Chehalis ( shə-HAY-lis) is a city in and the county seat of Lewis County, Washington. The population was 7,439 at the time of the 2020 census.
The city is located in the Chehalis valley and is split by I-5 and Washington State Route 6. It is twinned with the bordering city of Centralia. The communities of Napavine and Newaukum lie directly south, with the town of Adna to the west. Due to the community's location on the Chehalis River, and the nearby confluences of the Newaukum and Skookumchuck rivers, the city has experienced several historic flooding events during its history.
Incorporated in 1883, Chehalis was primarily a logging and railroad town, with a shift towards farming in the mid-20th century. The city has bolstered its economy in the 21st century with a focus in manufacturing and warehousing.
Chehalis is home to the historic neighborhood of Claquato, the Chehalis–Centralia Airport, and the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds. The city has several distinct historical areas and boasts 11 locations on the list of National Register of Historic Places, more than any other region in Lewis County. Several museums that highlight motorcycles, veterans and military history, and the Chehalis history of railroads are located within the city limits. Chehalis contains approximately 273 acres (110 ha) of parks, most begun by land donations and are overseen by volunteer community efforts. The community is known locally for its annual summer event, ChehalisFest.
The city anchors the beginning trailhead for the Willapa Hills Trail and accommodates riders during the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic. Chehalis once was home to a championship minor league baseball team and often welcomed barnstorming ballclubs and competitions featuring teams from Negro league baseball.
In the 21st century, Chehalis initiated several charity, volunteer, and local government sponsored groups to revitalize the city, with focus on renovations to its historic downtown district, the upgrading of the community's transit sector, and increasing the education and graduation rate within the school district. Additional efforts of improvements were led via art programs and renovations to its parks.
The Native American Chehalis people described, using their language and pronunciation, a location and village in present-day Westport, Washington that translates to American English as "place of sand" or "shifting sand". Early non-native explorers of the Pacific Northwest vocalized the words as "Chehalis" and proceeded to describe the original inhabitants as such.
The town of Saundersville, Washington, named after S.S. Saunders on whose donation land claim it was founded, began to officially use the word "Chehalis" in 1879 to denote its location to the Chehalis people and the Chehalis River. The translations were fitting for the growing town due to the muddy bottomland along the Chehalis River which had long vexed stagecoach travelers on the Washington arm of the Oregon Trail between Kalama and New Market (now Tumwater).
Chehalis began as a settlement around a warehouse beside a railroad track in 1873, when the Northern Pacific Railroad built northward from Kalama to Tacoma. Northern Pacific's decision bypassed the town of Claquato, then the county seat. This allowed Chehalis, in 1874, to become the central location for Lewis County government. That same year, a store was added to the warehouse, and a courthouse and several houses were constructed. Chehalis was incorporated on November 23, 1883.
Logging soon began in the nearby forests. Lumber workers of Scandinavian, English, and Scots-Irish descent arrived and settled in the neighboring valleys. In 1940, the chief local industries were: dairying, poultry raising, fruit growing, milk condensing, fruit and vegetable packing, brick and tile manufacturing, coal mining, portable house manufacturing, and fern shipping.
In a Life magazine article from March 1939, the publication reported on the city regarding hate groups in Chehalis. A trio of high school students wrote to the magazine, stating that the feature "did not accurately depict the feelings of local citizens" and a follow-up photo article in May showcased the city's vibrant, folksy atmosphere. The city has not been immune to a rise in hate crimes against LGBTQ people in the 2020s, with vandalism of a billboard in 2020 and a single-evening hate crime act within various locations of the city in June 2023.
The city would report in the aftermath of the 1949 Olympia earthquake that approximately 40% of local businesses and homes were damaged, including a tally of over 1,300 chimneys. One Chehalis resident was reported as injured and the Green Hill School, which lost the use of four buildings, recorded $2 million in damages. The high school and the West Side School were destroyed; neither would be rebuilt.
A vessel in the United States Navy, the gunboat USS Chehalis (PGM-94), was named in honor of the city.
Due to Chehalis being located near several large rivers and resting in a valley, heavy rains and snowmelt has led the city to experience numerous historic flooding events, often recorded between December and January.
Historical accounts and spiritual lessons passed down in the history of Native American people living in and around the Chehalis River tell of major floods in the basin. The first newspaper accounting of floods mention events in 1887 and 1897 that disrupted sawmill operations and river and railroad traffic.
The 20th century recorded over two dozen notable flooding events in and around the Chehalis community. The earliest recordings of floods are from 1906, 1909, and 1910. In 1915, the city was hit by a flood from a storm reported as "Worst in City’s History". A 1919 flood was declared as "Present Flood Probably Worst in City’s History". A small inundation would be recorded in 1921. Chehalis was submerged in a month-long rain event that broke flood records in 1933. Heavy rainfall events in 1936, 1937, and 1939 led to moderate flooding. A Cowlitz River overflow in 1946 would effect the city. A 1948 weather pattern, a widespread disaster for the state, led to flooding in Chehalis. Another Cowlitz River overflow affected the area in 1949. Heavy rains in 1951, 1953, and 1955 brought moderate floodwaters and a minor flood was declared in 1959.
The Christmas flood of 1964 led to widespread floodwaters in 1965. Moderate floods were recorded in 1970 and 1971. A record-setting flood occurred in 1972, submerging the interstate for the first time in the city. A cresting of the Chehalis River, twice in January 1974, caused $10 million in losses. A moderate 1975 and small 1977 flood occurred. A major flood disaster developed in 1986 after 8 inches of rainfall over several days that led to the submerging of the fairgrounds and a contamination spill at a closed industrial site near Millett Field. The highway would be covered with floodwaters again during a major flood disaster 1990. Lowland flooding occurred in November of that year and a similar event transpired in April 1991. A 100-year flood arose in February 1996. The Chehalis and Skookumchuck rivers set crest and flood stage records. A state of emergency was declared and I-5 was closed once again.
The city in the 21st century has had several floods of various levels. Minor flooding was reported in 2001 and 2003. A record flood in December 2007, due in part to the Great Coastal Gale of 2007, closed I-5 in the town for several days. The total cost of damages was estimated by a state commission to be $930 million. Another major flood materialized over a year later in January 2009. Several regions within Chehalis were immersed and the interstate and railroads were shut down once again. Less severe floods transpired during record daily rainfalls in 2010 and 2012, with a moderate flood occurring in 2015. A stretch of I-5 between Chehalis and Centralia was closed for several hours after a major flood in January 2022. The severity of the floodwaters led to damages across the region and required assistance from the Red Cross and the Washington National Guard.
As translated from the Chehalis Native American language, Claquato means "high prairie" or "high land". The town began as a settlement in 1853 by Lewis Hawkins Davis, who originally named the area Davis Prairie. The community grew quickly to include Claquato Church, a cemetery, hotels, and several stores and was, for a time, the largest populated town between the Columbia River and Olympia. Davis would donate land for the construction of a courthouse and by 1862 the town would become the county seat for Lewis County until that designation was transferred to Chehalis in 1874. A blockhouse was built and used in the community during an 1855-1856 war between settlers and Native Americans, sheltering the founding family of Chehalis during the conflict.
Claquato is no longer a recognized town or municipality, and is considered a neighborhood outside the Chehalis city limits. While described as a ghost town as it was officially vacated in 1902, the area has been populated since its inception.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 5.55 square miles (14.37 km), of which, 5.53 square miles (14.32 km2) is land and 0.02 square miles (0.05 km) is water.
The city rests in a valley bordered by foothills of the Cascade Range to the east and the Willapa Hills to the west. Chehalis straddles Interstate 5 at a point almost exactly halfway between Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon. The historic downtown and most of the city's amenities lie on the east side of the freeway, nestled at the base of a small range of forested hills. On the west side of the freeway are parks, farms, a few subdivisions developed in the hills to the west, and a centralized shopping district, the Twin City Town Center. The Chehalis–Centralia Airport is located immediately west of the freeway towards the northern end of the city. From numerous vantage points in the city and the Willapa Hills, there are views of Boistfort Peak and the three major volcanic mountains of the Cascades, Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, and Mount St. Helens, depending on weather conditions.
The Chehalis River winds its way through the valley in which the city resides, and is joined by a tributary, the Newaukum River. This confluence of waters, along with the intersections of tributaries and railroads within Chehalis, helped the city become known as "The Maple Leaf City". Both the Chehalis and Newaukum rivers are prone to flooding during periods of abnormally heavy or persistent rain, and the lowlands from the freeway westward are particularly susceptible to inundation.
This region experiences warm and dry summers, with no average monthly temperatures above 71.6 °F (22.0 °C). According to the Köppen Climate Classification system, Chehalis has a warm-summer Mediterranean climate, abbreviated "Csb" on climate maps.
The highest temperature ever recorded in the city was 107.0 °F (41.7 °C) in July 2009. Chehalis would match that record high on June 28, 2021, while surpassing other daily and monthly heat records for the month during the 2021 Western North America heat wave.
As of the census of 2010, there were 7,259 people, 2,868 households, and 1,655 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,312.7 inhabitants per square mile (506.8/km2). There were 3,131 housing units at an average density of 566.2 per square mile (218.6/km). The racial makeup of the city was 87.0% White, 1.7% African American, 1.3% Native American, 1.3% Asian, 0.2% Pacific Islander, 5.7% from other races, and 2.8% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 11.6% of the population.
There were 2,868 households, of which 31.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 36.9% were married couples living together, 14.9% had a female householder with no husband present, 6.0% had a male householder with no wife present, and 42.3% were non-families. 35.3% of all households were made up of individuals, and 16.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.36 and the average family size was 3.02.
The median age in the city was 33.5 years. 24.5% of residents were under the age of 18; 12.5% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 25.9% were from 25 to 44; 22.6% were from 45 to 64; and 14.4% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 50.2% male and 49.8% female.
As of the census of 2000, there were 7,057 people, 2,671 households, and 1,696 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,259.0 people per square mile (485.7/km). There were 2,871 housing units at an average density of 512.2 per square mile (197.6/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 89.56% White, 1.35% African American, 1.46% Native American, 1.20% Asian, 0.24% Pacific Islander, 3.95% from other races, and 2.24% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 7.91% of the population. 18.4% were of German, 11.0% English, 11.0% American and 8.4% Irish ancestry.
There were 2,671 households, out of which 33.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 43.8% were married couples living together, 14.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 36.5% were non-families. 30.4% of all households were made up of individuals, and 15.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.46 and the average family size was 3.06.
In the city, the population was spread out, with 29.2% under the age of 18, 11.4% from 18 to 24, 26.6% from 25 to 44, 18.9% from 45 to 64, and 14.0% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 32 years. For every 100 females, there were 102.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 94.0 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $33,482, and the median income for a family was $41,387. Males had a median income of $32,289 versus $24,414 for females. The per capita income for the city was $15,944. About 16.0% of families and 19.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 27.6% of those under age 18 and 8.9% of those age 65 or over.
Chehalis has been home to several companies that have existed for more than a century. Callison's, formally known as I.P. Callison's & Sons, was founded in the city in 1903. The company originally processed cascara bark, used as a laxative, expanding to produce peppermint in the 1940s, spearmint in 1952, and eventually essential oils. The company headquarters and exporting components were moved to Lacey but the manufacturing plant remains in Chehalis.
The Lewis County Mall, situated south of the Lewis County Fairgrounds, was built in 1972. The mall was home to major shopping retailers, such as JC Penney's, Hallmark, Radio Shack, Rite Aid, and Sears. In 1999, JC Penney's departed the mall and other businesses followed soon thereafter due in part to the growth of other shopping centers in the local area. Sears was the last nationwide company to leave. In the 2000s, the 10-screen Midway Cinema was established in the shopping center. As of 2023, the mall is home to smaller, regional businesses and plans include a renovation of the center for storage, apartment buildings, and restaurants.
Based on a plan approved by the city council in 2009, the Chehalis Community Renaissance Team (CCRT) was formed and implemented artistic improvements as part of long term revitalization project for downtown Chehalis. With funds provided by CCRT via community donations and various city, county, and state programs, local artists and business owners have produced artworks on utility boxes, trash can lids, and benches, along with additional murals and building façade renovations in the downtown and surrounding business districts.
A rainbow painted fence, supporting LGBTQ+ people and rights, was first created in 2020 in the city's Westside district near the Westside Park. Given the name, the Chehalis Friendship Fence, it was vandalized, along with two other sites in the community, in June 2023 during a hate crime attack. The fence was repainted days later through a volunteer effort.
Chehalis is part of the ARTrails of Southwest Washington initiative. The cooperative, begun in 2003, showcases local artists, art studios and galleries throughout the region, and holds an annual autumnal studio tour that incorporates events in smaller towns within Lewis County. The Lewis County Historical Museum has hosted, since 2015, a permanent ARTrails gallery.
Among the earliest women's groups in Washington state, the St. Helen's Club of Chehalis has been in existence since 1895. The organization has advocated for the importance of "literature, arts, science and vital issues of the day" and providing scholarships for high school and college women. The group led restoration endeavors of the John R. Jackson House at the Jackson House State Park Heritage Site in 1915.
In 2021, two restaurants in the city, Once Upon A Thyme, a luncheon diner, and Mackinaw's, which caters to fine dining, were featured in back-to-back episodes of the television show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
Chehalis borders the Southwest Washington Fairgrounds, which hosts an annual state fair, usually in August. The Lewis County Fair first took place in the city in 1891 and would continue to do so until 1909 when the fairgrounds began hosting the event after the site was constructed.
An annual, multi-day "ChehalisFest" is usually held at the end of July. Hosted by Experience Chehalis (previously the Chehalis Community Renaissance Team), the festival is centrally located in the historic downtown district but expands to local tourist locations, including the Chehalis-Centralia Airport and Veterans Memorial Museum. Food, music, child activities, art walks, sidewalk sales, and car shows are often the highlights of the festivities.
The city hosts a yearly, June-to-October, Community Farmers Market of Chehalis in its historic downtown. The market, part of a larger Lewis County farmers market initiative, is opened on Tuesday afternoons. A supplemental Friday market was used for a brief time. Local produce and foodstuffs, art wares, and child activities are often the leading focus of the market.
A mid-summer Music in the Park free concert series takes place annually at Recreation Park. The event is typically held on three consecutive Fridays, with a different performer each evening. Based on local music demographics, country singers and cover bands often headline the series.
Chehalis's Santa Parade takes place in early December. A theme is chosen every year and local residents are selected as grand marshals as recognition for their community service. The route courses thru the historic downtown district and immediate business core with floats and school marching bands the prime spotlight of the event. Held almost continuously since the 1940s, the parade celebrated 70 years in 2019.
The Chehalis Historic Downtown District was honored with placement on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997, notably for its Colonial Revival architecture.
Other locations within Chehalis listed on the register include the Hillside Historic District, the Lewis County Courthouse, the St. Helens Hotel, the Troop 373 and 7373 Scout Lodge, the main U.S. Post Office building, and the houses of John R. Jackson, O.B. McFadden, and O.K. Palmer.
The Chehalis Theater was originally the Pix Theater when it was opened in 1938, but renamed in 1954. Formerly called the Beau Arts Building when built in 1923, the location was first home to a Ford car dealership. The building was converted into a movie house and continued to host film viewing until 1988. Owing to fiscal losses and maintenance backlogs, the theater would be repurposed for various businesses before closing to any economic activity in 2008. Amid changing ownerships since 2016, extensive renovation was undertaken which has led it to be reopened for performances, screenings, and cuisine. As of 2022, a local restaurateur, McFiler's, completed several remodeling projects and reopened the theater.
To commemorate the 100th anniversary of Ezra Meeker's journey on the Oregon Trail, the city, by way of the Lewis County Historical Society, installed an historical marker at city hall. As part of a promise from towns along Meeker's trip to erect markers to honor the trail, Chehalis was one of the last areas to fulfill the obligation. Another marker was subsequently placed at Claquato Church in the nearby neighborhood of Claquato, the oldest continuously used church in Washington state.
Across from the courthouse sits the Judge Seymour White House, a Victorian house built in 1904. It was planned for demolition in 1986 after it was deemed a public nuisance but a public outcry saved the home. Given the nickname, "House of Ill Repute", it once was used as brothel. Since it's preservation, the building has been used a location for small businesses and non-profits.
The former Northern Pacific Railway depot that opened in 1912 was renamed the Lewis County Historical Society and Museum. Following renovations to save the building following its closure in 1972, the museum celebrated its grand reopening on September 18, 1979, with a five-day festival. A large tree stump by its main entrance has been used as a podium by Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt, Eugene Debs, and William Howard Taft. The depot was recognized with placement on the NRHP list in 1974. Since 2019, the building has been hosting a live camera feed of the train tracks behind the building.
The Vernetta Smith Chehalis Timberland Library is operated by the Timberland Regional Library and named in honor of the mother of former Chehalis resident, Orin Smith, the library's chief donor. It was completed in 2008 after the original Carnegie library (opened in 1910) and Chehalis City Hall were torn down in September 2007.
The Washington Hotel opened in 1889 and was restored by a local family in 1997 following a destructive fire. The efforts would earn the building a Washington State Preservation Award in 1999. The hotel once served a movie house and vaudeville theater, known as the Dream Theatre, which opened in 1911. Since its construction, the structure has been home to several small businesses, once including the Vintage Motorcycle Museum. A Dream Theater ghost sign is visible on the front entrance side of the structure.
Chehalis is home to the Veteran's Memorial Museum which was originally begun in 1995 and opened in Centralia in 1997. The museum contains a volumetric library of military history, and visitors can participate in direct interactions with visiting United States war veterans as well as browse thru a 9,000 square foot gallery.
The Chehalis-Centralia Railroad Museum (CCRM) is located south of the veteran's museum and hosts the Chehalis–Centralia Railroad. The passenger train, a 1916 Baldwin Locomotive Engine No. 15, traverses through the Chehalis-Centralia corridor and outlying areas. The museum lost its liability insurance coverage in 2022 to operate the "excursion stream train" due to financial losses stemming from two collision accidents. As of 2023, the museum is open and has made repairs to the tracks and the train engine, and is in an agreement with the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad (MRSR) to begin joint operations on the CCRM rail lines.
A swap meet mall, Yard Birds, is a local landmark known for its large, metal and wood sculpture of a black bird. The mall was permanently closed in 2022 and threatened to be condemned due to code compliance and safety issues but the order was lifted at the end of the year. As of 2023, the attraction still remains.
Bicycling is a popular sport in Chehalis, hosting along with other towns on the Washington State Route 6 corridor an annual "Ride The Willapa" bike ride that raises money for the Willapa Hills Trail. The Lewis County Historic Bike Ride, a yearly event for over 30 years, features ride options that vary from easy to advanced, and starts in the area. Chehalis is included as part of the route for the Seattle to Portland Bicycle Classic (STP) which traverses around the airport and winds through downtown and connected neighborhood districts. Riders of the STP will overnight in the city as an overflow option to Centralia.
Chehalis's Millet Field used to host minor league baseball, including such teams as the Gophers, Proteges, and Farmers; the 1912 Chehalis Farmer's team would be awarded the league championship. The field accommodated semi-pro baseball and football from the turn of the 20th century into the 1970s. Several Negro League games were played in the town.
Two parks within the city limits, Recreation and Stan Hedwall Parks, are used for a variety of W.F. West High School sports competitions and for tournaments involving high schools within Lewis County.
The city has several parks, many of which are based on land donated by Chehalis residents. Money raised to build, maintain, or upgrade the area's park system has long been done by community fundraising efforts.
The largest park, the Recreation Park Complex, is located in Chehalis's South Market district and contains four separate units. The Gail and Carolyn Shaw Aquatics Center' opened in August 2014 and it replaced the original 1959 Chehalis Community Pool. The Chet and Henrietta Rhodes Spray Park, completed in 2007, adjoins the aquatic center, geared mostly for young children and people with disabilities. Recreation Park is the largest of the area, and is home to four softball and youth baseball fields, picnic areas, paved walking paths, and a community center and kitchen. It was recently rebuilt in 2020 along with the abutting Penny Playground, a fenced play area geared for children. The playground's name comes from the donation drives used to help fund the building of the park in 1993.
Two additional parks are furnished for athletics and organized sports. Stan Hedwall Park straddles the Newaukum River with 200 acres of ball fields, RV parking, trails, and open and forested areas. Millett Field was formerly home to a semi-pro baseball team in the early 20th century, and regularly used for sports since it opened in 1898 and developed in 1908. A basketball court and a playground area, both created by local charitable acts in the early 2000s, are the focus of the 3-acre (1.2 ha) park.
Several parks organized and built for leisure and family activities are dispersed within the city limits. Westside Park, located in the Pennsylvania Avenue-West Side Historic District, contains basketball courts, a playground, and picnic areas. Lintott-Alexander Park, located on land that was donated in the early 20th century by a Chehalis family, is a 6-acre (2.4 ha) park that was restored after a monetary contribution from a former community resident in 2004. A pair of the oldest recreational areas in the city, John Dobson and McFadden Parks, are a combined 56-acre (23 ha) and are located in the Hillside District on Park Hill. A shared trail, the Dobson-McFadden, bridges the parks and leads to open views to much of Chehalis, including downtown, and the Newaukum River valley.
Several Chehalis parks contain walking paths and trails but there are three separate trails of note. The Airport Levee Trail is a mixed paved-gravel trail that loops for up to 3.5 miles (5.6 km) and is situated between farm land and the Chehalis-Centralia Airport. It connects with the nearby Airport Road Trail, a paved, mixed-use trail that parallels Interstate 5 for 2.0 miles (3.2 km); it is part of long term plan to link the recreational areas between the Twin Cities. The Willapa Hills Trail stretches 56.0 miles (90.1 km) from Chehalis to South Bend, Washington. Built over a late 19th century railroad, it is now a mix of paving and compact gravel and is open to hikers, bicyclists, and horse riding.
The city owns and operates the Chehalis Poplar Tree Farm located east of Claquato on State Route 6. The 11-unit, 250 acres (100 ha) site grows nine hybrid varieties of poplar and the trees are harvested on a rotating basis in sectioned units every 8 to 10 years. The lumber is sold to produce paper. The farm is part of Chehalis' water treatment program. As of 2008, Class 1 wastewater, rather than be fully discharged in the Chehalis River as was common practice before the tree farm was created, is used to hydrate the poplar fields through the use of irrigation pipes. Reclaimed and treated water not absorbed by the poplars recharges the local aquifer. The farm was informally known as the "Chehalis Poplar Tree Plantation" and was renamed to its current moniker in 2021 due to local action requesting the removal of the word "plantation" as the term was considered objectionable.
The area is populated by cascara, defined as a bush or tree depending on its size. The main harvesting of the plant is for its bark, commonly used as a laxative.
Chehalis has a council–manager system of government that consists of an elected city council and an appointed city manager. The city council has seven members, of which three come from at-large seats, and selects a ceremonial mayor from its members.
The city is located in District 1 of Lewis County and as of March 2021, represented by County Commissioner Sean Swope.
Chehalis historically leans to the right, but less than Lewis County as a whole.
Third parties receiving votes in the 2016 and 2020 election were the Libertarian Party and Green Party, and there were 15 votes for Write-in candidates. The 2016 election also included votes for the Constitution Party.
The Green Hill School, the state's only maximum security penitentiary for youths, is located in the South Market district. The city is also home to the Lewis County Jail, situated across from the Lewis County Courthouse in the government district.
The Chehalis School District (CSD) provides public education to students, from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade, in the city.
The following public schools are:
- James W. Lintott Elementary - Pre-kindergarten to 2nd grade
- Orin C. Smith Elementary - Third to 5th grade
- Chehalis Middle School - Built in 1989, hosts grades 6th thru 8th
- W.F. West High School - Opened in 1951, receives students from 9th to 12th grades
Both elementary schools were built concurrent in 2018 and fully opened in 2019. They replaced the previous primary schools of Cascade (built 1922), R.E.Bennet (opened in 1928), and Olympic (built 1960).
The city also provides schooling for rehabilitating juvenile males at Green Hill School, with options for students to obtain a high school or general equivalency diploma (GED), vocational training, or college prep courses.
Several movies have been filmed in and around Chehalis, including Captain Fantastic, and the independent film Maysville. Diverse documentaries filmed in the city include the environmental feature about the Chehalis river basin, Chehalis : A Watershed Moment, and the movie, Skinny and Fatty: The Story of Yard Birds, a reflection on a local market attraction.
Izzie Stevens, a fictional character from the television show, Grey's Anatomy, was born and raised in Chehalis.
The earliest recorded newspaper published in Chehalis was in 1883, the Lewis County Bee, with the Lewis County Nugget forming a year later. In 1888, both publications dropped the county title and became the Chehalis Bee and the Chehalis Nugget. The city would host up to three competing papers for brief periods in the 1890s through 1905. The Bee and Nugget merged in 1898 to become the Chehalis Bee-Nugget, surviving until 1938 when it joined with the Lewis County Advocate to become The Chehalis Advocate. With the exception of "The Scoop", a brief upstart of a daily publication in the 1950s, the merger left Chehalis with one surviving news publication produced in the city. The Chehalis Advocate, due to a loss of ad revenue and rising costs, folded in 1963.
Since then, local news reports for the residents of Chehalis are provided by The Chronicle, a newspaper with an online component. Produced in Centralia, the news organization also provides reports on Washington state and national issues, as well as features about community and historical events throughout Lewis County.
A ghost sign for the Chehalis Bee-Nugget was found in 2009, and subsequently preserved, during a renovation of Chehalis's historic St. Helens Theater.
The Chehalis area has two licensed FM radio stations, KACS - 90.5 FM, which broadcasts a Christian format, and KMNT - 104.3 FM, providing country music to the community. Additional stations include Centralia College owned KCED - 91.3 FM, which transmits Alternative programming, and the Adult contemporary music radio broadcaster KITI-FM - 95.1 FM, based in Winlock.
Lewis County and various other regional governments, in association with environmental groups, scientists, and local citizens, organized a partnership in the early 2010s named the Chehalis Basin Strategy to propose and research a combination of plans along the Chehalis River to mitigate flooding and to restore aquatic habitat for local Chinook salmon. The proposal outlines several flood control reduction measures, with downstream levee improvements particularly at the Centralia-Chehalis Airport, and a flood retention dam in Pe Ell which is planned to limit catastrophic damage from 100-year floods within the Chehalis River Basin.
Chehalis is served by Centralia's 128-bed, non-profit Providence Centralia Hospital for short-term acute care that also provides services for surgery, cancer, obstetrics, and is equipped with a 24-hour emergency room and an ICU. There are several clinics in Chehalis, including Providence Chehalis Family Medicine, Northwest Pediatric Care, and Chehalis Children's Clinic. Mental health services are provided by Cascade Mental Health Care. A detox and addiction recovery center is run by American Behavioral Health Systems at the former site of the St. Helens Hospital that was built in 1907.
The Lewis County Public Health & Social Services building is located in the government district of the city, north of the Lewis County Courthouse.
Chehalis is served by Interstate 5, the main north–south freeway in Western Washington, which connects the city to Seattle and Portland. The freeway also carries a section of U.S. Route 12, an east–west highway that continues to Aberdeen and across the Cascades to the Yakima River Valley and Tri-Cities. Chehalis is the location of the eastern cessation point of State Route 6, a highway that travels west to a junction with U.S. Route 101 in Raymond. The Chehalis terminus converts into West Main Street with access to the city through the government district.
Twin Transit provides public transit service to Chehalis and neighboring Centralia, with connections to other communities. Early 20th century public transportation for residents relied on a streetcar line operated by the local Twin City Railroad Company, which connected the city with neighboring Centralia. As the community began to favor travel by bus, the service was discontinued by 1929.
The Chehalis–Centralia Airport (CLS) is located within the city limits. The airport is a single runway, public use hub for air travel in Lewis County. First begun as a small airfield in 1927, it is bordered by the local shopping district and I-5 and is approximately one mile west of the Chehalis downtown district. It is the largest of the three airports within the county.
Lewis County PUD provides electricity within the city, 75% that is generated via hydroelectricity. Natural gas and infrastructure for residents and businesses within the city limits is provided by Puget Sound Energy.
The City of Chehalis Water Division is responsible for clean drinking water, including water treatment and operations, and maintains reservoirs and tanks for a storage capacity of over 6.7 million gallons. The primary source for water is the North Fork of the Newaukum River, which the city is allowed to draw, as of 2023, two-thousand acre feet per year (3.1 million gallons per day). The Chehalis River is a secondary source, with the city allowed to siphon 1 million gallons daily.
Chehalis received grants of $4.45 million in 2021 to build the first hydrogen fueling station in Washington state; it is to be initially overseen by Twin Transit. The site, scheduled for completion in mid-2023, is located in the southern portion of the city on Port of Chehalis property off I-5 and is planned to operate on 1 acre (0.40 ha) of the 8 acres (3.2 ha) plat and be capable for usage of up to 2 megawatts. The self-service facility will have two fuel pressure stations, light-duty and heavy duty, of 700 and 350-bar fuel pressure, respectively.
The city installed its first charging stations for electric vehicles in 2018 at a shopping center on city-owned land. The station originally had four stalls and was later expanded through legislation from the city government. Chehalis is part of a broader initiative to provide charging stations along the White Pass Scenic Byway.
As of 2023, Chehalis residents obtain garbage collection services, required by city ordinance, with Harold LeMay Enterprises.
Chehalis has been a sister city with Inasa, Shizuoka, Japan since 1990. It merged into the city of Hamamatsu, which continues the relationship.
Chehalis is considered a twin city with adjacent Centralia.
- Kay Bell, football player and professional wrestler
- Morgan Christen, United States federal appellate judge
- Henry C. Davis, Washington state pioneer and businessman
- Frank Everett, Washington state pioneer and businessman
- Judianne Fotheringill, 1963 and 1964 pair skating U.S. national champion
- Dave and Vean Gregg, professional baseball players
- Olive McKean, Bronze medalist swimmer at the 1936 Summer Olympics
- Seton I. Miller, Oscar winner in 1941 for Best Screenplay
- Elmer Schwartz, professional football player in the 1930s
- Orin Smith, former CEO of Starbucks
- Warren A. Taylor, first Speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives
- Ralph Towner, acoustic guitarist
- Albert E. Tozier, founder of the Chehalis Nugget newspaper
- Harry R. Truman, 1980 Mt. St. Helens eruption folk hero
- William Muir Urquhart, Chehalis pioneer and businessman
- City of Chehalis website
- Experience Chehalis website