One thing that has interested me in the 60 years or so since I moved into Lewis County is the number of small communities that thrived for a while and then disappeared, many — if not most — of them without even a roadside sign to let you know they existed.
Harmony, Vail and Kopiah are three examples in Lewis County. Tono used to have such a sign but it wasn’t visible the last time I drove by its location.
Tucked away in the southwest corner of Thurston County, there was once a thriving city that was served by not one but two railroad lines, each with its own depot.
The town was Gate City and at one time it was considered the gateway to the coast. Later, the name was simplified to just “Gate.”
It had all the amenities of a larger city: a dance hall that was also a roller skating rink, an opera house, a baseball diamond of course and all the restaurants and food stores needed for comfortable living.
The Black River ran through the town on its way from Black Lake to the Chehalis River. Salmon runs were so thick that a homemade spear was all that was needed for a winter’s meat supply.
Today, the only structure that is left of the town is a school house tended by local residents who refuse to let the town die completely.
I’ve chosen Gate as an example of that kind of history because I can remember that — when we Moellers were still newcomers — a gentleman in Gate (and I can no longer remember his name) used to write a weekly column in this very newspaper, keeping us up to date on its happenings.
There’s an interesting book about the town called “Glimpses of Gate” with over 200 pages of recollections and reminiscences from residents, with old photographs on most of the pages. It was put together by Judith Upton, with assistance from Karyl Groeneveld, and was published in 2003.
While I purchased my early copy at the Lewis County Historical Museum, it’s now out of print.
But don’t be distressed — Timberland Library has at least five copies still listed as being in stock. I’ve enjoyed reading it again. Almost every page is a reminiscence of what it was like to live there at the time.
Why did it disappear?
It would be easy to say that since it was a logging town and all the trees had been cut, it was time for the loggers to move on. Leaders in the town had also hoped that a proposed north-south rail line, in addition to the two existing ones, would go through their city, but that line went through Bucoda instead.
Land in the area was owned by the logging companies, which had no more use for it once the trees were all cut, and it was sold for a few dollars per acre.
And, subsequently, since most of the land in the area was now devoted to farming, there was no more work for many residents.
The businesses that had been located near or next to the two train depots slowly failed as the population dropped.
Schools were closed and the children were then schooled in Rochester.
The road to the ocean became U.S. Highway 12 and a new invention called “automobiles” became an easier way to get from point “A” to point “B” than trains, which was the last blow for regular service of that nature.
And, one by one, the buildings which had served for shopping and entertainment became vacant until all that was left, in what had once been a thriving community was a one room schoolhouse.
But the story doesn’t quite end there. I hope to have more soon.
Bill Moeller is a former entertainer, mayor, bookstore owner, city council member, paratrooper and pilot living in Centralia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.