Lumber Mansions of Hoquiam, Washington


We made our way south from Lake Quinault towards Grays Harbor.  US-101 turns when it meets Grays Harbor at the adjacent towns of Hoquiam and Aberdeen.  Hoquiam sits at the mouth of the Hoquiam River, and Aberdeen sits at the mouth of the larger Chehalis River as they empty into Grays Harbor.  Just across the Chehalis lies Cosmopolis, the third community in the area.  Since the late 1800’s, all three towns have depended primarily on the timber industry.

Especially after the turn of the century, some of these lumber operations became enormous, and their owners wealthy men.  Until the Great Depression, Grays Harbor County was the greatest lumber-exporting region in the world, milling and shipping hundreds of millions of board feet each year.  By 1930, loggers were cutting 30 to 50 miles away.

Arguably the most successful “sawdust barons” were the Polson family.  Alex Polson settled in Hoquiam in 1882.  With his brother Robert, he formed the Polson Brothers Logging Company in 1891.  In 1924, Robert Polson built a 6,500 square foot Colonial Revival mansion as a wedding present for Alex’s son Arnold.  It included four fireplaces and six bathrooms.  Arnold and his wife lived there until 1965, and she donated it to the city of Hoquiam in 1976.  It is now the Polson Museum, but we stopped by on a Sunday so it was closed.

Brothers Robert and Joseph Lytle made their fortunes with the first electric sawmill on the west coast.  By 1906, their Hoquiam Lumber and Shingle Company was one of the leading cedar shingle manufacturers in the world.  After Joseph began building a grand Victorian home on a hill overlooking Hoquiam, Robert determined to outdo him with an even more extravagant 10,000 square foot mansion next door, completed in 1900.  Dubbed Hoquiam’s Castle, it was the family home for a decade until they moved to Portland, Oregon.  Robert Lytle then gave the home to his niece Theadosia as a wedding present (a familiar theme?), and she lived there until the late 1950’s.  It now operates as a bed and breakfast.

The unusual tree in the front yard is a Monkey Puzzle Tree or pehuén (Araucaria araucana), native to Chile and Argentina.  Seedlings were handed out at the 1905 Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition in Portland, and this is probably one of them.