Chewelah, Washington

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Chewelah (pronounced /tʃəˈwiːlə/, US dict: chə·wē′·lə) is a city in Stevens County, Washington, United States. Chewelah was labeled Chiel-Charle-Mous on the 1897 U. S. Land Office Map. The population was 2,186 at the 2000 census.



The name comes from a Spokane word meaning "watersnake" or "gartersnake".[3]

Chewelah was officially incorporated on February 4, 1903. In 1873 Thomas and Mary Brown founded the town of Chewelah, naming it after the native word that means snake in the grass, for the winding patterns of the rivers that flowed through the Chewelah Valley.

Chewelah is a town of firsts in Stevens County. It had the first Protestant Congregational Church in 1891, the first school in 1869 [4], the Spokane Falls and Northern Railroad arrived in 1889, a Catholic Church was established 1885, and the first county newspaper was founded in July 1885.

Initially Chewelah was a typical pioneer settlement, being an agricultural center as far back as the early 1870's and having its share of prospectors working the adjacent countryside as early as 1842. The town was platted in 1884 and became known for being a rough and tumble mining town; the first lead and silver mines were established around 1886, and others followed in Embry and surrounding areas.

By 1905 the population had reached 650 souls, and within a few years many prosperous copper, silver, lead and a few gold mines were flourishing in the area. However, the most successful ore to be mined in Chewelah was magnesite. This mineral was used for making bricks and furnace linings that could withstand high temperatures and was an important ingredient for making high quality steel, in high demand during World War One. Austria had been the main provider of magnesite for the country, but they stopped shipping it to the United States during the War. By 1916, Chewelah's plant was said to be the largest producer of magnesite in the country, and at full production it was the largest producer in the world and shipping around 700 tons daily. During the war there were as many as 800 people working at the plant making refractory brick.

By 1920 Chewelah's population had grown to 1,600 people, and the town continued to prosper right up until the summer of 1968, when the venerable magnesite plant closed down due to cheaper competition from Japan and changes in the steel industry. Despite this major change Chewelah survived the transition from being a “one-company town,” and today Chewelah has approximately 2,400 residents and displays a pleasant blend of the past and future. With its moderate climate, dry land, and irrigated farming, ranching and dairy farming continue to be mainstays. Chewelah's diversified economy includes a ski hill, golf course, and other industries that are prospering and keeping the town viable.

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