Kelso residents vote to incorporate on May 10, 1890.

  • By Rita Cipalla
  • Posted 10/21/2019
  • Essay 20879
See Additional Media

On May 10, 1890, 50 residents of Kelso, Washington, vote in favor of incorporation; one individual is opposed. After the vote, the town clerk is instructed to prepare a certified record of the result and forward it to Washington's new secretary of state. This was the second time the city had applied for incorporation. Kelso had filed an earlier application with the Washington Territorial government in 1888, which was accepted on January 7, 1889. Washington became a state on November 11, 1889, and Kelso then will apply for a new incorporation under state law after the May 10 election. By this time, the town has grown to 500 residents. Reincorporation will be finally granted in 1894.

Kelso's Founding

The town of Kelso was founded by Peter Crawford (1819-1889), a native of Scotland. Crawford immigrated to America in 1843, and after spending a few years in the Midwest, he arrived by wagon train in the Pacific Northwest in 1847. He selected an elevated point along the Cowlitz River for his claim, which he registered on Christmas Day 1847. In 1884 Crawford, who made his living as a surveyor, subdivided his claim into 500 lots, sold them to newly arrived settlers, and registered the town as Kelso, named after a town in Scotland not far from where he was born.

In 1888 Crawford surveyed the town again and registered the new plat in Kalama, which was then the county seat, on December 22, 1888. With that step completed, the town's initial request for incorporation was submitted and accepted by Washington's territorial government.

After Washington became a state, Kelso in the early 1890s applied for reincorporation under the new state's laws. "Thus Kelso had the distinction of having been twice incorporated -- once under territorial law and secondly under Washington State law" ("One Hundred Years for Kelso").

Early Elected Officials

Kelso's first mayor (before reincorporation) was Edwin A. Pratt, who was elected in 1890. At the same time, four council members were elected: B. F. Gilbert, John Pollard, Walter Lysons, and A. H. Edwin. J. M. Ayres was city marshal at a salary of $25 per month and Henry Allen became superintendent of streets with a salary of $2 a day.

The minutes of the first city council meeting are from June 7, 1890, when council members gathered in the law offices of Beal & Pearcy:

"Taking the oath of office, getting organized and discussing an overall agenda was the purpose of the meeting; then two evenings later they met again and after some discussion the attorney was requested to draft ordinances on the following subject: First, to provide for a corporate seal (to be used on all official papers); second, fix the amount of office bonds which each official would be required to post; third, fix the time of meetings; fourth, decline offenses and disorderly conduct and fix the punishment therefor; fifth, to prohibit stock from running at large" (About Kelso, p. 7).

In one of its first official acts, the city council chose to honor town founder Peter Crawford. When Crawford resurveyed the town in 1888, he had only named one of its street -- Cowlitz Avenue. The council members named a street for Crawford and provided names for all the other streets and avenues shown on the 1888 plat.

Early town laws passed by the city council prohibited hogs running loose or animals being butchered within the city center. Later, a tax on dogs was levied and circuses were required to have a license.

In December 1891, Kelso voters elected J. F. Van Name mayor. In 1892, Robert Allen was elected mayor, but did not serve (reason unknown). Van Name filled the vacancy. The first mayor under reincorporation was J. G. Jones, who served from 1894-1896. The first city council meeting held under reincorporation was in February 1894.

Kelso's Centennial Year

Kelso uses October 4, 1884 as its founding date which was when Peter Crawford first registered the town plat with the county auditor's office. One hundred years later, Kelso kicked off a yearlong centennial celebration. The festivities began with a public ceremony on May 20, 1984, that included speeches by Governor John Spellman (1926-2018), Washington State Representative Joe Tanner, and other dignitaries. Selections from a book of songs sent from the Scottish town of Kelso were sung during the event. Door prizes were given out and hundreds of balloons were released from the parking lot.

Kelso Mayor Richard I. Woods spoke to the crowd that day about the town's ups and downs over the century: "This is our town, ladies and gentlemen, that we all take pride in. We do suffer from economic trauma like many communities, but always remember this is our town and we are the ones that make it a wonderful place in which to live." ("One Hundred Years ...")

Additional centennial events were held in October 1984, closer to the actual anniversary date. Earlier that year, the Cowlitz County Historical Society sold engraved bricks to raise funds for the Cowlitz County Historical Museum. On October 6, 1984, one of the first bricks was installed on the museum's front walkway in a bricklaying ceremony organized by the local Masonic Lodge. A stainless steel time capsule was buried on the museum grounds, as well, to be opened in 50 years. That evening, a Centennial Ball was held at the Thunderbird Ballroom, and many attendees arrived wearing nineteenth-century costumes.


Camilla G. Summers, About Kelso, Cowlitz County, Washington (Longview: Speedy Litho Press, 1982); Camilla G. Summers, Go To The Cowlitz, Peter Crawford (Longview: Speedy Litho Press, 1978); George R. Miller et al., Images of America: Kelso (Charleston: Arcadia Publishing, 2011); Camilla G. Summers, "One Hundred Years for Kelso," Cowlitz Historical Quarterly, Vol. 26, No. 4 (1984); Dennis Weber, "Peter W. Crawford," Cowlitz Historical Quarterly, Vol. 49, No. 1 (March 2007), pp. 4-21; "About Kelso,"City of Kelso website accessed September 13, 2019 (; Amy M. E. Fischer, "Kelso History Hits 125-year Mark," The Daily News, May 24, 2009 (www.

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You