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The towns that once rivaled Edmonds | History Files


Last updated 11/14/2018 at Noon

Edmonds is now a city of 40,000. In many states, that would make it a major metropolis. As it is, Edmonds is just a suburb in the Seattle metropolitan area.

Edmonds is certainly out-rivaled, population-wise, in our own county by Everett.

It wasn’t always thus. Edmonds once had aspirations to greatness, and was not alone in its quest.

Seattle reached its goal of New York Alki, and many in Seattle regret what they wished for. But the question is: Is it better to have failed to reach the goal?

Many Washington towns’ aspirations are now withered. And while in fact no longer exist, others hang on as shadows of what once was. Interstate 90 and Interstate 5 bypass most small towns – you don’t see them unless you scramble off the Interstate and plan a visit.

I like to travel off the interstate, so I see a hodgepodge of small towns that once rivaled Edmonds.

Recently, I exited I-5 in southwest Washington to visit towns that I’d heard of for decades but had never slowed down to discover. The last time I came north from Oregon was a year ago, when I went to see the sun’s total eclipse.

I drove by Ridgefield and La Center. I skirted Woodland, although I have eaten there on a few occasions, and stayed in an area motel as a child with my parents.

Now it was time for another look.

I learned La Center was about as old as Edmonds, and had once been important as the head of navigation on the east fork of the Lewis River. Railroads came along, and then highways, and La Center faded in importance.

Its growth in the last two decades is due mostly to the expansion of the Portland metropolitan area.

Ridgefield predates Edmonds.

In fact, it predates European settlement. Lewis and Clark found a settlement of 700 to 800 people there in 1805. By the 1860s, Ridgefield was an important trading center along the Columbia River.

It sits near the mouth of Lake River where it flows into the Columbia. Ridgefield was more fortunate than La Canter for one reason – the railroad chugged through it. Ridgefield now has a National Wildlife Preserve and, like La Center, benefits from Portland’s metropolitan growth.

I had been to Woodland before, but had not strayed far from I-5.

I tasted the treats at Burgerville, and at Oak Tree. My parents chose a motel in Woodland when we drove to Disneyland in 1959. I had traveled east from Woodland to see the Cedar Creek Grist Mill near Amboy, and the Chelatchie Prairie Railroad in Yacolt.

I hadn't, however, visited downtown Woodland to the west of I-5. Woodland is much older than Edmonds, with settlement dating from 1849. It’s nestled on the Lewis River, so steamboats could easily navigate to it.

The elevation is low, and flooding has been a recurring problem, most recently in 1996.

Woodland – where the beautiful Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens can be found – is one of the small number of municipalities that crosses a county line; Cowlitz and Clark counties meet in Woodland.

Woodland has also grown in the last two decades for the same reason as La Center and Ridgefield.

As a member of the Edmonds Historic Preservation Commission I enjoy seeing historic buildings. And a few historic buildings exist in each of these towns.

It is a pleasure to visit the old-town areas while imagining the hopes and aspirations of those who built and used the structures, and those who persisted in their dreams.


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