Jackson Prairie Courthouse
First Courthouse in Washington State
This scene, photographed about 1905, shows the home of John Robinson Jackson, one of the first
settlers north of the Columbia River. The John R. Jackson home was located in Section 9,
Township 12 North, Range 1 West and about nine miles up the Cowlitz Trail from Cowlitz
Landing, which was located about one mile down the Cowlitz River from present-day Toledo,
The Cowlitz Trail was an early route to Puget Sound from Cowlitz Landing at the head of the
navigable water route from Fort Vancouver. Cowlitz Landing was located on the 320-acre
donation land claim of Frederick Andrew Clarke, where by the summer of 1852 he provided lodging
at his home as the Cowlitz Hotel and had a relay of horses at the home of Sidney S. Ford, at
Ford's Prairie, so travelers of the Cowlitz Trail could reach Olympia in one day from
Cowlitz Landing. It was there at Cowlitz Landing that twenty six delegates representing
settlers north of the Columbia River convened for the first Cowlitz Convention, held on August
29, 1851, which resolved that a memorial to Congress should be prepared, petitioning for the
organization of a Territorial Government north of the Columbia River. During an earlier Cowlitz
Precinct meeting, held on July 7, 1851, at the home of John R. Jackson local plans were made
for that first Cowlitz Convention.
The John R. Jackson home was known as the Jackson Prairie courthouse, as the building was used
as the first courthouse within the northern part of Oregon Territory, which a few years later
became Washington Territory.
The Jackson home was also established as the “Highland” post office in 1854 and
John R. Jackson is listed in the 1855 edition of “Post Offices in the United
States”, as postmaster of Highland, Lewis County, Washington Territory. The first record
from the Jackson Prairie courthouse is from October 4, 1847, when Sheriff John R. Jackson
presented a Lewis County tax assessment roll for examination at the October term of the
Commissioners Court of Lewis County. Lewis County was named after Captain Meriwether Lewis,
and in 1847 Lewis County included all of what is now western Washington, west of the Cowlitz
River and the crest of the Cascade Mountains. Federal Judge William Strong held the first U.S.
District Court session north of the Columbia River at the Jackson Prairie courthouse on
November 12, 1850. On October 27, 1852 a public meeting of citizens of northern Oregon
Territory was also held at the Jackson Prairie courthouse. At this meeting a resolution was
passed to appoint and send delegates to a second Cowlitz Convention, to be held at Monticello,
Oregon Territory, on the last Thursday of November, for the purpose of memorializing a
petition to Congress to establish a separate territory north of the Columbia River.
Monticello was located along the west bank of the Cowlitz River, near the confluence with the
Columbia River, and within what is now the present-day city of Longview, Washington. John R.
Jackson was one of forty-four delegates who met at Monticello, on November 25, 1852, to sign
the Monticello Convention Memorial, the petition to Congress to establish a separate
territory north of the Columbia River. The Monticello Convention Memorial stated that the new
territory should be named the Territory of Columbia but President Millard Fillmore signed
legislation, on March 2, 1853, establishing the new territory as the Territory of Washington,
a name proposed by Representative Richard H. Stanton of Kentucky.
Theodore Winthrop wrote a letter, dated July 23, 1853, which described his travels earlier
that week over the Cowlitz Trail through Jackson Prairie to Fort Nisqually. That letter was
published in The Canoe and The Saddle or Klalam and Klickatat, by Theodore Winthrop,
on pages 259-263 (Tacoma, WA: J.H. Williams, 1913).
The restored Jackson Prairie courthouse is located about eleven miles south along the
present-day Jackson Highway (old US 99) from Chehalis, Washington and is located near
present-day Marys Corner.