This is an example of a phenomenon found in the commercial districts of small towns that have undergone an economic decline. The original retailers that occupied the downtown stores are long gone.
Based on what I’ve seen in a number of small towns in recent years, thrift stores tend to sprout up in the places formerly occupied by such traditional retailers as jewelry stores, pharmacies, clothes emporiums or barber shops.
These second-generation stores are different in that the store fronts have hand-painted signs instead of the computer-generated signs printed on durable synthetic material.
Here’s the very long story of Raymond, Washington:
The blanket of old growth forest that covered the Willapa Hills surrounding Raymond, on the Willapa River in Pacific County, fueled the town’s growth from a handful of farms to a mill town bustling with trains filled with freshly cut logs, mills running 24 hours a day, and ships laden with lumber bound for the East Coast, South American, San Francisco, and Hawaii in less than a decade after its founding in 1903.
When a combination of overharvesting, environmental laws, and changes in the global market severely reduced logging and milling in the 1980s and 1990s, Raymond residents looked to new, more sustainable ways to utilize the surrounding hills, rivers, and bay to create jobs and sustain their community.
The Willapa River, with headwaters in the Willapa Hills, winds through the Willapa Valley until it is reaches the sea at Willapa Bay. A few miles upstream from the river’s mouth, the South Fork of the Willapa joins the main river. Sloughs thread through the lowland forming what is called the Island, though it is not technically completely encircled by water.
Prior to contact with Europeans, three tribes lived around the Willapa’s mouth, the Shoalwater (or Willapa) Chinook, the Lower Chehalis, and, seasonally, the Kwalhiloqua. Epidemic diseases brought by European and white American traders wreaked havoc in the Indian communities because they lacked immunities to the diseases. A malaria epidemic in the 1830s, probably brought to the area by sailors who had been in the tropics, decimated tribes in the lower Columbia River region.
After the epidemic, the Kwalhioqua all but disappeared, and the few remaining individuals joined the Willapa Chinook and Lower Chehalis. The northern part of Willapa Bay and the Willapa River formed a boundary between the Chinooks to the south and the Lower Chehalis to the north. The two groups intermarried and traded often.
These are the people who oystermen met when they came to Willapa Bay in the 1850s to harvest shellfish for the San Francisco market. The Indians worked with the oystermen in harvesting the shellfish.
Loggers, Farmers, and Indians
It was not long before the area’s forests attracted loggers and sawmill operators. Brothers John (b. ca. 1830) and Valentine Riddell (b. ca. 1817) established a mill at what would become South Bend in 1869. Others followed, included John Adams’ mill on the north side of the junction of the Willapa River with the South Fork.
Several farmers staked claims in the vicinity of the junction. The community, known as Riverside, had a school in 1875 and a post office.
The Indians in the area continued to work with oystermen, and in the more recently established salmon canneries and saw mills. They also continued to visit their traditional gathering places for berries and other plant materials.
The tribes had not yet formally agreed to allow the white Americans to live on their land, so, in February 1855, Territorial Governor Isaac Stevens (1818-1862) met with the Quinault, Queets, Lower Chehalis, Upper Chehalis, Shoalwater Bay, Chinook, and Cowlitz tribes at the Chehalis River Treaty Council (at the location of Cosmopolis today). The tribes did not object to ceding their lands, but once they heard the terms of the treaty they rejected the provision that required them to move to a shared reservation away from their traditional lands with the location of the reservation to be determined later. The tribes refused to accept those conditions and Stevens left without an agreement.
The absence of a treaty did not prevent white settlers from claiming lands along the Willapa River, thereby leaving less and less room for the Indians to live. On September 22, 1866 President Andrew Johnson (1808-1875) established the Shoalwater Bay Tribes Reservation by reserving 335 acres near Tokeland for the Lower Chehalis and Willapa Chinook who lived along Willapa Bay. The reservation is and has been used by a number of the tribes’ members, but many also live in the surrounding communities (and elsewhere).
Raymond is Formed
In 1889 the promise of a Northern Pacific Railway terminus in South Bend, just downstream from the river junction, led to a land boom. Lots in South Bend and along the river in both directions sold for incredible profits until 1893 when a national financial panic led to a bust in South Bend. South Bend had the county seat and retained the railroad and some operating mills, but a grant of land to the Northern Pacific on the waterfront tied up many of its choicest industrial sites.
Upriver, at the river junction, a group of residents, some with Homestead Act claims and others who had bought land at low prices following the bust in South Bend, formed the Raymond Land and Development Company in 1903.
Incorporators of the land company included Leslie (1874-1961) (often referred to as L. V.) and Stella (1875-1960) Raymond, who had a farm on the Island. Stella had inherited the land from her father, Captain George Johnson (1823-1882), who had established a Homestead Act Claim for almost 179 acres. Presumably Johnson or the Raymonds purchased part of their holdings, because they brought 310 acres to the partnership.
L. V. and Stella, who married in 1897, moved to the farm in 1899 and Raymond became the name of the town that grew up on and around their land. L. V. served as the town’s first postmaster, first Northern Pacific Railway agent, and developed a water system for the town. The Raymonds donated land and their time to community projects, such as a playfield and the fire department. A bequest from the Raymonds established the Raymond Foundation in 1962 as a non-profit organization to fund scholarships and community development projects.
Building a River Town
Alexander C. Little (1860-1932) was also a partner in the land company. After a career in local and state politics that included serving as Aberdeen’s mayor, helping elect Governor John R. Rogers, and serving on the State Fisheries Commission, in 1903 Little decided to shift to the private sector. According to Pacific County historian Douglas Allen, "Raymond was named for L. V. but from the beginning A.C. Little formed the character of the town" (Allen, 65).
According to Allen, Little contributed two key elements to the town’s success. First, he recommended that the land company offer free riverfront lots to mills, thereby ensuring an economic foundation for the town. Second, Little brought Harry C. Heermans (1852-1943) into the partnership. Heermans’s engineering background helped solve issues associated with building a town on a river. The sloughs that laced the land rose and fell with the tides, but uphill development would have taken mills too far from the riverfront. Besides, the hills surrounding the river junction rose abruptly and would have posed their own engineering challenges.
Other incorporators of the land company included J. B. Duryea, Winfield S. Cram (b.1866), and John T. Welsh (1866-1954). A second land company, the Great West Land Company, also formed in 1903, had some of the same investors and also worked to develop the town.
In 1903, the first mill, operated by Jacob Siler and Winfield Cram, began operations. Several more mills, including the West Coast Veneer & Manufacturing Company mill run by Little, followed and businesses grew up nearby.
On April 16, 1904, the Raymond Land Company filed a plat for the town of Raymond. The business district consisted of a store, a saloon, and a mess house that served mill workers. A drug store and hotel were coming soon.
Lots Sold by the Gallon
To allow people to cross the water-sodden landscape, the town constructed 2,900 feet of elevated wooden sidewalks. These sidewalks ran down either side of what would become 1st Street, which was really an open space onto which the buildings fronted. Additional wooden sidewalks crossed the void at regular intervals.
Lillian Smith (1875-1960), a teacher from Michigan who came to teach in Raymond for a year not long after the town’s founding, remembered her first impressions of the town,
"At first I seemed to be crossing the river no matter what street I took. It was like losing oneself with Alice on the other side of the Looking Glass where you had to keep going in order to stand still, and vice versa. Imagine streets like long bridges built on piles driven into the slough (pronounced slu). Wooden railings on either side, and beyond these narrower wooden bridges of sidewalk width, these too with railings — a perfect maze of railings, necessary to keep careless pedestrians from falling into the slough" (Smith, 3).
Still, the town’s location provided enough benefits to outweigh the difficulties of being what Smith called, "an amphibious town" (Smith, 6). It was located at the head of navigable waters, close to the bay and to the forests that fed its mills. It also had access to the Northern Pacific Railway, without having had to give up its waterfront lots the way South Bend had.
Navigation on the river depended on assistance from the Army Corps of Engineers. Early in its history Willapa Bay was known as Shoalwater Bay because of its many shallow areas. These made ideal oyster grounds, but limited ships’ access to ports. The Corps, under the provisions of several different Rivers and Harbors Acts, had dredged the river up to Willapa City, just upstream from the Raymond townsite, and kept it clear of snags. The Corps also maintained a channel through the bar at the mouth of the bay.
Businesses besides lumber mills diversified the economy. In 1907 Stewart L. Dennis (1873-1952) and Perry W. Shepard (b. ca. 1871) formed a transfer company that would become an important retail business in Pacific County, now known as the Dennis Company, and John W. Dickie and his son, David, came to Raymond to establish a boatyard.
The Dickies had worked in the San Francisco Bay area and, according to local historian Ina E. Dickie, came to Raymond because the more-isolated Willapa Bay offered better access to lumber and to employees who accepted lower wages and had not yet formed unions. Dickie & Son built steamships — the first was the Willapa — at Raymond over the next several years. All were built for the coastwise lumber trade, which was booming following the 1906 earthquake and fires in San Francisco.
On August 6, 1907, voters approved a measure to incorporate the town of Raymond. A handful of residents resisted the town’s boundaries because they included some outlying farms in anticipation of the town’s growth.
Little served as the first mayor, an office he would hold for 10 of the next 11 years. When asked in 1910 to serve as president of the Southwest Washington Development Association, Little replied that he was "disqualified because of his partiality for the place where lots are sold by the gallon at high tide" ("Southwest Part of the State Unites").
A Lumber Town
The first council consisted of seven men: C. Frank Cathcart, president of Raymond Transfer and Storage and Northern Pacific agent, Winfield S. Cram, Timothy H. Donovan, superintendent of the Pacific & Eastern Railway and Sunset Timber Company, Floyd Lewis, real estate agent, Charles Myers, sawyer at the Siler Mill, L. V. Raymond, and Willard G. Shumway a clerk. P. T. Johnson served as the first treasurer and Neal Stupp as the clerk and secretary.
By 1910 the population had increased to 2,540, but that was just the start of the flood of new residents. In 1911, there were about 5,000 people in Raymond. They were needed for the kind of production boasted of by a promotional brochure from 1912. It lists the output of the towns mills for the previous year as 27,834,779 board feet of lumber, 226,712,250 shingles, 105 million berry baskets (made from veneer), and 33 million pieces of lath for plaster walls. The newcomers included business people, mill owners, mill workers, and loggers from all parts of the world.
Labor v. Capital
The 1910s, although economically prosperous, saw a series of disputes between labor unions and mill owners up and down the West Coast. Working conditions in the lumber industry were dismal and lumber workers struck for better wages and better logging camp conditions.
On March 25, 1912, mill workers in Raymond walked off the job to prevent the lumber companies from using their Raymond mills to replace lost production at Grays Harbor mills, where workers had begun a strike two weeks earlier. The town’s business community’s response was swift and severe. They held a meeting the second day of the strike. A. C. Little led the discussion, railing against the strike’s organizers, the Industrial Workers of the World, also known as the Wobblies. The meeting participants decided that they should protect "any man who might want to work" ("Strikes Close Raymond Mills"). To that stated end, several committees formed to support the effort. Over the next several days the sheriff swore in 460 deputies to "protect property and the working men" ("Strikes Close Raymond Mills").
To prevent the mill workers from gathering, the city closed all the saloons and brothels for the duration of the strikes. Likewise, three "Socialists speakers," were arrested upon disembarking the Raymond depot ("Strikes Close Raymond Mills").
A few days later, on March 30, 1912, the mill owners blew their whistles for the start of work. Anyone who did not heed to the call found themselves and their families rounded up by about 200 men with rifles and shotguns and loaded onto a railroad car bound for Centralia. The South Bend Journal identified those who refused to work as Finns and Greeks.
The Greek workers were taken to Centralia, where the Greek consul from Tacoma, Hans Heldner, met them and protested their treatment. The Finns had been removed by boat to Nahcotta. From there they traveled on to Astoria where there was a large Finnish American community. After the strike ended, the South Bend Journal said that the Greek mill workers asked to return, but, "American flags have been hoisted on the mills and only Americans or civilized foreigners need apply" ("Agitators Banished from Raymond"). Other strikes would come to Raymond and labor unions led fights for improved safety, better conditions, and higher pay.
Despite labor problems, the mills kept prospering in Raymond. In 1912 there were 14 mills in operation. They used an average of 50 railroad cars full of logs from logging camps in the surrounding fills. The mills produced an average of 20 railroad cars a day of lumber and other forest products. These included shingles, cascara bark, used for medications, doors, and window frames.
Growth and Development
In 1912 the town also started to fill the sloughs that ran through town so residents could have actual streets and so that houses would not flood at high tide. In 1915 the Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad began passenger and freight service between Raymond and Puget Sound. The mayors of Raymond and South Bend presented the railroad’s representatives with a wooden key "symbolical [sic] of the freedom of Willapa Harbor" (Krantz). The train service was a vital link between the Willapa River towns and the interior of Washington. Not until 1917 would a road through the Willapa Hills open. The precursor of State Route 6, it was not reliably useable. It featured steep switchbacks and its gravel surface routinely suffered from water damage.
The late 1910s saw Raymond operating at full bore. Six saw mills, two veneer plants, a box factory, five shingle mills, and a woodworking plant were joined by the Sanderson & Porter shipyard, which employed 1,000 workers in building ships for the United States Navy during World War I. In the postwar era, the population dropped to about 4,500.
Port of Willapa Harbor
In 1928 residents of Raymond joined with South Bend to form the Port of Willapa Harbor, a public port district. The Port built a public dock on land between Raymond and South Bend that allowed smaller sawmills access to the river. This facilitated the transport of logs, which could be floated down the river from logging camps in the Willapa Hills, and the shipping of finished lumber. Before the public dock was completed in 1930, sawmills and other forest-products factories that did not have riverfront property had to send their goods to Grays Harbor or Puget Sound via the railroad, adding significantly to transport costs and time.
The Port dedicated the dock on October 8, 1930, and the city of South Bend dedicated a reconstructed city dock and improved slip. The same day, state highway officials led a celebration of the opening of Highway 101 between Aberdeen and Raymond-South Bend. For the first time travelers could follow a road through the Willapa Hills to the north of South Bend. It also connected Aberdeen with Ilwaco and the Long Beach Peninsula. This provided drivers with a direct route to the ferries that crossed the Columbia River to Astoria.
The Port’s dock housed a sawmill, owned first by Ralph Tozier (1920-2005) and then Ben Cheney (1905-1971), who owned Cheney Lumber Company. According to Med Nicholson, writing in the Sou’wester, in 1945, Cheney was faced with a problem of wasted wood that resulted from cutting logs for ties. In order to square up the logs, large slabs were cut off each of four sides. Cheney had the insight that the slabs were eight feet long (the length of railroad ties) and house ceilings were eight and one-half feet tall. At the time home builders were buying studs in 10- and 12-foot lengths and cutting them down, also resulting in a lot of wasted wood. Cheney cut the slabs into a "Cheney Stud," what are now known as eight-foot two-by-four and sold them to home builders. Eight-foot ceilings became standard in houses, "putting to use an enormous amount of formerly wasted timber and incidentally saving American homeowners uncounted millions of dollars in heating expense" ("The Ben Cheney Story," 10).
Raymond’s Great Depression
Unfortunately, the advantages presented by the new port and highway were hampered by the Great Depression. The economic downturn resulted in drastically decreased demand for lumber and Raymond residents struggled to find jobs. The decline of the Great Depression would reduce the town’s population to 4,000. A steady decline after the Depression brought the population to just under 3,000 by 1990, where it has stayed since.
Though circumstances improved slightly when Weyerhaeuser purchased two mills in Raymond and one in South Bend and reorganized them in 1931, larger economic forces made it nearly impossible for commerce to continue in Raymond. In 1932 the Raymond Chamber of Commerce, faced with a near stoppage of business following the failure of the First Willapa Harbor National Bank, printed its own currency called "oyster money" to carry people over until real money became available again.
The Port of Willapa Harbor continued its efforts to improve the port’s facilities. The Army Corps of Engineers carried out at federally funded dredging and channel straightening project on the river in 1936. The dredge spoils created Jensen Island and the new channel allowed deeper-draft boats to reach Raymond.
Logging and Lumber
A 1954 report by Nathaniel H. Engle and Delbert C. Hastings of the University of Washington’s Bureau of Business Research, draws an interesting portrait of Pacific County’s average male citizen as delineated by the 1950 Federal Census:
"Mr. Average Citizen of Pacific County, at the last census, 1950, was white and 33 years of age. He had had two years of high school education. He was employed as a laborer or an operative in the lumber industry. His income for the year was about $3,042. He was married and had two children. He lived in a 4 or 5 room house in good condition, with hot and cold running water, toilet, and bath. He had mechanical refrigeration, and a radio, but no central heating. His home was worth close to $4,000 and was owned clear of debt. Thus Pacific County’s average citizen rates as a substantial American wage earner, somewhat better off, on the whole, than the average American, although not quite up to the average in Washington state" (Engle and Hastings, 5).
The lumber industry supported a significant number of these "average" residents. Where Grays Harbor had nearly cleared much its surrounding forest lands in the 1920s, Pacific County still had considerable standing timber in the 1950s. In 1951 more than 66 million board feet of logs and more than 90 million board feet of lumber left Raymond on ships and railroad cars. This may have been the result of a high concentration of ownership by large companies such as Weyerhaeuser, which owned 380 square miles (nearly half of the county), Crown-Zellerbach, owner of 60 square miles, and Rayonier, owner of 50 square miles.
Engle and Hastings described the logging companies’ success as resulting from the companies’ willingness to use sustained yield practices, rather than cutting the forests as quickly as the mills could cut the logs. Sustained yield did lead to more selective and more reseeding, but it did not maintain forests that could support diverse ecosystems because most of the reseeding was of single, productive species such as Douglas fir. Wildlife populations were further damaged by hunting programs designed to eliminate animals such as deer or bear that browsed on seedlings and new growth on older trees.
In 1954 and 1955, Weyerhaeuser carried out a two-part renovation of the old Willapa Lumber Company mill that it had acquired in 1931. First they replaced all the mill’s facilities and then they rebuilt the mill itself. This mill, known as Mill W, remains in operation in 2010, the last softwood lumber mill in operation in Raymond,
In the 1970s the region saw another lumber boom. According to Richard Buck, of The Seattle Times, a new generation of baby boomers began buying houses, which increased the demand for lumber, leading to increased competition and prices. Prices reached $337 per 1,000 board feet.
The next decade, the declines in the national economy devastated the local economy rather than driving it. Prices dropped by two-thirds to $102 per 1,000 board feet in 1985. According to Buck this was due to a decline in housing starts and the increase in the value of the dollar and interest rates, which made Canadian lumber cheaper. Also, deregulation of the transportation industry increased the disadvantage West Coast lumber mills had compared to Southern and Midwestern lumber mills’ proximity to East Coast markets.
In addition to the economic forces battering the lumber industry, in the late 1980s the local environment could no longer support the intense logging of the previous century. Historical overharvest and increased environmental regulations reduced the acreage of public forestland open to logging. In 1990, the Northern Spotted Owl was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act. With the owl’s listing, communities in Pacific County had to adjust to reduced logging and fewer jobs at the area’s sawmills. The effects of the environmental regulations were compounded by plant modernization, which also led to fewer jobs in the mills. Many smaller mills could not compete with the larger companies’ more efficient mills and a number went out of business.
The closure of the federal forests combined with changes in how Weyerhaeuser managed its lands and utilized mills in Pacific County led to the closure of numerous mills. This, in turn, led to fewer jobs in the forest products industry, as well as other sectors of the county’s economy.
According to a Seattle Times article, "Some residents liken the area to a Third World nation, an underdeveloped colony whose resources are removed by ‘foreign’ corporations. Weyerhaeuser, they note, owns more than 50 percent of the land in Pacific County" (Hatch). Additionally, they accused Weyerhaeuser of using profits gained in Pacific County to build the very mills in the American South, where wages were lower, that undermined the viability of Raymond’s mills. Although there is certainly a component of anger at outside companies taking a tremendous amount of natural resources out of the surrounding hills without investing a significant portion of the resulting profits in the local community, this sentiment also reflects the frustration that resulted from one company owning so much of the county’s land and making decisions driven by the global market.
Strategies for Change
Raymond residents have created multiple strategies to address the changes to the regional economy. When one mill, the Mayr Brothers sawmill, closed in 1986, the Port of Willapa Harbor bought the land and buildings and leased them to Pacific Hardwoods. When that mill closed in 2001, a group of Raymond investors banded together and reopened it as Willapa Bay Hardwoods, employing 35 people. It planned to cut 17.5 million board feet a year, a far more sustainable volume than during the boom years.
The Port of Willapa Harbor has been involved in other economic development projects. The Port developed two industrial parks and received grants to construct light manufacturing buildings at one of the industrial parks and at the Port dock. A variety of industries have leased Port buildings, including a chitosan (a natural polymer produced from shellfish shells) producer, seafood processors, and an airplane prototype design company. Additionally, some of the buildings are used by retail stores, including a saw shop and a health club.
The Raymond community, in conjunction with the city government and the Port of Willapa Harbor, has developed attractions that will draw tourists to the region as a way to build the economy. The former railroad bed across the Willapa Hills has been turned into a hiking and biking trail. The city has begun redeveloping its riverfront and a regional consortium developed the Willapa Water Trail, which small boats can follow to explore Willapa Bay.
Over the past century the environment in and around Raymond has attracted people, many of whom have sought to remove as much of it as possible for sale in markets far from Pacific County. The town’s future lies in a more sustainable use of those resources, including the intangible ones that have to be experienced in person.