On May 21, 1890, the City of Hoquiam is incorporated. The move to incorporate is driven largely by lumber capitalists, men like George H. Emerson (1846-1914) seeking to increase outside investment and profits by attracting a railroad into Hoquiam that would provide a connection to parts farther east.
The first non-Indian settler to come to what is today Hoquiam was James Karr, who moved into Grays Harbor from Oregon in 1859. He was joined shortly thereafter by the four Campbell brothers, including Ed Campbell (1835-1919), who became one of the best-known early Grays Harbor settlers.
In 1867, Ed Campbell applied for and received a post office at the mouth of the Hoquiam River. While applying for the post office he was forced to choose a name for the settlement that was already almost a decade old. After some wrangling over the spelling, Campbell chose the name "Hoquiam," the word local Indians used for the river, although the word had most commonly been spelled "Hokium." Campbell became the first postmaster in the new settlement, a position he held until his retirement in 1887. He also built a house in March 1872, which now stands at 18th Street and Riverside Avenue as the oldest home in Hoquiam. To educate the few children who were born in Hoquiam or who traveled there with their parents, a small school was established in 1873 inside the home of Johnny James (1841-1929), one of the area's first settlers.
One of the best-known works on early Grays Harbor history is The River Pioneers, an eloquent glimpse into the lives of early settlers like Ed Campbell. But from the 1880s onward, the early history of Hoquiam, including its drive for incorporation, was largely a project by and for capital. George H. Emerson, an agent for lumber capitalist A. M. Simpson of San Francisco, traveled into the harbor country first in the summer of 1880 and purchased from Johnny James (1841-1929) 300 acres in what is today Hoquiam. After a sturdy effort, laborers finally completed the North Western Lumber Company mill in 1882. In 1884 the mill was incorporated and by 1897, it was turning out about 100,000 board feet per day.
Hoquiam's Lumber Capitalists
On June 4, 1889, a year before incorporation, several prominent Hoquiam residents, including Emerson; John F. Soule, secretary and stockholder in the North Western Mill Company; and boss logger W. D. Mack met and set up Hoquiam's first government. A key to the move for incorporation was the need to wield an effective lobby group for Hoquiam-friendly policies, namely legislation favorable to the lumber industry, to attracting immigrants to work in the mills and woods, and most importantly, to getting a railroad to extend into the city. Along with Otis Moore, editor of the Washingtonian, these Hoquiam "city fathers" conducted several widely publicized trips to metropolitan areas in hopes of inducing the type of land speculation and rising land prices that would result from news of the imminent arrival of a rail line into Hoquiam.
Their efforts yielded great results. In 1889 alone, the population of Hoquiam rose dramatically from 400 to 1,500. In 1890, building in the city tripled, and property values advanced by more than 1,000 percent. That same year, on May 21, 1890, Hoquiam was incorporated as a city. Its first city council consisted of John Richardson, George W. France, O. M. Murphy, and Peter Autzen. J. T. Burns served as Hoquiam's first mayor.
In 1927, an official with the Hoquiam Chamber of Commerce accurately surmised the relationship between capital and the establishment of Hoquiam as a city: "The development of Hoquiam has been possible thru the energy and foresight of its industrial leaders. The site of the city was chosen for its locations as a point of least resistance in the receiving of logs and the shipping of lumber. The industries flourished and the town had to grow" (Matthias, "Annual Report").
A City Without a Railroad
Despite efforts to lure the railroad and the massive influx of people and outside investment, Hoquiam's dreams of a railroad were not realized until a full decade after the city's first government was established. Owing in part to the absence of a railroad into Hoquiam, the North Western mill maintained a near monopoly over the city's lumber trade until the first years of the twentieth century.
In fact, by 1897, only one additional mill -- the E. K. Wood Company -- was built in Hoquiam. Many logging firms were founded in the vicinity of Hoquiam to supply the North Western with logs during the 1880s and 1890s, although most of the truly massive Hoquiam logging ventures did not get their start until the early twentieth century.