Centralia is getting ready to throw a party honoring the 200th birthday of the city's founder and benefactor, and you’re invited to come celebrate a man whose story and legacy deserves to be known by all.
On Aug. 12, a yearlong celebration kicks off that will give tribute to George Washington, an African-American man who along with his foster parents moved from Missouri to Oregon Territory in the mid-1800s and would later found the town that today sits halfway between Seattle and Portland.
The story of George Washington is fascinating — and you can't help but be inspired by learning more about a man who overcame great adversity to found a Pacific Northwest town.
In 1852, a man named George Washington — an African-American man born and living in the era of slavery — came to the Pacific Northwest and homesteaded with his foster parents, the Cochrans, near the confluence of the Chehalis and Skookumchuck Rivers. He would later go on to found the city of Centerville (which later became known as Centralia).
But how was Washington able to lay claim to land when the law in Oregon Territory didn’t allow African Americans to own any? Washington’s adoptive parents, Anna and James Cochran, filed the land claim for 640 acres — and when Washington Territory was carved out of Oregon, it never enacted a similar law. Washington received the deed transfer from the Cochrans — and from there, as legal owner, he offered lots for sale for $10 to anyone who wanted to settle in the town known as Centerville.
Washington gave land for several institutions: a church, a cemetery, a park (which still stands today as George Washington Park on the corner of Pearl and Main). The name of the city was changed to Centralia in 1883, and the population of the town continued to grow.
A major financial panic hit the region in 1893, and Centralia felt the brunt of it. George Washington began to give endlessly to his community, traveling to Portland to buy needed supplies for people, forgiving debts and buying buildings that would otherwise have been auctioned off due to bankruptcy.
Today, George Washington is remembered as not only the pioneer of the city of Centralia, but as a man of great generosity and kindness who helped save his town and its people from near ruin during an economic depression.
The town survived and continued to flourish, and today it is the largest town in America that was founded by an African-American couple.
Washington would see the town continue to do well until his death in 1905. Washington, who was born in 1817, spent most of his life watching his city grow — and this year, the city is coming together to honor the 200th birthday of a man whose legacy touches us all.
The George Washington Bicentennial is a planned year-long celebration that will begin August 12 to mark Washington’s 200th birthday. Events are planned throughout Centralia throughout the month and beyond to honor the life and legacy of the man who founded the city.
On Aug. 12 at 8 a.m., kick off the celebrations with a fun run/walk around the boundaries of Washington’s 640-acre homestead in Centralia. Click or tap here to register; all proceeds from the event go toward the purchase of a memorial statue of Washington and his wife Mary Jane.
Then from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. that same day, join the community-wide birthday party for George Washington at the park named after him in downtown Centralia. Games, music, prizes and much more are on tap.
Sunday, Aug. 13, a pioneer-style church service in George Washington Park will be open to all, officiated by Pastor Alan Woods of Trinity Christian Fellowship and Pastor Jonathan Biggers of Life Center.
Aug. 15, Tuesday, Centralia College will formally dedicate Washington Hall to George Washington. This event is at 4 p.m. and open to the public.
And finally, on Aug. 29, at 7 p.m., join Dr. Quintard Taylor of the University of Washington in a talk about Washington’s life at the Olympic Club in downtown Centralia.
The Bicentennial Committee is planning more events throughout the year to celebrate Washington, culminating in a dedication of a memorial statue for George & Mary Jane Washington on Aug. 11, 2018.