Morton, Washington

by Foster Church on October 27, 2012

Morton in Southwest Washington sits in a long green valley in the foothills of the Cascades. It’s a lumber town that came into being in the 1870s to exploit the vast fir-covered mountains that extend in all directions. Unlike many mill towns, Morton has hung on to two mills, not great, but still less than many such towns.

 Timber towns give a twinge to anyone who sees  boarded up businesses,  houses for sale and the generally dispirited atmosphere. But  more than many, Morton has a  possibility of remaking itself.  It’s open to new ideas, with lots of public-spirited people and a sense that tourism and the arts may be part of its future.

Downtown Morton begins and ends at forested mountains.

When to Come: I don’t usually recommend coming to a town during a festival or civic celebration.  Inevitably these are fun and often reflect the spirit of the place, but they also displace the rhythm and character of  the town.  An exception would be the Morton Loggers’ Jubilee, which takes place on the second weekend in August.  It’s a celebration of logging skills, some practiced a century ago, when the woods were deeper and darker and the tools for cutting down a tree were big, sharp and awkward.  Some of the skills they display include felling and bucking using “misery whips” and axes, log rolling and speed climbing eighty-foot  trees. Newer technologies are also on display, such as bucking large logs using modified chainsaws. There’s also a sizable flea market set up on the edge of town, a parade and a lawnmower race.  And anyone with a taste for small town celebration should attend the Annual Queen Coronation in the Morton High School glymnasium  when four young women compete before a sizable audience to become Jubilee Queen.

 What’s Happening? On the same weekend in August   that the Jubilee was held, Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” was presented by Centralia College East and the Fire Mountain Arts Council downtown in the Roxy Theater.  The Roxy is one of many strategies hatched in Morton to bring energize the town, and possibly bring in tourists, which could give the town another economic leg to stand on. t attraction.  It was the local Fire Mountain Arts Council, formed in 2003, that led the drive  to purchase and renovate the theater, which was built in 1925 on Main Avenue, but had been closed and deteriorating since 1982.  The project cost $3.25 million in money and in-kind services, and the theater opened in 2006.   They also raised $80,000 to buy the   the old Masonic Hall next door – a fine, 9,600 square foot building.  In cooperation with  Centralia College East, the Arts Council has produced twelve major shows including Oklahoma, Music Man,  Annie, Fiddler on the Roof  and Showboat.

The Roxy Theater had been boarded up for years when a Morton theater group bought it and turned it into a performing arts center.

 Local people, mostly grade school and high school students handle everything: lighting, costuming, sets and acting. Carl Ericksen, former president of the Arts Council, says the theater becomes a leveler that lets kids escape from school cliques and pigeonholing “We take kids who are disenfranchised,” he says. “My kids aren’t the sports kids or the popular kids. But we get them out on stage and a change comes over them.

Take a Break: The Bucksnort Pub on Main Avenue has the best name for a bar in the Northwest. The customers mostly appear to be millworkers having a few drinks after a shift. Most mill town bars are men only, by practice, if not policy. Bucksnort looks about 70/30. It hasn’t got a great jukebox or bar menu, but it’s cheery and friendly.

The Bucksnort Pub downtown draws workers from the nearby mills for an afternoon drink and conversation.

A Meat Market:  Meat markets have gotten hard to come by in cities, so it’s a pleasure to see a good example of the vanishing species on Main Street. The company is Morton Meat Company,  and its  clients are mostly local farmers who need a cow, a pig or a lamb slaughtered and cut up into steaks, chops and roasts. They also process wild game and smoke fish and meat. The retail market is something of a sideline, and the meat for sale there isn’t locally produced. Still, it must be a pleasure to run downtown–a minute or so from any point in town–and buy a huge,

The Tilton River flows on Morton’s northern edge.

fresh steak that isn’t wrapped in plastic.

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