Kelso, Washington

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Kelso, Washington
"City of Friendly People"
Location of Kelso, Washington
Location of Kelso, Washington
Coordinates: 46°8′31″N 122°54′22″W / 46.14194°N 122.90611°W / 46.14194; -122.90611Coordinates: 46°8′31″N 122°54′22″W / 46.14194°N 122.90611°W / 46.14194; -122.90611
CountryUnited States
 • TypeCouncil-manager
 • City managerAndrew O. Hamilton
 • MayorNancy Malone
 • Total8.84 sq mi (22.89 km2)
 • Land8.13 sq mi (21.07 km2)
 • Water0.70 sq mi (1.82 km2)
75 ft (23 m)
 • Total11,925
 • Estimate 
 • Density1,526.37/sq mi (589.32/km2)
Time zoneUTC-8 (Pacific (PST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC-7 (PDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s)360
FIPS code53-35065
GNIS feature ID1512343[4]

Kelso is a city in the southwestern part of the U.S. state of Washington and is the county seat of Cowlitz County.[5] At the 2010 census, the population was 11,925. Kelso is part of the Longview, Washington Metropolitan Statistical Area, which has a population of 102,410. Kelso shares its long western border with Longview. It is near Mount St. Helens.


The earliest known inhabitants of Kelso were Native Americans from the Cowlitz tribe. The Cowlitz people were separated into the Upper (or Taidnapam) and Lower (or Mountain) Cowlitz tribes, who were members of the Sahaptin and Salish language families, respectively. In 1855, European explorers noted that there numbered over 6,000 individuals of the Cowlitz Tribe.

Kelso was founded by Peter W. Crawford, a Scottish surveyor, who, in 1847, took up the first donation land claim on the Lower Cowlitz River. Crawford platted a townsite which he named after his home town of Kelso, Scotland. The original plat was dated and filed in October 1884.[6] It became incorporated in 1889.

In its early days, Kelso obtained the nickname "Little Chicago" as it became famous for its large number of taverns and brothels that catered to local loggers. On weekends, trainloads of loggers would come into town from the surrounding region looking for women, liquor, gambling and fights. The FBI finally forced the mayor to shut them down in the 1950s, with the last tavern/brothel closing in the mid-1960s.[7] The economy continues to be based largely on wood products.

In the late 19th century and into the first part of the 20th century, Kelso was the center for commercial smelt fishing on the Cowlitz River. In 1910, according to the Oregonian Newspaper, 5,000 tons of fish were caught.[8] The Kelso Chamber of Commerce created the slogan in 1956 and became known as the Smelt Capital of the World.[9][10] The Cowlitz River has historically had heavy runs of smelt and were shipped to markets around the country. Smelt numbers have declined significantly in the past several decades possibly due to overharvesting, global climate change and habitat loss.[11]

Pieces of the mysterious 1947 Maury Island incident took place in Kelso. A military aircraft carrying suspicious slag-like material, supposedly from a UFO, crashed in southeast Kelso.

On May 18, 1980, being only 24 miles (39 km) away, Kelso residents experienced the shock wave caused by the eruption of Mount St. Helens. Called the largest volcanic eruption in historic times in the contiguous United States,[12] Kelso received large amounts of volcanic ash through the air and from the massive mudflow caused by the eruption transported by the Toutle and Cowlitz Rivers. Many areas of the city, including the Three Rivers Golf Course are built on volcanic ash[13] dredged from the Cowlitz River by inmates in state custody and volunteers.

In March 1998, the Aldercrest-Banyon landslide began shifting the foundations of 64 homes and local infrastructure in the east Kelso neighborhood of Aldercrest. Eventually, 129 houses were destroyed by this slow-moving landslide. Investigation showed that these houses had been built on top of an ancient active landslide area, and three straight years of higher-than-average rains set the earth into motion.[14] In October 1998, President Bill Clinton declared this slide a federal disaster. It was the second worst landslide disaster (in cost) in the United States, following the 1956 Portuguese Bend Landslide on Palos Verdes Hills in Southern California.[15] This disaster at Aldercrest led to stricter city zoning ordinances and oversight over geological surveys.

The Cowlitz County Historical Museum provides many exhibits on the history of the local area.[16]

National Register of Historic Places[edit]

  • Adam Catlin House
  • Nat Smith House
  • US Post Office - Kelso Main[17]


Kelso is located on Interstate 5 at Exits 36, 39, 40 and 42, and is 48 miles (77 km) north of Portland, Oregon, 125 miles (201 km) south of Seattle, and 80 miles (130 km) from the Pacific Ocean beaches.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 8.50 square miles (22.01 km2), of which 8.14 square miles (21.08 km2) is land and 0.36 square miles (0.93 km2) is water.[18]

Three rivers running through Kelso (the Columbia, Cowlitz and Coweeman) were used as part of a historical transportation route from Portland, Oregon, to the Puget Sound.[19] Cowlitz steamboats were used as a mode of transportation until 1918.

Kelso and Longview comprise the "Twin Cities" of southwestern Washington.


Climate data for Southwest Washington Regional Airport
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 61
Average high °F (°C) 41.2
Average low °F (°C) 28.9
Record low °F (°C) −1
Average precipitation inches (mm) 6.27
Average snowfall inches (cm) 10.8
Source: Western Regional Climate Center[20]


  • Aldercrest
  • Butler Acres
  • Davis Terrace
  • East Kelso
  • Hilltop
  • Lexington
  • Mt. Brynion
  • North Kelso
  • Old Kelso Hill
  • South Kelso
  • West Kelso
  • Rose Valley


Kelso operates under both a city charter and Washington state code governing municipalities. As such, it is the only Charter Code city in the state of Washington. The city is governed under the Council/Manager form of government. Kelso's charter specifies that seven councilmembers are elected by the residents, with the council choosing a mayor from within itself every two years.

As of 2020, the city council consists of Mayor Nancy Malone, Deputy Mayor Kim Lefebvre, David Futcher, Jeff McAllister, MIke Karnofski, Keenan Harvey, and Lisa Alexander.[21] Andrew O. Hamilton joined the City of Kelso as city manager after the departure of Steve Taylor.[22]

Council positions are filled on an at-large basis. Council positions are held for four years, with council elections being held to fill either three or four positions in odd-numbered years.


With access to the Columbia River, Interstate 5 and the west coast railways, Kelso supports a large and rapidly diversifying manufacturing base. The largest employer is the Kelso School District,[23] followed by Foster Farms and Safeway.[24] Other large employers are Target, ALS Environmental laboratory, Western Fabrication, PAPE Machinery, and DSU Peterbilt.


Historical population
Census Pop.
2019 (est.)12,417[3]4.1%
U.S. Decennial Census[25]
2018 Estimate[26]

2010 census[edit]

As of the census[2] of 2010, there were 11,925 people, 4,720 households, and 2,949 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,465.0 inhabitants per square mile (565.6/km2). There were 5,139 housing units at an average density of 631.3 per square mile (243.7/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 85.2% White, 0.8% African American, 2.1% Native American, 1.6% Asian, 0.1% Pacific Islander, 5.1% from other races, and 5.1% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 11.3% of the population.

There were 4,720 households, of which 34.9% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 37.9% were married couples living together, 17.4% had a female householder with no husband present, 7.2% had a male householder with no wife present, and 37.5% were non-families. 28.8% of all households were made up of individuals, and 9.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.52 and the average family size was 3.05.

The median age in the city was 34.6 years. 26.3% of residents were under the age of 18; 10.3% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 26.7% were from 25 to 44; 24.8% were from 45 to 64; and 11.7% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 48.8% male and 51.2% female.

2000 census[edit]

As of the census of 2000, there were 11,895 people, 4,616 households, and 2,991 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,471.6 people per square mile (568.4/km2). There were 5,067 housing units at an average density of 626.9 per square mile (242.1/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 90.14% White, 0.82% African American, 2.05% Native American, 0.94% Asian, 0.21% Pacific Islander, 3.12% from other races, and 2.72% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 6.93% of the population. 18.1% were of German, 9.3% Irish, 9.0% English, 7.7% American and 6.4% Norwegian ancestry.

There were 4,616 households, out of which 33.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 43.0% were married couples living together, 15.9% had a female householder with no husband present, and 35.2% were non-families. 28.3% of all households were made up of individuals, and 10.5% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.52 and the average family size was 3.05.

In the city, the age distribution of the population shows 28.3% under the age of 18, 10.5% from 18 to 24, 29.0% from 25 to 44, 19.8% from 45 to 64, and 12.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 33 years. For every 100 females, there were 99.6 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 98.8 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $29,722, and the median income for a family was $36,784. Males had a median income of $36,271 versus $23,750 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,162. About 16.4% of families and 19.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 25.1% of those under age 18 and 11.2% of those age 65 or over.


The Kelso School District is composed of the following schools:

Elementary schools[edit]

  • Barnes Elementary, the Bears
  • Beacon Hill Elementary, the Bobcats
  • Butler Acres Elementary, the Bluejays
  • Carrolls Elementary, the Cougars
  • Catlin Elementary, the Stars
  • Rose Valley Elementary, the Panthers
  • Wallace Elementary, the Wolves

Middle schools[edit]

  • Coweeman Middle School, the Cougars
  • Huntington Middle School, the Huskies

High schools[edit]



Interstate 5, the main north–south highway on the West Coast of the United States, runs through Kelso. Two highways, State Route 4 and State Route 432, connect Kelso to Longview via crossings of the Cowlitz River.


Amtrak, the national passenger rail system, provides service to the twin cities of Kelso-Longview. The Amtrak station is located in the Kelso Multimodal Transportation Center along the Cowlitz River.


The cities of Kelso and Longview are served by RiverCities Transit.

Kelso is also served by Greyhound Bus Lines, which provides intercity bus service at the Kelso Multimodal Transportation Center.


Kelso is served by Southwest Washington Regional Airport, formerly known as Kelso-Longview Regional Airport.

Sports and recreation[edit]

Kelso and Longview are the home of the Cowlitz Black Bears baseball team. The Black Bears play in the West Coast League, an independent summer baseball league with teams from Washington, Oregon, and British Columbia. The team plays at David Story Field on the Lower Columbia College campus.

Within the city limits, there are eight city parks totaling 50 acres (200,000 m2) and 6 miles (10 km) of bicycle and multi-use paths. The largest park is Tam o'Shanter Park, a multi-use park comprising 38 acres (150,000 m2) along the Coweeman River. The facilities include multipurpose fields for soccer, three girls fastpitch softball fields, one Babe Ruth field, five Cal Ripken baseball fields, and three basketball courts. The park hosts the annual Kelso Hilander Festival which includes Scottish Highland games. The park is named after a Scottish bonnet, the Tam o' shanter.


Kelso has four FM (KUKN, K268BN, KLOG and KTJC) and one AM (KLOG) radio stations licensed in the city.

Kelso is provided with cable television from nearby Longview.

Kelso's primary newspaper is The Daily News, which won a 1981 Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the St. Helens eruption.

Sister cities[edit]

Kelso has the two sister cities:[27][28]

Notable people[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "2019 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved August 7, 2020.
  2. ^ a b "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved December 19, 2012.
  3. ^ a b "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places in Washington: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2019". United States Census Bureau. May 2020. Retrieved May 27, 2020.
  4. ^ "US Board on Geographic Names". United States Geological Survey. October 25, 2007. Retrieved January 31, 2008.
  5. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Archived from the original on May 31, 2011. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
  6. ^ Meany, Edmond S. (1920). "Origin of Washington Geographic Names". The Washington Historical Quarterly. Washington University State Historical Society. XI: 44. Retrieved June 11, 2009.
  7. ^ Amy Fischer (May 24, 2009). "Four Things That Helped Define Kelso". The Daily News. Retrieved November 2, 2009.
  8. ^ R.G. Callvert (February 27, 1910). "Smelt Fishing on the Cowlitz: How an Army of Men Catch the Biggest Run Known in the Last Twenty Years". The Sunday Oregonian.
  9. ^ Archived 2011-07-19 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ Archived 2010-02-15 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ "NOAA Accepts Petition For Listing Columbia River Basin Smelt". The Columbia Basin Fish & Wildlife News Bulletin. March 14, 2008. Retrieved September 11, 2009.
  12. ^ Gaylord Shaw (May 19, 1980). "The Eruption of Washington State's Mount St. Helens". The Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on November 1, 2009. Retrieved September 12, 2009.
  13. ^ "Kelso/Longview, WA #1482". Elks. Retrieved September 12, 2009.
  14. ^ "Aldercrest-Banyon Landslide Kelso, WA - J. David Rogers".
  15. ^ "Landslide of the Week – Aldercrest Banyon Landslide". Washington's Landslide Blog. July 27, 2009. Retrieved September 12, 2009.
  16. ^ "Cowlitz County, WA - Official Website - Museum".
  17. ^ "National Register of Historic Places". National Park Service. Retrieved July 3, 2011.
  18. ^ "US Gazetteer files 2010". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on July 2, 2012. Retrieved December 19, 2012.
  19. ^ "A History of Cowlitz County". Washington Secretary of State. Retrieved February 6, 2010.
  20. ^ "KELSO SOUTHWEST RGNL AP, WASHINGTON (454135)". Western Regional Climate Center. July 2016. Retrieved July 6, 2016.
  21. ^ "City Council Members". City of Kelso. 2020. Retrieved January 23, 2020.
  22. ^ "Kelso City Manager". City of Kelso Web Site. January 23, 2020. Retrieved January 23, 2020.
  23. ^ "Kelso School District > Home".
  24. ^ "Economic Development". Kelso - Longview Chamber of Commerce. 2008. Archived from the original on March 14, 2010. Retrieved February 23, 2010.
  25. ^ United States Census Bureau. "Census of Population and Housing". Retrieved September 19, 2013.
  26. ^ "Population Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved July 28, 2019.
  27. ^ Sister Cities, Counties, States and Ports. Washington Lieutenant Governor's Office. Archived from the original on 2012-11-05.
  28. ^ List of Sister Cities. Sister Cities International. Archived from the original (− Scholar search) on March 6, 2010.

External links[edit]