The names of communities around Lewis County flow off our tongues like they are perfectly normal words. Yet, for those who have relocated to the region or are just passing through, the town names are bewildering. They speak to the region’s unique history without giving any real background. Instead of letting the history of our town names remain a mystery, we have explained the origins of a handful of town names all around Lewis County. From Vader to Onalaska, and Napavine to Mossyrock, we explain how these regions received the names they go by today and unveil a bit of the mystery.
The small community of Onalaska has a unique name, but not as unique as one would think. While most assume the name comes from the Alaska Gold Rush days, the roots of the town’s name are based on a poem. The name for the city comes from the poem, “The Pleasures of Hope,” by the Scottish poet Thomas Campbell. The poem reads, “And waft, across the wave’s tumultuous roar, The wolf’s long howl from Onalaska’s shore.”
Around the United States, there are four towns sharing the same name, all with a similar history. Washington State’s Onalaska was started around 1909, built around the Carlisle Lumber Company Mill. At its peak in 1929, the company inventory stated that they had 20 million board feet of lumber, which is enough to stretch from the mill to the site of the Panama Canal. William Carlisle had numerous mills around the US, found in Onalaska, Wisconsin; Onalaska, Texas; and Onalaska, Arkansas, which no longer exists. Why he loved Campbell’s poem enough to name each of these towns after it is unknown, but it’s definitely a memorable and beautiful name.
Centralia’s name is pretty straight forward, but is named for a reason many do not realize. The town was founded by George Washington, the son of a slave, in 1875. It was originally named Centerville, thanks to its convenient location between the Puget Sound and the Columbia River. The town was renamed Centralia in the late 1800s in order to avoid confusion with a town in Eastern Washington named Centerville. While it is easy to see how Centralia is located in a good location today, the region has played an important role for thousands of years. Countless generations have used the region’s wealth of natural resources to survive and thrive.
Like Onalaska, Napavine’s name has ties to Scotland, but in a different way. While Onalaska was named after a word from a Scottish poem, Napavine comes from a dilution of a Native American word. In 1883 an immigrant from Scotland named James Urquhart plotted out a town, naming it Napavine. He got this name from a Native American word, either “Napawyna” or ”Napavoon,” which is said to translate into a word meaning “small prairie.” Urquhart, according to the city of Napavine’s website, changed the name to Napavine due to his strong dislike of Native Americans.
In a town that has never had more than seven hundred residents, the community known as Vader has seen numerous name changes in the 112 years since it was incorporated. Originally, this small town was known as Little Falls, due to a small waterfall in the region. However, the name didn’t last long. The Northern Pacific Railway, which ran through town, already had a town on their line named Little Falls, so they changed the town’s name to Sopenah. The town did not like this one bit, with some community members petitioning to be called Toronto. The town was divided, so a deal was reached. The town would be called Vader, named after a Civil War Veteran in town named Martin Vader. Despite the name changes, from 1906 through 1912, Vader was said to be the largest town between Tacoma and Portland.
Located just six miles from Chehalis, the small incorporated community we now call Adna has seen its fair share of name changes. Originally, the region was called Pomona, but that was before the region was much more than a few farms. In 1892, the Northern Pacific Railroad laid tracks through the hodgepodge of homes, bringing in more people and a post office. The resulting town’s name was supposed to be Edna, after a resident by the name of Edna Browning, but that name ran into an issue with the Postal Service. There was already a town named Edna in Washington, so instead of letting the community pick another name, they decided to change the “E” to an “A,” creating the town of Adna.
Finally, we end with the city of Mossyrock, located in the heart of Lewis County. Originally, the area now known as Mossyrock was called Coulph by the Cowlitz Tribe. In 1852, the town’s trading post was named Mossy Rock, after a 200 foot tall moss covered rock jutting into the air on the eastern end of the Klickitat Prairie. Historically, the Klickitat Prairie was formed into lush grounds for hunting and growing crops from controlled fires started near the rock by the tribes of the region. It wasn’t until 1948 that Mossyrock was officially incorporated.