A historic plan for old Yacolt town hall

Officials aim to turn it into museum, cells and all

By Ray Legendre, Columbian staff writer

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YACOLT — With its cramped council chambers, three antiquated cells and status as a former fire station, the interior of Yacolt’s red brick town hall building offers a glimpse of more than a century’s worth of history.

One day, town officials hope to turn the 800-square-foot building at 105 E. Yacolt Road into a public shrine highlighting the community’s involvement in the railroad and logging industries, the massive fires that forever changed the town at the turn of the 20th century and other pieces of past and present.

Yacolt stopped holding council meetings in the old town hall in December 2009 — 101 years after the town became incorporated and its council moved into the old town hall building. The town, the county’s smallest, now has around 1,500 residents.

Yacolt holds its council meetings inside a former Masonic Lodge on West Cushman Street. The move increased seating capacity at council meetings from 25 to 80 people.

There is no official timetable on when Yacolt’s council might vote to start a committee to turn the old town hall into a museum, officials said. There is currently no project leader.

However, Mayor James Weldon said he would make the project a priority, if re-elected this fall.

“It would be a pretty good drawing card when it was finished,” Weldon said of the museum. He added, “It’s very unusual to have an old building with a jailhouse in it.”

Mayoral candidate Jeff Carothers also said he supports turning the old building into a museum. Council member and mayoral candidate Skip Benge did not return a phone call Monday afternoon.

Weldon served stints as mayor and councilman while the old building was open. He described those meetings as “congested,” noting officials would often have to ask people to listen from the hallways.

Some parts of the old town hall are used for storage space.

The council chambers are to the right of the front door. On the left is a small cellblock used once upon a time to hold people arrested for being drunk and disorderly.

Two of the three cells are now empty. The remaining cell has stacks of purple and blue plastic containers with Christmas tree lights and boxes containing replacement light bulbs.

“I’m sure these cells would tell some stories, if they could talk,” maintenance supervisor Tim Wedding said as he peered into a cell. He noted the town had once been the place “to get into trouble” for loggers and those working on the railroad.

Bricks now close the former door in the front of the building inside which a fire truck once was parked. Ironically, Yacolt is perhaps best known for the Yacolt Burn. In September 1902, the fire torched 370 acres and killed 38 people. A handful of large-scale fires followed, disrupting the town’s attempted resurgence.

Mike Tester, a Yacolt resident since 1981, said he would support a Yacolt town museum next door to his house.

“As long as they put enough parking around here,” Tester said as he held his dachshund, Goldie.

Ray Legendre: 360-735-4517; facebook.com/raylegend; twitter.com/col_smallcities; ray.legendre@columbian.com.