FELIKS BANEL

All Over The Map: How Grant, Grays Harbor, and Island counties were named

Mar 5, 2021, 9:09 AM | Updated: 11:30 am

It’s time for the fifth installment of County Countdown, KIRO Radio’s 13-part series about the origins of county names and county seat names in the Evergreen State. Our three counties for this episode are Grant, Grays Harbor, and Island.

Unless you’re driving while reading this story, get out your souvenir Washington map to follow along, which are available at all Puget Sound Ernst and Valu-Mart locations. And good luck finding one of those long-gone local retailers, by the way.

Grant County

Grant County, in Central Washington, was created from Douglas County in February 1909 and named for the Republican 18th president and Civil War hero Ulysses S. Grant. Grant was first inaugurated 152 years ago this week, on March 4, 1869.

The county seat is Ephrata, and the name is biblical in origin, likely originally spelled Ephratah. It’s a variation of the name for Bethlehem, and indicates either the presence of fruit orchards or water wells, both of which were present in Washington’s Ephrata in the 19th century. Most sources credit railroad workers for choosing the name.

Grays Harbor County

Grays Harbor County, in Southwest Washington, was created by the Washington Territorial Legislature in April 1854 from parts of Lewis and Thurston Counties. It was originally called Chehalis County, for the Chehalis River, which flows into Grays Harbor; the name was changed by the state Legislature in 1915.

As early as 1907, citizens had attempted to split Chehalis County in two, with the western half taking on the Grays Harbor County name. The state Legislature passed a law accomplishing this, but it was struck down by the Washington State Supreme Court, as at least one of the new counties lacked sufficient population as required by state law.

Grays Harbor is named for Robert Gray, the American sea captain who named the Columbia River and explored the harbor on May 7, 1792. Gray named it Bulfinch Harbor after one of the Boston-based owners of his vessel Columbia. It was renamed by Joseph Whidbey of Captain George Vancouver’s expedition in October 1792.

During the 19th century, Grays Harbor was called Puerto de Gray by Spanish explorers; the Hudson’s Bay Company employees operating in the area called it Chihalis Bay; explorer David Douglas called it Whitbey Harbor (an alternate spelling of Whidbey).

“Chehalis” is an indigenous word related to “sand” or “shifting sand,” both of which are found in ample supply at the mouth of the Chehalis River in Grays Harbor. The Chehalis people have lived in the area of what’s now Grays Harbor County for millennia.

The county seat of Montesano was first called “Scammon” by J.L Scammon, a 1852 homesteader. One version of the story is that Mrs. Scammon wanted to call the community Mount Zion; Montesano is a compromise suggested by someone, which, in Italian, means “mountain of health” or maybe “healthy mountain.”

Island County

Island County, which is now mainly Whidbey and Camano Island, was originally created from Thurston County in December 1852 or January 1853 by the Oregon Territorial Legislature. The original Island County was huge. It included Whidbey and Camano, plus the San Juans, and most of what’s now Whatcom, Skagit, and Snohomish Counties.

In addition to Whidbey and Camano, the other islands comprising Island County – which is perhaps the least imaginative name of any county in the state – are Baby Island, Ben Ure Island, Deception Island, Hackney Island, Kalamut Island, Minor Island, Smith Island, and Strawberry Island.

The county seat is Coupeville, which is the oldest town on Whidbey Island, and which is a great place to visit. Coupeville was named in 1851, 1852, or 1853 for a homesteader and sea captain in the Northwest to California timber trade named, not surprisingly, Thomas Coupe. According to maritime names expert and author Richard W. Blumenthal, Captain Coupe was one of the first people to sail through Deception Pass – in his bark called Success – and live to tell about it.

Coupe was not alone in the early years at Coupeville. In fact, so many salty sea-going types settled there, place names expert Robert Hitchman writes, “An early nickname [for Coupeville] was ‘Port of Sea Captains’” – which is certainly evocative, but not exactly chamber of commerce or tourism bureau-friendly.

Check out earlier episodes of KIRO Radio’s All Over The Map: County Countdown!

County Countdown Episode One

County Countdown Episode Two

County Countdown Episode Three

County Countdown Episode Four

In the next installment in April: Jefferson, King, and Kitsap.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News and read more from him here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

Feliks Banel

A restored and airworthy Boeing B-29 bomber dating to World War II is open for cockpit tours this w...
Feliks Banel

Tour a rare Boeing B-29 bomber in Seattle this weekend

The Museum of Flight at Boeing Field is playing host this weekend to one of the rarest aircraft in the world: an airworthy World War II Boeing B-29 bomber.
2 days ago
The ash cloud from Mount St. Helens on May 18, 1980 brought darkness to Eastern Washington; this ph...
Feliks Banel

Local music legend Chris Ballew’s bizarre story of surviving the eruption of Mount St. Helens

Forced off the freeway, they turned around and headed toward Spokane – battling falling ash, blizzard-like visibility, and fear of the unknown.
4 days ago
A view across Carlisle Lake of the Onalaska Smokestack, which was built in the 1920s. (Onalaska All...
Feliks Banel

All Over The Map: Searching for Washington’s historic smokestacks

The recent addition to the Heritage Register is an artifact of an old mill that closed 80 years ago. It's called the “Carlisle Lumber Company Smokestack.”
9 days ago
A portion of Washington state's 1909 abortion law, which was in effect until Referendum 20 passed i...
Feliks Banel

History of abortion laws and politics in the Evergreen State

Washington voters have twice approved pro-choice ballot measures in the past – including a few years before Roe v. Wade, and again in 1991.
11 days ago
VE Day...
Feliks Banel

How Seattleites observed VE Day in 1945

When VE Day – marking Allied “victory in Europe” – came to Seattle on Tuesday, May 8, 1945, the sidewalks weren’t jammed with jubilant sailors kissing nurses, and no confetti rained down on the streets. While London and other European capitals had much to celebrate in this fashion 77 years ago this week, the appropriate […]
14 days ago
Vintage map of the Pacific Northwest, annotated to indicated the "Big Bend" of the Columbia River i...
Feliks Banel

All Over The Map: In search of Washington’s ‘Big Bend Country’

You may have already visited the Evergreen State’s “Big Bend Country” without even knowing you were there.
16 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!
...

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
...

Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, fillthestadium.com) initiative provides […]
...

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]
...

COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
...
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
All Over The Map: How Grant, Grays Harbor, and Island counties were named