Castle Rock Area
Information is provided by Bud May of the Castle Rock Exhibition Hall.
Settled in 1852 by William Huntington, the territorial town of Castle Rock was named when Huntington established a post office in his home. Huntington, three brothers and several other relatives were among the pioneers who migrated west in wagon trains to start new lives. They arrived only four years after Jonathan Burbee became the first white man to settle at another Cowlitz River location.
The town was named for a huge and once barren rock (now covered with trees and other vegetation) that rises above the river on land and was part of Huntington's donation land claim. Castle Rock's founder, as well as boatmen who carried people and supplies up the Cowlitz, referred to the imposing landmark as the "castle rock." Thus the name Castle Rock.
It was not until 1890, less than a year after Washington was granted statehood, that the town became a fourth class municipality. The near-unanimous vote to incorporate was by a 136 to 1 landslide. A.H. Goddard was the town's first mayor while its first clerk was D.J. Hille, a pioneer Castle Rock druggist.
Over its 150-year history, Castle Rock has been noted for many "firsts" in Cowlitz County and Southwest Washington. The William Jackson house built in 1860 west of town on the old Military Road (now Delameter Road) is the oldest standing home in Cowlitz County. The county's first clay brick building was built in Castle Rock in 1889 from clay taken from the east bank of the Cowlitz River. A local shingle mill, started in 1883 by John Robin and Son, produced the first shingles shipped east of the Rocky Mountains on July 4, 1885. <The Cowlitz County Advocate>, the town's respected weekly newspaper, published its first issue on July 3, 1886 and was the county's oldest newspaper until it went out of business several years ago. To protest the cost of newsprint, a former owner of The Advocate once published an issue on thin shingles.
Most of Castle Rock's early settlers were farmers, but the emergence of sawmills and logging later provided jobs that sustained much of the region's economy for many years. Some worked in sawmills, many worked in Weyerhauser Company woods operations or mills, others worked at Longview Fibre, and scores of others worked for independent logging firms. As timber and cedar resources diminished, reducing the number of available local jobs, Castle Rock gradually became a bedroom community with most of the workforce employed elsewhere. The local school district is now Castle Rock's largest employer. The town's population remains stable at about 2,100 residents.
Over a period of many years, Castle Rock visitors were greeted by two signs, one of which hailed the town as "The City of Champions" and the other as "The Gateway to Mt. St. Helens." The first sign reflected the community's pride in the dozen or so Castle Rock-Toutle area loggers who repeatedly won world championships in logging show competitions throughout the country. Two of the champions were Paul Searls of Toutle, a champion log bucker for thirty years, and Castle Rock's Hap Johnson who, in addition to winning many tree climbing titles, was world champion axe thrower for three years and all around logger champion for four years. He also did John Wayne's climbing and stunt scenes in the movie "North to Alaska" and appeared on television frequently.
Arnold Riegger was another Castle Rock champion, winner of numerous national trap shooting titles and leader of the United States Olympics trap shoot team while he was living in the Seattle area. Castle Rock High School teams have also won state championships in football, basketball, wrestling, and track.
The honor of being the "Gateway to Mt. St. Helens" was bestowed upon Castle Rock well before the volcanic eruption. Though several Southwest Washington cities now bill themselves as "Gateway to Mt. St. Helens," that title was given to Castle Rock over 100 years ago when roads linking the town and the mountain were completed.
Castle Rock celebrated the 150th anniversary of its settlement in October 2002 and remains proud of its history and accomplishments.