Centralia: (2016 population: 16,982)

Located on I-5, about 27 miles south of Olympia, Centralia is the largest city in Lewis County. With its sister city, Chehalis, it was once the center of logging and railroad transport in Lewis County. It was founded by George Washington, who was the first black man in Lewis County. He was born in Virginia on August 15, 1817 to a black slave and a white woman. He was raised as a freeman by the Cochrans, a white couple who were friends of his mother. They moved from Missouri to Oregon, joining other pioneers on the Oregon Trail. They eventually settled in the north-central part of Lewis County. In 1869, George Washington married Mary Jane Coonness, a widow. Her son Stacey, from her first marriage, was adopted by Washington. On January 8, 1875, they filed an intention to build the town of Centerville with the county auditor's office. Using a yard stick, stakes, and chalk, the site was surveyed and platted. Washington built his home on one of the parcels, and encouraged the development of other businesses in the town center. The first Baptist Church and cemetery was built on land donated by Washington (Riggs, p. 193). The first post office was established in Centerville on July 30, 1877 by its first postmaster, James Tullis, who moved the post office from Skookumchuck. The name was changed to Centralia in the mid 1880s (Middlesworth, p. 38). As Centralia grew, George Washington became one of the wealthiest men and philanthropers in the town. In the late 1880s, he survived a near-fatal poisoning incident, which many assumed was a murder attempt by a jealous resident. After his wife, Mary, died in the late 1880s, he remarried for a short time. From this marriage was born his only son, George Cleveland Washington. George Washington Sr. died in Centralia on August 26, 1905 (Riggs, 193).

Centralia grew slowly, hampered at first by the great depression of the early 1890s. By 1900, its population was 1,600. By the early 1900s, however, it became a commercial center as the Northern Pacific railway established a main station on its Portland-Seattle run at Centralia. In addition, many logging companies built sawmills and shingle mills in the surrounding area, creating employment for thousands of people. The first of these mills was the Martin Lumber Co. plant, which was the first sawmill in Lewis County (originally built by the Gilchrist brothers) (Hunt and Kaylor, p. 458). As a result, Centralia's population grew to 8,000 by 1910 (Hunt and Kaylor, p. 459-60). Many of these companies went out of business during the Great Depression, as both natural resources and product demand dwindled. Today, the economy depends in large part upon agriculture and manufacturing.

There were many notable families who settled in the Centralia area during its early days; biographies can be found in the book "Centralia: The First Fifty Years, 1845-1900" (see bibliography). They include the families of: Jesse Allred, Charles Perry Anderson, Henry Barnes, William F. Bryans, the Guderyans, August David Hilper, William Holmes, Noah Kritzer, James K. Lum, James P. McElfresh, Elkanah Mills, Joseph Phelps, James C. Ready, Joseph Salzer, the Sewalls, the Shimeks, James Tullis, George L. Waunch, Anna Remley Whealdon, and the Zenkers.

Online resources for Centralia:

Biographies and Genealogies

Cemetery Transcriptions

Census Records


Local history


Newspaper articles and clippings

Pictures and Postcards


Sites of interest

Other links