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Centralia It's the People
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Centralia It's the People
  Centralia Travel Tale

by Lorry Patton

wash_centralia_street_homes.jpg Centralia's attractions include plenty of homes from the turn-of-the-century, murals of past events on the walls of downtown and an abundance of antique stores. Centralia's most important assets, however, are its people, beginning with the town's founder, George Washington, the son of a slave.

George Washington was raised by a white couple who came west with him when prejudice drove him from his Missouri home. He staked a claim for 640 acres in what would become Centralia and had his adoptive dad protect it for him until 1853, when the laws of the new Washington Territory no longer barred ownership by a Negro. In 1875, he appeared before the territorial auditor and filed his intention of laying out a new town. By the time of his death at age 87, Centralia was well-established and George Washington was a wealthy and respected man. So much so, the day of his funeral, the largest Centralia has ever known, the Mayor decreed that all businesses close.


wash_centralia_bagpipe.jpg Not all of Centralia's significant events had such a commendable ending or are so proudly remembered. For example, something was definitely askew on Armistice Day in 1919, now known as the day of the Centralia Massacre.

It began with a difference of opinion between the Legionnaires and the members of the Industrial Workers of the World, developed into a horrible riot and ended in four deaths. Three Legionnaires were shot during the brawl and subsequently, one arrested union member was removed from jail, mutilated and hung from a local bridge. A scene from this thought-provoking tragic act is etched on Centralia's walls, one of the sixteen murals scattered throughout the town.


wash_centralia_mark_twain.jpg Current residents are less likely to make such dramatic headlines. They are satisfied to shape Centralia quietly behind the scenes. Many are involved in restoration programs such as the ongoing 1912 Union Depot train station project. Back in 1914, 44 passenger trains and 17 freight trains rumbled through Centralia daily. Although nowhere near that number, the trains continue to rumble into town. Passengers stepping onto the platform are pleasantly surprised to find such a treasure, especially ones interested in train stations that are on the National Register of Historic Places. The redbrick building gleams from its vaulted ceiling to its varnished benches to its tiled floor.


wash_centralia_borst_greeter.jpg Residents who aren't involved directly do their part. Those who live in the district made up of old homes from the late 1800's keep their houses freshly painted and by the looks of the lush lawns and flowered gardens, it seems everyone in town has a green thumb. Shopkeepers, too, are proud of their brick and stone storefronts. They keep their entrances spotless, the streets swept, and the glass, furniture, lamps and collectibles inside, dust-free and attractively displayed. The volume of fine antiques draws collectors from all over North America. With 350 antique dealers and 11 antique malls to examine, they are rarely disappointment.


wash_centralia_train_jack.jpg And then there's Jack Newman, once a historian, a guide, a photographer and a past Chamber of Commerce president and now the coordinator for Destination Centralia. Destination Centralia has several programs; however, the most successful one is the Amtrak Special. The Amtrak Special brings visitors in for a fun day of shopping and exploring. Over 32,000 happy shoppers from as far north as British Columbia and as far south as Oregon have come since 1991. Jack meets most of the groups and takes them around. Judging from the thank you notes he receives, Mr Newman is an important part of the package.

George Washington would be pleased. The people of Centralia are taking good care of his town.




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