Friday, October 5, 2018

Cool 19th Century Places to Visit: Kalama, Washington

My friends hang out in cool places. Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of staying at McMenamins Kalama Harbor Lodge courtesy of two dear ones. The four-story square structure is modeled after the Pioneer Inn on Maui, which was completed in 1901, just barely on this side of the nineteenth century.

The town of Kalama itself dates from 1837, when John Kalama, a Hawaiian native, came to act as intermediary between the Cowlitz Tribe and the Hudson Bay Company. But I was shocked to learn the name of the first white settler to the area.

Ezra Meeker.

Now, Mr. Meeker looms large in my local history, and I have blogged about him before. But I hadn’t known he stopped first in Kalama before heading north to my neck of the woods. Others built Kalama into a decent-sized town, one of the largest north of Portland at that time.

Today, Kalama is a cozy town hugging the Columbia River, boasting many wonderful antique stores, which we toured. I’ll share one of my finds in a future post. The other thing Kalama is known for are a set of four totem poles erected near the river. The largest was carved for the Seattle World’s Fair, but never quite made it out of town. It is the largest single-tree totem pole in the world at 140 feet long. Sadly, a recent assessment showed that the pole is rotting from the inside out and could have fallen in a good wind. It had been lowered onto the ground when we visited, and a group of local citizens is working to determine how it can be restored.

The McMenamins group generally buys and restores historic properties, turning them into hotels and eateries. The lodge at Kalama is one of a few custom-built from the ground up. My friends and I had a blast wandering the hallways reading the various accounts of local history posted between each room. And we giggled like girls when we discovered each of the two secret rooms hidden in the hotel.

If you are ever in the area, I recommend a look.

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