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Washington State Legislature changes the name of Clarke County to Clark County on December 23, 1925. Essay 5234 : Printer-Friendly Format

On December 23, 1925, an official act of the Washington State Legislature changes the name of the state's oldest county from Clarke to Clark. The change corrects a spelling mistake made by the first Washington Territorial Legislature in 1854, and makes the spelling of the county's name consistent with the name of the man it honors - Captain William Clark (1770- 1838) of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

On August 20, 1845, the Provisional Legislature of Oregon Territory designated the part of Oregon lying north of the Columbia River, which would later become the state of Washington, as Vancouver District, the forerunner of Clark County. On December 21, 1845, that Legislature changed the name of Vancouver District to Vancouver County, and divided the area, naming the western portion Lewis County in honor of Captain Meriwether Lewis (1774-1809).

Three years later, on September 3, 1849, the Oregon Territorial Legislature enacted a law changing the name of Vancouver County to honor William Clark, who along with Lewis led the Corps of Discovery over the Rocky Mountains and down the Columbia River. That law spelled Clark County without an "e." However, after Washington Territory was carved out of Oregon Territory in 1853, the new Territory's Legislature began referring to Clarke County with an "e" at the end. Early newspapers, including the Columbian, Pioneer, and Pioneer and Democrat also used the final "e."

The spelling Clarke County persisted long after Washington became a state in 1889. In his history of Washington geographic names, published in 1923, eminent early Washington historian Edmond S. Meany stated that "[w]hile attention has often been called to the blunder in late years no effort at legal correction has apparently been made" (Meany, 49). Meany wrote "[t]he blunder is one of ignorance, but is probably now too deeply imbedded in law, literature and custom to be completely corrected" (Meany, 48).

Professor Meany proved unduly pessimistic, or perhaps the comments in his book had an effect. Two years later, on December 23, 1925, an official act of the Washington State Legislature changed the name of Clarke County back to Clark County, the name it was first given in 1849.

Robert Hitchman, Place Names of Washington (Washington State Historical Society, 1985), 49-50; Edmond S. Meany, Origin of Washington Geographic Names (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1923), 48-49.

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William Clark (1770-1838), ca. 1810
Portrait by Charles Willson Peale, Courtesy National Park Service

Clarke County Courthouse, Vancouver, 1910s

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