‘George Washington of Centralia’ Gets a Second Edition With More Details on the City’s Founder


Looking for a gift perfect for the history enthusiast in your life? Local biographers Kerry Serl and Brian Mittge have released the second edition of “George Washington of Centralia,” the story of the city’s founder. 

Serl and Mittge, who first published the book in August 2018 close to what would have been Washington’s 200th birthday, chose to release a second edition when they got calls from local book stores requesting more copies of the first edition. Rather than print more copies of the original, they decided to release a second edition featuring newly researched information on Washington as well as an index and additional features. The first edition sold 500 copies. 

One of the most substantial updates is the addition of an autobiographical story Washington wrote that was only referenced in the first edition.

“There was one story that George wrote about himself for a contest called the ‘old settlers’ contest’ in a Tacoma newspaper, the Tacoma (Daily) Ledger in 1892,” Serl said.

Mittge said they ultimately chose to include the entire story rather than the simple mention in the first edition. 

“We don’t have much in his own words,” Mittge said. “He didn’t leave any journals or letters behind except this. It was funny because the newspaper was offering two tickets to the World’s Fair in Chicago, so he’s like, ‘all right, cool, I’ll do that,’ so he sent his life story in. We did pull from that when we wrote the book originally but this is his life story in his own words over five or six pages.”

In addition, an obscure, relatively-unseen photo of Washington is included in the second edition. According to Serl, the photo is from around 1872 and originated from a Sacramento area photographer, though it is unclear if Washington traveled to California or if the photographer traveled up the coast. 

Other information includes a newly-discovered story in which Washington met with his biological mother again around 1875 in Oregon, along with two stepsisters  he hadn’t met before. 

Records on his father, who was a slave, don’t appear to exist at all. Information on his mother, aside from this newly-discovered Oregon meeting, is virtually nonexistent as well, but that isn’t discouraging Serl from continuing to research.

“I’ve queried the 1850 census, but I don’t know if she was here in time for that census. She came in 1851. He moved here a week before the census was taken, so she could’ve easily missed that one,” Serl said. “I queried the 1860 census, but at that time I was like, ‘was she still alive then? I don’t know.’ But looking for somebody to be of childbearing age during that time who was born in Virginia and of English descent, I compiled a list of people matching that description and tried to back-track each one of them and I couldn’t (find anyone). I have one suspicion (of who Washington’s mother is) but it’s probably not true.” 

Additionally, the book includes the story of the creation and installation of the statue in George Washington Park, along with pictures of the statue’s casting in Tacoma. 

“We’re able to tell the story of how the statue came together and how the community raised money for it,” Mittge said. 

An original song written by Mittge titled “The Ballad of George Washington” is also included in the book along with sheet music.

“This whole book is 230 pages probably, so I tell the story in a dozen stanzas if people don’t want to read the whole book,” Mittge said. 

The music was inspired by the song “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Ya” (Dusty Old Dust) by Woody Guthrie. 

Those looking for a copy of the new edition can visit Book ’n’ Brush in Chehalis,  Tilikum Books in downtown Centralia or the Lewis County Historical Museum.

Mittge and Serl will be doing two book signings this month to celebrate the second edition. The first will be on Saturday, Dec. 10, from 2 to 4 p.m. at Book ‘N’ Brush. Other local authors will be there as well, including Gretchen Staebler, Buddy Rose and Pat Pringle. 

On Saturday, Dec. 17, they will be at the Lewis County Historical Museum from 2 to 4 p.m. along with other local authors Staebler, Rose, Julie McDonald Zander, Sara Light-Waller, Jan Pierson, Kyle Pratt and James Pratt. 

According to Mittge, 100 copies of the second edition have been printed so far. 

More About George Washington 

On January 8, 1875, George Washington (1817-1905) and his wife Mary Jane filed the plat that established the town of Centerville, which was soon to be renamed Centralia, in Lewis County in Southwest Washington. George Washington, a pioneer from Virginia, was the son of an African American slave and a woman of English descent. For the next 30 years, he was a leading citizen, promoter and benefactor of the town he founded.

Washington was born in Frederick County, Virginia, on Aug. 15, 1817. When his father, a slave, was sold and taken from the area soon after George’s birth, his mother left him with a white couple named Anna and James Cochran (or Cochrane), who raised him. While George was still a child, the Cochrans moved west to Ohio and then Missouri. As an adult, Washington tried his hand at several businesses in Missouri and Illinois, but was frustrated each time by discriminatory laws. By 1850 he decided to head farther west in the hope of finding more freedom. The Cochrans joined him, and on March 15, 1850, the family set out with a wagon train heading west. They settled first in Oregon City, but within a few years crossed the Columbia River into what would soon become Washington Territory.

In 1851 Washington arrived at the confluence of the Chehalis and Skookumchuck rivers, where he laid a claim. 

And that was just the beginning of the story of Centralia’s founding. 

Read more about Washington at https://www.historylink.org/File/5276