Today we kick off the DLC Blog’s weekly Throwback Thursday feature series with a look at a building that defines Lewis County’s roots as we know them.
It sits off the beaten path today, but a place of worship, solace and comfort for generations of pioneers remains preserved for all to see.
The Claquato Church, located on Water Street three miles west of Chehalis, is perhaps the most enduring landmark of the early days of Washington Territory. After all, it’s the oldest standing building in Washington state, having been built in 1858.
Let’s dig a little bit into the history of the Claquato Church on the DLC Blog’s first-ever edition of Throwback Thursday.
Claquato was once the biggest settlement between the Columbia River and Olympia, making it an important stopping point for people traveling. According to information gathered by the Lewis County Historical Society, the community three miles west of present-day Chehalis contained two hotels, a general store, the church, stables, a blacksmith and a carpenter shop.
Claquato’s importance was fleeting, however, as the railroad bypassed the settlement and instead took people directly to the brand-new town of Chehalis. With the most important mode of transportation at that time leaving Claquato all alone, the town began to die out.
The Claquato Church is a modest structure, measuring 20 feet by 30 feet. The sanctuary occupies all but 7 square feet of that length, with an entry area occupying the other space.
Building the church was a true community effort, as lumber from the sawmill at Claquato Hill was used to build the church, and the village blacksmith made the nails for the building. People donated labor for the project, and several of the fixtures — including pews, the pulpit and pastor’s chair — were donated by the kind pioneers of Boistfort.
For some time, the church also functioned as a one-room schoolhouse.
One of the distinguishing features of the church is its belfry. Octagonal in shape, the top mounting is a symbolic crown of thorns, which is an apparent reference to the Christian story of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion. The church’s bell was made in Boston and delivered via ship around the horn of South America.
The church, whose congregation was Methodist, was a place of worship for local residents long after the community of Claquato proper had dwindled. In fact, services were held until the mid-1930s.
Decline & Restoration
With no congregation to call the church home, the building fell into disrepair. Vandals hastened the deterioration of the building over the years. With no religious group having ownership of the building, the future of the church was uncertain.
Lewis County Commissioners stepped in and took over the care of the building, and the title was vested in the name of Lewis County itself.
The American Legion, Post 22 of Chehalis, aided in restoring the church in the name of public service. Their work was completed in August 1953, and the church has subsequently stood as a memorial to Lewis County’s pioneers.
The church was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973, cementing its status as a nationally certified, culturally significant site.
The Site Today
Claquato Church stands today and looks nearly exactly as it did in historic photos, with care and maintenance done in regular intervals by Lewis County facilities staff. It opens throughout the year for several events, including the Lewis County Historical Ride, Pioneer Pie Social and other special occasions.
The site contains a historical marker and is readily accessible for exterior viewing by the public at any time. It can also be rented for special events; just contact Lewis County Parks at (360) 740-1192.
The interior of the church contains wooden pews, a small pulpit and other accessories much like one would have found in pioneer days. The wallpaper of the church evokes the pioneer era.
The Claquato Church was forged with great care by some of the very first settlers in Lewis County. Now that it belongs to the county, it’s truly the people’s building — and it’s with respect for those who came before us that we all continue to have a hand in its preservation!
How To Get There
From Chehalis, take State Route 6 about three miles west of downtown and turn right on Chilvers Road, then take an immediate left onto Stearns Road. Take another left onto Water Street, and the church will be on your left.
Photos and some information in this post are provided by the Lewis County Historical Society and the Lewis County Historical Museum. The museum, located at 599 NW Front St. in Chehalis, contains a vast repository of images and more from Lewis County’s storied past.