Winlock is a small town in Lewis County with a population in 2010 of 1,339. The town lies 45 miles south of Olympia and a few miles west of the I-5 corridor. It was originally called Grand Prairie; the name was changed to Winlock on December 27, 1873, after Winlock Miller, the son of a general who briefly lived in the town. In the early 1900s, the town economy was fueled by sawmills, but by 1920 a new industry, egg and poultry production, had surpassed logging. In 1922 Winlock was the second largest egg-producing city in the nation. Its eggs were shipped as far away as New York and Hawaii, where sellers were contractually obligated to refer to them as Winlock Eggs. A festival called Egg Day is held each year in June; in 2021, the event celebrated its 100th anniversary. To mark its place in egg history, in 1923 Winlock commissioned a gigantic egg sculpture made of canvas. Subsequent versions were made of plastic and later fiberglass. The 1,200-pound egg, which residents claim is the world's largest egg sculpture, is on display atop a pedestal at the Vern Zander Memorial Park in Winlock.
Beginnings, and a Bell for the School
In 1871 there were at least two settlers living in the area around Winlock, which at the time was still known as Grand Prairie. They were Christopher C. Pagget (also spelled Pagett) and John "Jack" Samuel Nealy (1834-1920). Georgia-born Nealy filed a homestead claim on 40 acres of land to the west of the proposed Northern Pacific railroad track. Pagget, a judge, bought 80 acres from the U.S. government on the east side of the road. In 1952 a local historian wrote, "These two tracts now comprise practically the whole area of Winlock. On December 27, 1873, Mr. Pagget filed with the county auditor the original plot of the new [town], an area comprising practically all of the present business district, and he named it Winlock" (C. C. Wall, p. 5). Pagget had been appointed postmaster a few months earlier, in August 1873.
There are two stories circulating about the provenance of the town name. One story has it that General William Winlock Miller (1822-1876) promised a bell for the town school if the town was named in honor of his oldest son, Winlock. Another version records that Miller was given naming rights to the town by his friend and original settler, Christopher C. Pagget.
Born in 1822 in Greensburg, Kentucky, William Winlock Miller traveled west in 1849 in a wagon train. He lived in Oregon's Willamette Valley, where he taught school. In 1851 he moved to Olympia and was appointed a territorial surveyor; much of his work took place in Lewis County and Mason County. As he traveled around the region, Miller acquired both land and timber holdings and became a well-known and respected figure. He served as Olympia's first elected mayor from 1872-1873, was superintendent of Indian affairs in Washington Territory, and was appointed the territory's U.S. tax collector.
Pagget, a store owner in Toledo, south of Cowlitz Landing, sold his property there and settled nearby on the 80 acres of land he had purchased in 1871. He wrote to Miller, asking him to suggest a town name. The original letter has been lost but an affidavit recorded the approximate content of Miller's reply: "Whereas, on the 17th day of November 1873, General W. W. Miller of Olympia, Washington Territory, having been asked to give a name to the place, then known as Grand Prairie, did on the day written submit the following name, "WINLOCK," in the words following, to wit, "If however you should fancy the name, and adopt it, I will agree to give a nice bell to the church or schoolhouse, that is built in the town" (C. C. Wall, 6).
Not only did Miller provide the bell, he also donated land in both Toledo and Winlock for schools. The Winlock school was completed in 1881. Winlock had died five years earlier, but his wife, Mary Margaret McFadden Miller (1840-1927), made good on the promise, ordering a bell from San Francisco that was installed on January 18, 1882. When the school moved up the hill in 1891 to a new location, the bell went with it. That school burned down in 1922, but the bell was saved and placed in the new school.
William Winlock Miller and his wife had two sons: Winlock William Miller, born in 1870, and Pendleton Miller, born in 1871. Son Winlock (1870-1964) was a regent at the University of Washington for more than 40 years. The University's Education Hall, built in 1922 and designed by architect Alonzo Victor Lewis (1886-1949), was renamed Miller Hall in 1954, and it continues to house the UW College of Education.
Timberland and Sawmills
Winlock attracted many immigrants from Finland, Sweden, and Germany. Frank Owen established a newspaper in 1887 called The Winlock Pilot, and the first telephone system was installed that year, as well, linking Winlock with Toledo. Two years later, the town got its first electric lights and built its first planked road. By the early 1900s, Winlock had established a whist club, literary society, and dancing club, and local theater enthusiasts staged plays and minstrel shows. In 1909 Winlock had 2,000 residents who patronized four general stores, three grocery stores, two drug stores, two hardware stores, a bank, a newspaper, three doctors, a dentist, a foundry and machine shop, two blacksmith shops, two barber shops, a photographer, four hotels, two millinery stores, three confectioners, two furniture dealers, and four saloons.
Most of the population found employment in the town's sawmills and lumber yards, which included the J. A. Veness Lumber Company, L. B. Menefee Lumber Company, Prescott and Veness Company, J. E. Pumphrey & Son Lumber Company, Sprague Lumber Company, and O'Connell Lumber Company. The J. A. Veness Lumber Company employed 350 men with a monthly payroll in excess of $12,000. The company ran its own railways to supply its mills. The various Veness sawmills and 350 million feet of timber were bought by Weyerhaeuser in 1907.
The town was home to a cooperative creamery and the surrounding landscape was dotted with small farms, which produced vegetables, grasses, fruits, and grains. By the 1920s, Winlock was "not backwoodsy in the old-time opprobrious sense. It is an alert, prosperous town, with its principal streets paved; its business houses dispensing from fresh stocks; its educational undertakings housed in fine school structures; its social life kept healthy and native by lodge and community enterprises" ("Winlock in Lewis County ...").
Egg and Poultry Capital of the World
The egg business in Winlock began around 1887 when William Warne started selling eggs to railroad crews. In 1920 a Finnish immigrant, Jacob "Jake" Erving, who had arrived in America in 1905, started the first chicken hatchery in Winlock. Erving owned several thousand laying hens and was responsible for production innovations that included automatic egg turners and temperature-controlled incubators that could handle 40,000 eggs. He was one of 175 egg and poultry farmers who joined the local chapter of the Washington Cooperative Egg and Poultry Association. "The local co-op soon grew into an egg and poultry processing plant to serve that area that stretched from Olympia to Longview and from Aberdeen to Randle" ("Winlock Egg Day Committee").
By 1922 Winlock was the second largest egg-producing city in America, out-egged only by Petaluma, California. "Half of the eggs produced in Winlock were shipped to New York state; in 1923, New York received 38,400 dozen (460,800 eggs) -- in one weekend -- from Winlock. Similarly, the Winlock News noted that the Cowlitz Produce Company received an order that same year for 60 train cars of eggs to be shipped to New York over a two-month period. Farmers in neighboring counties and as far south as Oregon sent their eggs to Winlock to be processed, and town boosters billed Winlock as the "Egg and Poultry Capital of the World" ("Egg Farming in Washington").
One local producer even snagged a contract to ship eggs to Hawaii. The deal specified that the eggs be marketed "to consumers on the islands under the trade mark of Winlock Egg ... This town is crowding Petaluma hard for the distinction of being the largest egg center of the country" ("Winlock Ships Eggs ..."). Before the end of the decade, there were seven hatcheries in Winlock.
In the early 1900s, three railroad companies vied for track space through town: the Union Pacific, Great Northern, and Northern Pacific. "In 1925, they all got their heads together and worked out a pool agreement, whereby all passenger revenue was thrown in one pot, and apportioned back to each road on the basis of their average earnings in the past five year ... It had the immediate effect of reducing the number of passenger trains from thirteen each way per day to five each way per day" (C. C. Wall, 5).
Nearly 100 years later, the railroad is still impacting the community. In 1997 the state, with support from Burlington Northern Santa Fe Company, wanted to close a railroad crossing at Walnut Street, Winlock's main thoroughfare, a move that, according to Mayor Don Bradshaw "will cut this town in half ... [Bradshaw] says closing the crossing would do everything from creating traffic hazards to hurting town morale, and he accuses the state and the railroad of a hidden agenda: trying to increase the speed of rail traffic from Seattle to Portland" ("Winlock Fights Plan ..."). The state and the railroad company maintained that public safety was at stake, citing a 1986 accident at the Walnut Street crossing that involved an Amtrak train and a truck loaded with wood chips; one Amtrak passenger was injured.
Egg Day and the Big Egg
On August 13, 1921, about 1,000 Winlock residents assembled to celebrate the completion of the first concrete road between Winlock and Cowlitz Corner. The event was called the Winlock Poultry and Egg Day, and it was so well received that the town decided they should hold a similar celebration each year. For the past 100 years, Egg Day has been celebrated in Winlock, except for four years during World War II.
To mark its place in egg history, Winlock created a big egg out of canvas, built in 1923 as part of a float used in an inauguration celebration for the new Pacific Highway. The parade route stretched from Olympia to Salem, Oregon. That year Winlock farmers shipped 260,000 cases of eggs to market from more than one-half million hens.
After the celebrations were over, the canvas egg was placed on display in the town center. Unfortunately, it did not stand the test of time, and in 1944 it was replaced by a plastic version. Another setback occurred two decades later when "the platform for the plastic Egg fell and the Egg broke. The replacement Egg was placed across the street from where the previous Egg stood, but was shaped somewhat like a football" ("Winlock Egg Day Committee").
In 1991 a fiberglass and chicken-wire egg was built, paid for by Vern Zander (1904-1993), a well-known local poultry man whose family had owned Standard Hatchery. The new egg weighed 1,200 pounds and sat atop a 10-foot steel pole, affixed to a pedestal upon which is written "World Largest EGG." Eight cans of Bondo and seven gallons of a white exterior coating, along with wax, completed the egg; a time capsule was placed inside. The display is situated in Vern Zander Memorial Park, named by fellow Winlock Lions Club members for Zander after his death in 1993.
But that was not the end of the egg story: "In the 2000s, the Winlock Egg pushed the envelope on its egg designation with a series of bold -- some would say reckless -- modifications. After the 9/11 attacks in 2001 it was painted to appear as an ovoid American flag, with red and white bars, and stars against a field of blue. By 2004, the Egg remained adorned with the American flag design while its back side read, in hand-painted script, 'God Bless America.' Visitors reported seeing it 'tarted up' with a giant yellow ribbon, and an arrangement of smaller ribbons. It had become the town's 9/11 memorial, a symbol for the thin shell of a free society ... Later in the decade it reverted to its traditional blank whiteness. By 2015, regional football boosterism apparently led to the egg being tattooed with a Seahawks logo" ("World's Largest Egg").
The 100th Egg Day was held June 18-20, 2021. The centennial celebration included a car show, book sale, live music, parade, egg-salad sandwiches, and a hard-boiled-egg-eating contest. The Egg Day Royalty Court arrived in a Royal Egg Coach; town mayor Brandon Svenson was one of the Royal Egg coachmen.
The Renegade Rooster
Winlock is home to two historical collections: Winlock Historical Museum and the Renegade Rooster. The Winlock Historical Museum is housed in a 1914-era firehouse and jail in a downtown corner of Winlock. Its collection includes a 1930s business ledger from a lumber mill, logging apparatus, large- animal veterinarian tools, outdoor signage from local businesses, and photographs.
The Renegade Rooster was started by Winlock history and music buff Roy Adolph Richards (1947-2020), whose family had arrived in Winlock in 1909. During his school years, he worked as a paper boy and washed cars at a Chevrolet dealership. As an adult, he spent his spare time going to auctions and garage sales, buying any items he saw that had a connection to Winlock. As his collection grew, Roy and his wife, Linda, opened a museum in 2008 just outside of town and called it the Renegade Rooster. On display were toys and a moonshine still, a metal egg-carton maker, a chicken de-beaker, a 1920s-era flapper dress, a model train set, and much more. "The building is filled with vintage collections of everything imaginable tied to Winlock's history. The original telephone switchboard in Winlock is one of the first things you see when you pass through the front door ... Decades of Egg Day memorabilia is proudly displayed. There are thousands of pictures" (Lesa Givens).
In a broadcast segment, KOMO-TV reporter Eric Johnson called Richards "a one-man time capsule, obsessively trying to bridge the gap between small town life, past and present, while at the same time trying to recapture his own childhood" ("Eric's Heroes ..."). Richards died unexpectedly on October 26, 2020, at the age of 73. Following his death (his wife had passed away in 2011), the Renegade Rooster closed its doors. The Winlock Historical Museum launched an online campaign to raise funds to purchase all or some of the collection. As of July 2021, $5,800 of the $20,000 goal had been reached.
Winlock has the usual assortment of small-town public services, including a library, senior center, schools, firehouse, and town hall. As of 2010, the town had 1,339 residents. The Winlock School District comprises three schools: elementary, middle, and high school. On February 27, 2009, the Winlock Cardinals High School basketball team won its first district championship game against Castle Rock.
Despite its early reputation as an active and prosperous community and its history as the national egg-producing capital, a century later the town received mixed reviews. In 2019, on the website Niche, one individual summed up his ambivalence: "Winlock is an old logging and farm town that has seen better days. While it has its charm with roosters on the corners and [a] large egg in the center of town, it doesn't offer much to do, with one park and most of the stores closed. The library, senior center, and IGA grocery are the most hopping places in town. There is not much happening and most of the services offered are trying to keep the town afloat, but the people are friendly and always willing to help you out" (Niche.com).
In 2018, thanks to Winlock, Lewis County produced more eggs than any other county in the state, and ranked 209th nationally.