History buffs, politicians and park rangers gathered Friday to celebrate the restoration of an often overlooked historic site in the Washington State Park system. Jackson House State Park Heritage Site features a small log cabin where settlers plotted in 1852 to make the lands north of the Columbia River into a separate territory from Oregon.
John R. Jackson was a pioneer farmer who came across the Oregon Trail and eventually settled in 1845 on the Lewis Prairie south of present-day Chehalis, Washington.
Interpretive Specialist Sam Wotipka of Washington State Parks says the log cabin Jackson built a few years later soon became an important hub in the developing territory.
"It was used as a post office, a courthouse, a bar, a hotel,” Wotipka said. "It served all of these functions because there were so few people and it was on such an important route of travel."
Wotipka said the homestead was one of the places where settlers met to draw up a petition to Congress to create the Washington Territory.
The comparatively small population of settlers in the region felt unrepresented and neglected, according to an online account authored by historian William Lang.
"The territorial seat, Salem, was too far from Northern Oregon residents, and only a minor portion of federal largesse and patronage benefits found their way north of the Columbia," Lang wrote.
Congress approved a bill to split the Oregon Territory and create the Washington Territory in March 1853. John Jackson would go on to serve as a territorial representative, justice of the peace, assessor and tax collector among other roles.
This past spring and summer, Washington State Parks rehabbed the property including log repair and replacement, a new roof, walkway and interpretive panels.
"This is one of the most significant sites in early territorial history," Wotipka said in an interview Friday. "It's a hidden gem in our system."
Former Washington Secretary of State Ralph Munro keynoted the well-attended celebration and rededication ceremony in the cabin's front yard on Friday afternoon.
"Many times I've have stopped here and just sat and reflected about what a role this played in Washington state government," Munro recalled. "So much of our state's history lies in this yard and this building."
Jackson House State Park enjoyed much higher visitation before the completion of Interstate 5. The one-and-a-half acre park and cabin faced the old Pacific Highway and offered a convenient rest stop for travelers going between Portland and the Puget Sound basin.
The old cabin has fallen into disrepair and been restored multiple times over the decades. Very little of the current structure is original.
The first historic preservation and reconstruction effort took place in 1915 and led to the spot becoming only the second property incorporated into Washington's brand new state park system later that year.
In this latest restoration, Washington State Parks said it took care to use the same species of wood and same building techniques employed in the original structure.