Brian Mittge Commentary: Celebrating Centralia’s Founder


This week, a video crew from KBTC public television was rolling through Centralia. They were collecting interviews and B-roll for a short documentary they are producing about the town’s remarkable founder, a Black pioneer with the presidential name of George Washington.

I’ve been fortunate enough to spend years learning about George, the son of a slave who, through his deep Christian faith and reserves of wise generosity, founded a town for everyone after enduring unjust laws, crossing the continent and changing hearts for the better all along the way. 

One of the KBTC crew’s stops to set up their cameras was in the historic stone “castle” along Main Street that houses the Windermere real estate office of Max Vogt.

Vogt, who also serves on the Centralia City Council, has a giant framed portrait of George hanging in the main room of the grand historic home that serves as his office. 

“Centralia would not be here if it weren’t for our George Washington. Neither would we,” Vogt said with George’s portrait looking over his shoulder. “George was and is the ‘center’ in the name Centralia.”

I also had the opportunity to speak to the video crew, telling about the life story of George. (Their documentary, which will be about six minutes long and will run between longer programs, should be ready late this summer.)

They asked me what his memory means to our community today. After some thought, I said the word that comes to mind in this divided time is “unity.”

Speaking of coming together, we’ll all have a chance to do that next month. The city of Centralia has declared George’s Aug. 15 birthday each year as Founder’s Day, and the Centralia Downtown Association is holding a Founder’s Day celebration on the nearest Saturday. This year that will be on Aug. 12. 

The party starts in George Washington Park at 3 p.m. There will be a host of free family-friendly activities. I’ll give a brief telling of George’s unique life story and the great Centralia-based jazz horn player Dmitri Matheny will give a performance, followed by a full Music in the Park concert from the Seattle band King Youngblood. 

"George Washington was an extraordinary man, with an even more extraordinary story of ... grit, ingenuity, resilience, and most importantly compassion,” said MacKenzie McGee, executive director of the Centralia Downtown Association. 

And we’ll give the final word to Centralia’s mayor, who will also be speaking at Founder’s Day.

"Centralia is blessed to have an exemplary founder in George Washington,” said Centralia Mayor Kelly Smith-Johnston. “All of us should strive to demonstrate his generosity, determination and vision.”

Rocking Out in the Sandstone City 

It’s not often that you can celebrate a 150th birthday, but this week Tenino’s Oregon Trail Days festival will coincide with the town’s sesquicentennial. Yep, Tenino was founded in 1873 along the then-new Northern Pacific Railroad. (In fact, the first-ever printed reference to George Washington’s new town of Centerville helpfully located it for readers by saying it was “about ten miles from Tenino.”)

I happened to find myself in Tenino, also known as the Sandstone City, on Thursday night. I wandered over to the town’s gorgeous Quarry Pool and ended up drifting through a sea of tents full of gorgeous crystals and other minerals. It’s the annual Washington Agate and Mineral Society’s Rock, Gem and Mineral Show.

At the center tent I had a great conversation with Bob and Debbie Tuomala of Toledo, who are helping run a flint knapping demonstration this weekend. They take obsidian they gathered in Oregon and turn it into blades for arrows and knives. 

It’s fascinating, especially the multi-colored volcanic glass they have (including rainbow colored obsidian!)

If you’re looking for a great time this weekend, head out to Tenino for Oregon Trail Days. Whether you like old-time activities, great music or beautiful gems, you’ll have a rocking good time. 

Brian Mittge can be reached at