Kalama incorporates on July 16, 1890.

  • By Rita Cipalla
  • Posted 10/28/2021
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 21344
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On July 16, 1890, Kalama incorporates as a fourth-class town; William Hite Imus (1862-1950) is elected mayor. The town on the Columbia River in Southwest Washington had first incorporated on November 29, 1871, before statehood, but in 1877, it was disincorporated by the territorial legislature. In 1890, Kalama residents voted to incorporate a second time, with 26 of the 45 votes cast favoring incorporation.

Kalama Beginnings

In the summer of 1871, when talk of incorporation was a topic for discussion among early residents, the population of Kalama stood at 300. "Exaggerated estimates have been made respecting the early population, but it is doubtful if same ever exceeded 500 by 1874. However, claims have been made that Kalama had a population of between three and four thousand people at this time" (Kalama ... Centennial History, 33).

It was enough to incorporate, however, and on November 29, 1871, Kalama was incorporated by the Washington Territorial Legislature. The following officers were appointed: James Tilton, mayor; H. H. Holt, clerk; William A. Townsend, marshal; and Byron W. Daniels, recorder. City councilmembers were W. B. Blackwell, John Young, J. M. Bloomfield, S. W. Beall, and E. G. Ingalls. In 1872, Kalama became the county seat of Cowlitz County -- a designation it held until 1922 when the seat was moved to Kelso.

On November 9, 1877, the territorial legislature passed an act to disincorporate the City of Kalama that it had established just six years later. The reasons are unclear but may have had something to do with a dramatic decline in population following the Northern Pacific Railway's decision to move its regional headquarters from Kalama to Tacoma in 1873.

Incorporated Again

After Washington became a state on November 11, 1889, Kalama residents decided to revisit the issue of incorporation. Of the 45 votes cast in the 1890 incorporation election, 26 favored incorporating. On July 16, 1890, Kalama was officially re-incorporated as a town of the fourth class.

William Hite Imus, founder and publisher of the Kalama Bulletin, was elected mayor in the 1890 vote. Serving with Imus were Dr. Ed Darnell, treasurer, and Del Imus, clerk. Councilmembers were W. D. Close, Barney Coffey, A. F. Cooper, Richard Molden, and John Seibert. One of the early provisions they enacted was to tax Kalama's six saloons $600 each for a liquor license to help raise funds for town improvements. During his career, Imus also served as county clerk, prosecuting attorney, and head of the Land Office. He was instrumental in establishing the Port of Kalama in 1920, and was elected as one of its first port commissioners, along with J. G. Gruver and F. L. Jenkins.

Improving the Roads

In 1901, A. L. Watson became Kalama's mayor; that year, about 700 residents called Kalama home. In 1905, the mayor was C. Kalahan. Other city officials during Kalahan's term of office were Dr. L. M. Sims, treasurer; W. J. Hand, marshal; Edgar L. Collins, town clerk; and Joseph Smith, judge. City councilmembers included E. Carlson, A. Bystrom, Fred Arnold, D. J. Sullivan, and J. T. Wood.

Improvements made by the Kalahan administration included substantial work on the main wagon road leading north from town, supervised by a Mr. Gassin who was head of the street committee. The road had been "in such a horrible condition that teams could hardly navigate, [but] has been transformed from a continuous mudhole to a good wagon road. It has been graded and has a good, healthy coating of gravel, making a good road summer and winter;" the Kalama Bulletin of May 5, 1905, praised the work of the committee and city council, saying "they should be congratulated on their work, the cost being so small compared to the good to be derived from it" (Kalama ... Centennial History, 139).

Celebrating State and City Anniversaries

In 1987, two years before Washington celebrated its statehood centennial, a committee in Kalama was formed to look into ways to observe the anniversary. One idea was to create a commemorative coin depicting Kalama's large totem pole on one side and the state flower and bird on the other. The totem pole depicted was carved by Don Smith (1933-1996), also known as "Chief Lelooska," intended for display at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair had it been completed in time. Said to be the tallest single-tree totem pole in the Pacific Northwest, the totem is displayed with three smaller poles at Kalama's Marine Park. The centennial coin was produced and sold to raise funds. In July 1990, as the state's centennial year was winding down and the 100th anniversary of the city's incorporation was reached, Kalama restaged its popular Strawberry Festival, which had been held annually from 1938 through 1951.

In 2015, Kalama celebrated its 125th anniversary and the Strawberry Festival was again resurrected. A gigantic strawberry shortcake, a long-standing festival tradition, was a hit, serving 1,300 people that year. Another project for the anniversary was a photo book highlighting Kalama's history, organized by city librarian C. Louise Thomas. She solicited photos from residents and then picked the best images from the 500 submitted. A city librarian for 18 years, from 2001 to 2019, Thomas was an ideal choice to tackle the project because her family was descended from pioneers who settled in the area around 1867. The book, Kalama, published in 2016, was part of the Images of America series by Arcadia Publishing.


Legislative Manual and Political Directory: State of Washington, 1899 (Tacoma: The Central News Company, 1899); Third Biennial Report of the Bureau of Labor of the State of Washington, 1901-1902 (Seattle: Metropolitan Press, 1903), 46; Laws of the Territory of Washington, Enacted by the Legislative Assembly in the Year 1877 (Olympia, C. B. Bagley, Public Printer, 1877), 360-61; Kalama, Washington: A Centennial History, ed. by Violet A. Johnson (Kalama: Clark County Genealogical Society, 1990); "Election to Incorporate the Town of Kalama," July 16, 1890, Record of Incorporated Cities and Towns, Office of the Secretary of State, Washington State Archives, Olympia, Washington; HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Berry Farming in Washington" (by Eleanor Boba); "A Group of Kalama Residents Meets to Organize Port of Kalama on December 22, 1919" (by Catherine Hinchliff); "Deep-draft Ports of Washington" (by John Caldbick), "Kalama -- Thumbnail History" (by Rita Cipalla), http://www.historylink.org (accessed October 28, 2021); "Remembering Chief Lelooska," Sydney of Oysterville website accessed October 3, 2021 (http://sydneyofoysterville.com/2013/remembering-chief-lelooska/); C. Louise Thomas, Kalama (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2016).

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