flooded and destroyed the town. By the 1880’s almost nothing remained to mark the original town site. Some believe that the town was named after Jefferson’s hilltop home in Virginia.
Freeport—established in 1865 by Nathaniel Stone on his Donation Land Claim but the town no longer exists.
Kalama—established in 1870 by the Northern Pacific Railroad and incorporated in 1871 by the Territorial Legislature.
Kelso—platted by Peter Crawford in 1884 and named for his hometown in Scotland.
Castle Rock—chartered in 1890, but established in 1850s by William Huntington when he founded the first Post Office and named it after a large rock at the south end of town.
Woodland—settled in 1852 by Squire and Millie Bozarth on their Donation Land Claim. Bozarth nicknamed his family home, “the Woodland Farm House”, the source for the name of the town.
Catlin—platted in 1889 by Adam Catlin and incorporated into the city of Kelso in 1907.