Jackson House State Park Heritage Site is a 1.4-acre day-use park in Chehalis on the Jackson Highway. The park was the setting of a homestead cabin built in 1850 by John R. Jackson, one of the first Euro-Americans to settle north of the Columbia River and an important figure in early Washington territorial history. The cabin was reconstructed in 1915 by a local women’s club and became one of Washington’s first two state parks the same year
John and Matilda Jackson
John R. Jackson (1804-1873) was part of a wave of westward migration that occurred in the Pacific Northwest after Great Britain and the United States signed the Treaty of Joint Occupation in 1818. Born in Staindrop, England in 1804, Jackson immigrated to New York in 1823 or 1833 (accounts vary) and became an American citizen in 1835. He moved first to Missouri and then to the Oregon territory in 1844. From Oregon City, Jackson ventured north and began the work of establishing his homestead in April 1845.
On a trip to Oregon City in the spring of 1848, Jackson met Matilda Nettle Glover Coontz (1811-1901). Matilda had been recently widowed when her husband drowned crossing the Snake River. Jackson and Matilda married on May 4, 1848, and they moved to Jackson’s homestead with Matilda’s four sons.
The Jackson House
In 1850, Jackson built a small cabin for his new family. The Highlands, as John called his farm, soon became a social and civic hub in the fledgling Washington Territory. Its location midway along the Cowlitz Trail—an important north-south route between Oregon City (then the capital of the Oregon Territory) and Puget Sound—made the home an ideal place to stop and rest and to conduct business.
As traffic through the area increased and the size of their family grew, the Jacksons added several additions and outbuildings to their home. The house was used as a post office, grocery store, hotel, tavern and even a U.S. District Court. Visitors to their home included Ulysses S. Grant and Isaac Stevens, the first territorial governor of Washington.
John became politically active as the population of the area increased. He served as sheriff, assessor, tax collector, territorial representative and justice of the peace. It was at Jackson’s home that settlers met in 1852 to propose the formation of a new territory north of the Columbia River. That territory eventually became Washington state.
Jackson died in 1873. In 1882, Matilda moved into a new home on the property, and the cabin and its attachments were abandoned.
Restoration and Preservation as a Park
The Jackson House fell into disrepair for several decades until Anna Koontz, a granddaughter of John and Matilda, began an effort to preserve it. Koontz was a member of the St. Helens Club of Chehalis, a women’s literary and civic group. She suggested to her club that they take on a project to restore the home, and in 1914, the club formed a committee to raise the $500 deemed necessary to restore the structure. August Donahoe, who had purchased the portion of Jackson’s homestead containing the cabin, agreed to donate a small parcel and structure to the state for use as a park. Work began on June 16, 1915, and was completed by Oct. 4, 1915. The construction was performed by local tradesmen. Using what materials could be salvaged, the building was reconstructed to mimic the appearance of the original 1850 cabin.
On Nov. 22, 1915, in the first meeting of the Washington State Board of Park Commissioners, the Jackson House became one of the first two properties accepted as a state park. The efforts of the St. Helens Club were celebrated in a ceremony in 1922, when the Washington State Historical Society unveiled the decorative cobblestone wall that adorns the entrance to the cabin. Additional restoration work was performed in 1934 by Civilian Conservation Corps members who were stationed at nearby Lewis and Clark State Park. The Jackson House was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.