Off the highway:

Chehalis and Centralia

Off the highway:

Off the highway:

    Most travelers on Interstate 5 probably don’t know what they’ve been passed at 70 mph when they pass Chehalis and Centralia, halfway between Seattle and Portland.

Although they generally just make the news when that area floods — most recently in 2007 — rich history continues to run through their streets.


An historic passageway

Back in the 1850s, the town of Centralia was known as Centerville. Its “Historic Downtown” was once the halfway stop for stagecoaches heading to and from Seattle and the Columbia River.

These days, the area is a popular stopping point for cyclists participating in the Seattle to Portland bike ride every July.

Melanie Boyajian, a University of Washington student who grew up in Centralia, said, “The preservation of Historic Downtown works as a daily reminder of the critical role our small town played in the evolution of our state. It pays homage to the rich mixture of people and cultures that met at our convenient center along the trading route.”

Jim Valley of the Centralia -Chehalis Chamber of Commerce likens Centralia’s downtown to Mainstreet USA in Disneyland.

He said the Centralia Union Depot, the city’s Amtrak station, is celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. “In theory, you can take the train from Seattle for a day and end up straight in Historic Downtown,” he noted.

The streets of Centralia’s downtown are lined with antiques shops. “While we are known for our antiques shops, we have many other boutiques and specialty stores that complement our antique heritage,” Valley said.

Centralia’s downtown also features a Carnegie Library, Fox Theater, Centralia College and McMenamin’s Olympic Club Hotel and Theater, to name a few. 

For more information, visit the City of Centralia’s website:


A busy calendar

Less than 5 miles south of Centralia is Chehalis, which has its own historic downtown, three historic districts, a small airport and the noteworthy Chehalis River. On a nice day, one can catch clear views of Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens from there.

Caryn Foley, administrative assistant at Chehalis City Hall, said, “We’re fortunate because we have four museums.”  The Veterans Memorial Museum, the Vintage Motorcycle Museum, the Chehalis-Centralia Railroad Museum and the Lewis County Historical Museum.

Foley also points out the Chehalis downtown walking tour, which offers a glimpse of the city’s evolution through roughly 40 landmarks along the way.

Looking ahead to summer, Chehalis puts on “Planes, Trains & Automobiles.” The show, scheduled for July 28 this year, features the town’s famous Steam Train, which Foley notes is the town’s biggest attraction. The event also includes a car show, motorcycle show.

On Aug. 4, the Centralia-Chehalis Airport hosts the town’s AirFair event.

Foley also notes the Chehalis Garlic Fest and Craft Show, an event offering garlicky foods and a craft fair. It will mark its 16th year in late August.

On Aug. 25, Centralia brings in a couple hundred cars for the Hub City Car Show, which happens downtown. All vehicles are welcome; there is a $15 entry fee.

For more information, visit the City of Chehalis website ( or the Centralia/Chehalis Chamber of Commerce website (

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