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Museum Offers Window Into Lewis County History, Individual Stories

In Chehalis, just outside of the front door of the Lewis County Historical Museum, you’ll find a giant tree stump tucked under a gazebo, right next to a very busy set of railroad tracks.

This is a replica of the “McKinley Stump,” so named because President William McKinley almost gave a speech from atop it in 1901, during a tour of the Pacific Northwest. Almost.

“His wife fell ill,” says museum Executive Director Jason Mattson, so the tour was canceled. Then McKinley was assassinated.

The remnants of the original stump – most of it destroyed by carpenter ants more than a decade ago – are inside the museum, in a showcase, next to a huge picture of the time a U.S. President actually did give a speech here – Theodore Roosevelt, in 1903.

Some 10,000 people were purported to have been in attendance.

“I think it was about 10-minute speech, Mattson said. “He said some things the local people weren’t too thrilled about, so he didn’t get that big of an applause.”

Mattson said Roosevelt was a little more liberal than the ears in the crowd wanted to hear.

When we talk about politicians on the campaign trail and they’re stumping in Illinois and they’re giving their “stump” speech, this is what we’re talking about. They used to stand on stumps.

The McKinley Stump replica out front and its original pieces inside are just part of the displays here.

Go inside and you can wander through life-size scenes of life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Museum staff will crank up the Victrola (literally, it operates on a crank) and play records for you. A room is dedicated to the Cowlitz and Chehalis tribes.

The back room features an enormous model railroad, depicting some actual buildings and streetscapes from across Lewis County. And you can even try to tap out some letters on an old telegraph machine.

There’s a lot of history here. Mattson says it’s important to have a place where the stories of individual local families can live, and inform future generations.

Mattson grew up in Centralia and says he’s seen the cities change. Logging and coal mining have given way to different industries now, and he says that’s not necessarily bad. There’s an energy here he doesn’t remember from his youth in the late 1980s and early 90s -- more shops, restaurants.

Mattson is 41, so he’s seen some history here and has a future here. He’s chosen to stay in the cities he loves, and he hopes the museum he now runs will help foster that love in others who call this place home.


This story is part of our "KNKX Connects" project, exploring the communities in the KNKX listening area. 

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.

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