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

May 13, 2022, 6:42 AM | Updated: Oct 25, 2022, 4:21 pm
A view across Carlisle Lake of the Onalaska Smokestack, which was built in the 1920s. (Onalaska Alliance) The Onalaska Smokestack seen via Google Earth, with a 1929 Sanborn map overlay showing the Carlisle Mill complex. (Onalaska Alliance) A 1929 photo from the Chehalis Bee-Nugget newspaper shows the Carlisle Mill with the Onalaska Smokestack visible on the right. (Onalaska Alliance) A recent photo of the base of the Onalaska Smokestack and a metal access door. (Onalaska Alliance) The smokestack left over from the Carnation Condensery in Everson, WA in Whatcom County. (WA State Dept. of Archaeology and Historic Preservation) The old Hamilton Lumber smokestack in Stanwood, WA in Snohomish County. (WA State Dept of Archaeology and Historic Preservation) The old Weyerhaeuser smokestack in Snoqualmie, WA in King County. (WA State Dept of Archaeology and Historic Preservation) An old smokestack visible from US-101 in Garibaldi, OR. (Feliks Banel/KIRO Newsradio)

It was recently added to the state’s Heritage Register and it’s one of the tallest structures of its kind in Washington, so you may have to crane your neck and tilt your head back to get a good look at a towering century of Northwest history.

Onalaska is in Lewis County, about a hundred miles south of Seattle and roughly 10 miles east of I-5. It’s an old timber town – so much so, the mascot of Onalaska High School is the Loggers.

The recent addition to the Washington Heritage Register is a tall and skinny artifact of an old mill that closed 80 years ago. The official name is the “Carlisle Lumber Company Smokestack,” which now stands in Carlisle Lake Park.

John Blair is a native Onalaskan who led the Heritage Register nomination process.

“You can see it from a lot of different places, especially on the hillsides looking down into Onalaska,” Blair told KIRO Newsradio on Thursday. “It’s about 225 feet tall, so it’s very noticeable. And it’s just a big concrete tower, a very tall and incredible landmark.”

Blair told KIRO Newsradio that the smokestack has been there for as long as he can remember and is a beloved part of the local landscape and horizon. In the research he did for the Heritage Register nomination, Blair was determined the smokestack was built sometime in the 1920s, but exactly when is unclear. Carlisle Lumber Company first built a mill at Onalaska in 1916; the stack was part of the electric-generating steam plant built to power the mill around 1920.

But why so tall?

“It was to take the smoke out of the area where the mill was and to disperse it above the town,” Blair said.

Onalaska was a company town named by Carlisle Lumber after Onalaska, Arkansas, where Carlisle also had a mill. The name’s origins purportedly come from a Scotch poet named Thomas Campbell and a line from his 1799 poem, “Pleasures of Hope” – in reference to Unalaska, an island in the Aleutians.

Now far he sweeps, where scarce a summer smiles,

On Behrring’s rocks, or Greenland’s naked isles;

Cold on his midnight watch the breezes blow,

From wastes that slumber in eternal snow;

And waft, across the wave’s tumultuous roar,

The wolf’s long howl from Oonalaska’s shore.

Unalaska” (spelled “Oonalaska” by the poet) is an anglicization of an Indigenous Aleut word; “Onalaska” is an alternate spelling that took hold in Arkansas – as well as in Washington, and supposedly, in two other Carlisle mill locations in Wisconsin and Texas.

John Blair is retired and serves as a board member of the not-for-profit group called Onalaska Alliance which manages the privately-owned by publicly accessible park where the smokestack stands. Also in the park is the old mill pond, now called Carlisle Lake. It’s a popular fishing spot because it has its own hatchery run by those Loggers from the nearby high school.

Blair says that the six-month effort to nominate the enduring chimney to the Washington Heritage Register is part of a larger strategy to attract visitors to explore the history of Onalaska and spend money at local businesses, such as The Carlisle Bar & Grill, a history-themed restaurant his brother recently opened in town.

When the sprawling Carlisle mill complex was shut down in 1942, what had been as many as 900 jobs all went away and nearly wiped out Onalaska’s economy. After the closure, fire later damaged much of the mill, and then most of the buildings were demolished. The stack was left standing because it was too expensive and dangerous to tear down.

John Blair says big earthquakes in the Northwest in 1949, 1965, and 2001 didn’t damage the stack, nor did at least one attempt by Onalaska High School students in the 1960s to knock it over with dynamite detonated at the stack’s 12-foot diameter base. Openings in the stack’s lower reaches that were once possible for people to climb inside were bricked over many years ago.

The Search for Other Old Smokestacks

All Over The Map would love to get help from KIRO listeners to identify and collect photos of other historic smokestacks in Washington and the greater Pacific Northwest – much like we did a few years ago, with listener help, for old locomotives.

For example, two smokestacks come immediately to mind. One is in Monroe, right along the south side of US Highway 2 – and now standing alone in the middle of a grocery store parking lot, but originally built for a Carnation Milk Condensery. The other is in Stanwood, just south of town across SR-532 – left over from the old Hamilton Lumber Mill, and soon to become part of Stanwood Hamilton Landing Park.

KIRO Newsradio would like to hear about the history of other smokestacks, but we especially want to see current photos taken by listeners – not just grabbed off an image search – so that we can assemble an online gallery of smokestack images to share via MyNorthwest. We will happily credit photographers. Please send you smokestack photos via email to fbanel@kiroradio.com.

Along with sharing photos with your favorite radio station, John Blair encourages those other Evergreen State towns with smokestacks to think about nominating their local specimens to the Washington Heritage Register.

“I would encourage anybody to get it on a historic register, especially if there’s any history connected to it,” Blair said. “We’re a small town, and so it helps. We’re trying to highlight things and promote tourism and different things like that.”

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea or a question about Northwest history, please email Feliks here.

Feliks Banel

walla walla...
Feliks Banel

Remembering ‘The Walla Walla’ wall at the Kingdome

Naming the right field wall the 'Walla Walla' was a brilliant suggestion that plays off a wall being doubled and using a regional name.
2 days ago
Feliks Banel

Longview celebrates 100 years with festivities, squirrel bridges

The community began building new squirrel bridges about 11 years ago for an annual event called, naturally, Squirrel Fest.
4 days ago
living memorial...
Feliks Banel

Memorial Stadium’s success as ‘living memorial’ may have doomed it

'Living memorials' were part of an American movement to memorialize World War II as a break from the past.
9 days ago
This week 210 years ago, Lewis and Clark left Fort Clatsop and headed back home. (AP)...
Feliks Banel

Feliks: Uncovering the buried legacies of Lewis and Clark

Most people think of Fort Clatsop as the final destination of Lewis and Clark, at least one Northwest historian and author disagrees.
11 days ago
Feliks Banel

Radio Sketch: The Tonquin and despair at the mouth of the Columbia River

The arrival of the Tonquin was the subject of a live historical radio sketch performed on Seattle’s Morning News to mark the 212th anniversary
11 days ago
ad campaign...
Feliks Banel

Before it collapsed, WaMu ad campaign was the ‘Friend of the Family’

All the failing banks in the news lately remind so many around the Pacific Northwest of a memorable WaMu ad campaign.
16 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Compassion International...

Brock Huard and Friends Rally Around The Fight for First Campaign

Professional athletes are teaming up to prevent infant mortality and empower women at risk in communities facing severe poverty.
Emergency Preparedness...

Prepare for the next disaster at the Emergency Preparedness Conference

Being prepared before the next emergency arrives is key to preserving businesses and organizations of many kinds.
SHIBA volunteer...

Volunteer to help people understand their Medicare options!

If you’re retired or getting ready to retire and looking for new ways to stay active, becoming a SHIBA volunteer could be for you!
safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
All Over The Map: Searching for Washington’s historic smokestacks