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Tenino City

Thurston County, Washington

Tenino City Hall is located at 149 Hodgden Street South, Tenino, WA, 98589.
Phone: 360‑264‑2368.


Beginnings [1]

The town of Tenino is located in southern Thurston, County Washington about 15 miles south of the capital of Olympia. The Tenino area prehistorically was home to members of the Coastal Salish Indian people who ranged widely on seasonal rounds to gather food. The name "Tenino" apparently is derived from its location as a "meeting place," or "fork in the trail" for the Salish people although other derivations are mentioned in some sources. The site is known to have been part of an overland trail used by American Indians and later by the Hudson's Bay Company as early as 1824.

American settlers came to south Puget Sound in the mid-1840s and the first known white settler in the Tenino area was Stephen Hodgden, who established a Donation Land Claim there in 1852. Others soon joined him, attracted to the area because of the open prairie land. Some of the earliest American settlements in Thurston County were in this area. Early American settlers joined together in the Puget Sound Indian War of 1855-56 to build stockades and other fortifications nearby at Fort Henness near Grand Mound (east of Tenino) and at the Linklater homestead near Rainier although none were built on the site of current Tenino city limits.

By the 1860s, Stephen Hodgden had built a station on the overland stage route and the area became known as "Hodgden's Station." A post office was established at "Coal Bank" less than a mile northeast of the current town in 1860. However, it was the years of the 1870s when the town came into it's own.

The Northern Pacific Railroad identified the Cowlitz Route northward from Columbia River to Puget Sound as early as the 1850s. In order to fulfill the requirements of a land grant that required the railroad reach the Pacific Ocean, the railroad completed this section in advance of the other sections of the transcontinental railroad. Construction began at what is now the City of Kalama on the Columbia River in early 1871. By October 1872, the construction had reached Tenino and although construction stalled for a time, the line was completed in December 1873 when the line reached Tacoma, the western terminus of the railway.

Tenino was home to a considerable population of Chinese railroad workers during the period of the railroad construction. A demonstration at a coal mine near Tenino in 1874 by white workers resulted in the expulsion of the Chinese and their replacement with Caucasian workers. The Chinese left the Tenino area after that incident.

At Tenino, the Northern Pacific built a depot with the official name of "Tenino" which permanently replaced the earlier names of "Hodgden's Station" and "Coal Bank." A hotel and store soon followed, all in the area bounded by Park Street and Olympia Street. In 1873, Stephen Hodgden and the Lake Superior & Puget Sound Land Company filed a plat for the town of Tenino. By 1874 regular train service was available through Tenino from the Columbia River to Tacoma.

Meanwhile, the city of Olympia, the capital of the state, had been by-passed by the Northern Pacific as both the terminus and as a stop on the mainline of the railroad. In order to have rail service, in 1878 the citizens of Olympia built a narrow-gauge spur to the depot in Tenino. Before the rail line was completed, a stage connection was made from Tenino to Olympia. The railroad line, which endured until 1916, opened up the commerce of the area for farm produce, logs and coal mined just south of Tenino.

In Tenino's early development period, it resembled many Western Washington towns with its primary buildings constructed in one or two stories with false fronts of raw milled lumber. These buildings lined Sussex Street, which had a dirt road and wooden sidewalks. The transformation of the town from this common western genre to its distinctive architectural character began with the identification of the rich sandstone deposit just south of the town.

In 1888, two quarrymen from the Midwest, S. W. Fenton and George N. Van Tine came west to work on a hotel in Portland, Oregon. The work fell through and they came to Olympia where they observed a building under construction with sandstone trim. They eventually located a source of the stone near Tenino and selected a site for a quarry near the railroad track south of town. Joined by experienced Scottish quarryman, W. M. McArthur, they made their first shipment of stone from the newly incorporated, "Tenino Sandstone Co.," in 1889 (some sources say 1888). They built a saw house in 1889 and installed a gang saw. They installed channelers in 1892 and in 1906 set up a cutting plant.

Meanwhile other stone quarries opened nearby, the Eureka Quarry west of town in 1890, and the Hercules Quarry in 1891. The Hercules Quarry west of Tenino on a hillside above Scatter Creek was established by W.M. McArthur and Tacoma stonecutter, H. P. Scheel.

All of the quarries were idled in 1892 because of a widespread national financial downturn and lack of the need of building materials. As a result all of the sandstone companies went through several re-organizations and finally became stable in the mid-1890s. The Tenino Sandstone Co. was re-constituted with new financing from Dr. Donald G. Russell who joined Fenton and re-capitalized the firm. New equipment equaling some $100,000.00 in value was installed. An article in the May 30, 1908 Pacific Builder and Engineer described the company. The article noted it was the first northwest quarry to prepare finished stone. They listed five gang saws at the yard ranging from 11.5 to 18.5 feet in height. The company had two 30-ton derricks and one 10-ton derrick for lifting the blocks of stone onto railroad cars. The article also noted a traveling crane was planned for the facility. The quarry pit had two "Wardwell" channelers that could cut either 3 foot six inches or six feet deep. The cutting plant had equipment for planning and a lathe with derricks to handle the stones. They company eventually had a compressed air plant to operate air drills for splitting blocks of stone. Stone was quarried in four-ton slabs.

  1. Shanna Stevenson, Senior Planner, Olympia Advance Planning & Historic Preservation, Tenino Downtown Historic District, Thurston County, WA, nomination document, 2002, National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places, Washington, D.C.