Historic South County Road Trip
Learn about some of the very first pioneers who settled along the Cowlitz Prairie. Walk on the same ground and see the same scenery that led people to Washington Territory. And get a glimpse of what life was like in the early years of Lewis County as part of our Historic South County Road Trip. This road trip brings you off the freeway and into several rural communities that together form south Lewis County. This section of the county is known for its quiet rural life that has been enjoyed by generations of people — and even beyond the first settlers, dating back to the history of the Cowlitz Tribe.
Begin this trip by taking Interstate 5 to Exit 68, and follow U.S. Highway 12 east to the intersection with Jackson Highway. Take a left and you’ll find yourself at our first tour stop.
1. Matilda Jackson State Park This state park tends to be the forgotten relative of the more well-known Lewis and Clark State Park just to the south, but it’s a nice place to stop for a picnic or just to stretch out under a grove of tall trees. The park has a few picnic shelters and cookout sites, making it great to bring the entire family for a barbecue or a bag lunch before hitting the rest of the trip. As a bonus, you’re not likely to see too many people there. The reason for Matilda Jackson State Park’s inclusion in the historic road trip is due to the Oregon Trail marker at its entrance. Placed by the Sons and Daughters of the American Revolution in the 1910s, this is one of many markers in Lewis and Thurston counties that denote the route of a northern spur of the Oregon Trail, which ended in Tumwater. After stopping at Matilda Jackson, point your car south on Jackson Highway and cross back over Highway 12 at the green light. On your left is your second tour stop.
2. John R. Jackson House The Jackson House is one of the oldest pioneer structures in the state, and even served as Lewis County’s first courthouse and a post office too! Home to both John and Matilda Jackson and their family, this structure was also an important meeting place for the pioneers who first called our area home. Travelers in the pioneer times also stopped at the house on many occasions. Take a peek inside the house and note the sparsely-furnished yet very functional home! Can you find the pictures of the Jacksons on the wall? Once done at the Jackson House, continue south on Jackson Highway. You’ll pass Lewis and Clark State Park before being greeted by the expanse of the Cowlitz Prairie. Head south toward Toledo and check out the Toledo Airport on your left; on a lucky day, you might see a plane fly right over you! When you come to a flashing yellow light, take a left. You’ll see a large Catholic church, and take another left to visit it.
3. St. Francis Xavier Mission The church that stands presently on this site has been in place since 1932, but the history of St. Francis Xavier Mission dates back to 1838. The first mass on the Cowlitz Prairie was held at the home of pioneer Simon Plamondon, and the mission was assigned a priest in 1839. There has been a Catholic congregation at this spot ever since! A replica of the Catholic Ladder, which served as a visual teaching aid for Native Americans in the area, stands on the southeast side of the church. A cemetery that is the final resting place for many of the area’s pioneers, including some who emigrated from Ireland and Scotland, adjoins the church. Turn back toward Jackson Highway, and take a left at the flashing red light. About 3/4 mile down will be your next stop, off to the right.
4. Lower Cowlitz School You’ll know you’ve arrived once you’ve seen the large mural depicting the Oregon Trail facing Jackson Highway. This building most recently functioned as the hall for the local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Recently shuttered, this building was once home to the Lower Cowlitz School for years before the design and architecture was radically changed. This school was built for children of the prairie who couldn’t attend school at the Cowlitz Mission’s Catholic school just up the road. The original building was constructed in the 1890s, but there have been numerous changes to the building since. As it stands, the Lower Cowlitz School is of significant historic importance to the Toledo area as it was a major center of the community. Continue on Jackson Highway south into the city of Toledo, and take a minute to visit the downtown core especially. Historic buildings house such attractions as Art Gallery 505, the volunteer-staffed Toledo Community Library and more. After you’re done in downtown Toledo, visit our next tour stop on the banks of the Cowlitz River.
5. Cowlitz Convention Memorial MarkerDid you know that present-day Toledo was just up the road from where people gathered to successfully petition Congress to create a new territory? A stone marker commemorating the convention at Cowlitz, one mile south of Toledo, that took place in 1851 has been built at the northeast corner of the Cowlitz River Bridge on Jackson Highway. The convention was significant because several settlers originated the petition there, as they were dissatisfied with long lines of communication to the territorial capital, which existed in the Willamette Valley at the time. Just two years later, President Millard Fillmore signed a bill from Congress creating a new territory, although it was named Washington instead of Columbia. Continue south on Jackson Highway across the Cowlitz River, then bear right onto the continuation of Jackson Highway. A couple miles down the road, off to your left, you’ll see a barn with an unusual inscription on it. Find a safe place to pull off to the side and grab your camera.
6. The Dr. Pierce Barn According to the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, Ray Vaughn Pierce obtained a less-than-credible medical degree and sold several products that he claimed could cure a variety of ills. One of those products is advertised on the sides of a large barn on private property south of Toledo. “Dr. Pierce’s Favorite Prescription” was said by the man himself to cure “weak women,” or weakness brought on by illnesses that beset women in those days. This barn’s original advertisement has been repainted and is one of the best examples of Dr. Pierce ads, which dotted barns all across the nation in the early part of the 20th century. From here, you have two options: double back on Jackson Highway into Toledo and turn left on Toledo-Vader Road, following the road into Vader; or finish the Jackson Highway route south and join Interstate 5 north, exiting at Exit 59 and following the signs into Vader. Once in Vader, take a right on D Street and look to your right, where you will see one of Vader’s entries onto the National Register of Historic Places.
7. Grace Evangelical Church of Vader Built around 1900, this church contains stained glass windows, a belfry and an architecture reminiscent of the very early days of Vader. Today it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is the local United Methodist Church congregation’s home. Head west a couple streets and take note of a couple residential structures that are built in the Queen Anne style…
8. Vader’s Fancy Shingle-Work Homes That’s the proper name for four homes advertised in the past as a style of architecture used in Vader. A couple houses in this neighborhood are built in Queen Anne architecture and are reminiscent of Vader’s boom-town past. Vader was once a thriving town on the Northern Pacific Railroad, and several homes built in Vader around the turn of the century exhibited this style of architecture. Here’s where you’ll hit a couple backroads: Head back to the main drag but immediately turn right onto Annonen Rd. Exit town and you’ll see a sign for McMurphy Park. Make your way into the park along Olequa Creek, and you’ll find our next stop there.
9. Little Falls on Olequa Creek The town of Vader was originally named Little Falls, presumably for this serene little waterfall on Olequa Creek. It’s easily accessible from McMurphy Park and is a wonderful spot to enjoy a picnic or just to relax. Continue north on Annonen Rd, then when it intersects with Winlock-Vader Road, turn right. Continue north on Winlock-Vader Road until you reach a four-way stop, then turn right. Cross the railroad tracks and make a left turn on First Street. Our next stop is in downtown Winlock.
10. Winlock Historical Museum The Winlock Historical Museum contains a treasure trove of historical items from Winlock’s heyday as an egg-producing town as well as its connections to the timber industry. The museum is open tentatively from 1-4 p.m. on Wednesdays; check their Facebook page for further info here. Before you leave Winlock, drive around for a few minutes and count up all the sculptures of chickens in town. Did you know Winlock was once one of the most prominent egg-producing communities on the West Coast? Get back on First Street when you’re done and take it north out of town. Follow it to Rhoades Road, but don’t go too far, or you’ll miss your next stop on the right.
11. Renegade Rooster Winlock History Collection Local resident Roy Richards has opened this delightful privately-owned museum with a collection of just about everything you can think of from Winlock’s past. From old advertisements to a model train layout and even old Egg Days fliers, check it all out here. More information can be found by visiting the Renegade Rooster Facebook page. After your time there, get back on Rhoades Road and follow the following pattern: Left on Minkler Road, then a right on Sargent. Continue on Sargent until you reach Military Road, then look off to your right for a place to park for our next stop.
12. Our Lady of the Assumption Church Recently restored, this church is very close in appearance to the original church which was built in 1891. It was one of three Catholic churches established by the church at Cowlitz Mission, with the other two being in Napavine and Vader. It is a rather small church, which makes it unique and a very photo-worthy place. From here, head north on Military Road, then take a left on Antrim Road. Follow Antrim back to Highway 603 and then turn north for only a short time before taking a left on Schoolhouse Road and reaching the final stop on our Historic South Lewis County Tour.
13. Evaline School This school was formed in 1883 and has undergone a few changes since, but it’s still referred to by many locals as the ‘two-room schoolhouse’ because it contained only two rooms and an auditorium for many years. It’s Lewis County’s smallest school district by far, and its students and alumni share a special bond. A historical marker outside the school details its history. Please be mindful of children in school!
To get back to where you started, follow Highway 603 all the way to the intersection with Avery Road, and follow the signs to Interstate 5. This loop should take about 2-3 hours and give you a chance to explore South Lewis County while learning a lot about how our region came to be!
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