Kalama and the history of transportation | Taking Stock

By Tim Raetzloff | Mar 15, 2017

Kalama, Washington is a contemporary of Mukilteo and Edmonds – older than Edmonds and younger than Mukilteo.

Like most towns of the era, Kalama lived and died by the transportation network and control of county government. Kalama came into being as a railroad camp for the Northern Pacific Railway in 1870.

The Northern Pacific was the second transcontinental railroad. Its existence was authorized by Congress in 1864, during the Civil War. That was five years before the first transcontinental railroad was completed by the "Golden Spike" at Promontory Point, Utah in 1869.

In May of 1871, a ceremonial "first spike" was driven in, and the railroad was constructed north to Tacoma. Once Tacoma was reached, the railroad had little need for Kalama and its population dwindled.

In 1872, Kalama became the county seat of Cowlitz County. It was the third county seat of Cowlitz County. The first had been Monticello, where the Monticello Convention was held to petition Congress for a separate territory north of the Columbia River.

The proposed name for the new territory was Columbia, which Congress changed to Washington because of the possibility that the Territory of Columbia could be confused with the District of Columbia. Thankfully, Congress saved us from that confusion.

The second county seat of Cowlitz County was Freeport. Freeport, like Monticello, no longer exists. Kalama became the third county seat because of the railroad's influence. It was a bit of a problem, though, because Kalama was at that time in Clark County.

The border of Cowlitz County was moved far enough south to include Kalama, which became the county seat for 50 years until the Long-Bell Corporation wanted the county seat closer to its operations in Longview and moved the county seat to its present location in Kelso in 1922. It’s amazing what a little crony capitalism can accomplish.

Similar situations happened in many counties of the state in the early years. Mukilteo was the first county seat of Snohomish County when the county seceded from Island County.

But, then the county seat moved to Cadyville – we know it today as Snohomish – for more than 30 years until the 1890s when the county seat was moved to Everett amidst lawsuits and an election in which the claim of illegal votes was made. Some things never change.

Kalama didn't grow to the extent that Mukilteo and Edmonds did in the 20th Century, but it has expanded its port. The Port of Kalama claims to be the third largest port by tonnage in the Northwest, behind only Seattle and Tacoma.

The Port of Kalama has also built a "Transportation Interpretive Center" on the waterfront that relives the history of transportation in that region, including the dugout canoes of the Native Americans through the railroads and highways of today.

Among the featured exhibits are a 1929 Ford Truck, a prairie schooner, a dugout canoe, an ancient anchor and a spot where a steam locomotive will be located when a suitable one is acquired.

It’s well worth a visit if you can schedule during hours that they are open, which at the moment is weekdays during port office hours.

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