Elma History


The town of Elma developed as a trading center for the homesteaders who began settling in the Chehalis River Valley prior to 1860.

Elma History

As the population grew, the residents, whose only local government was Chehalis County and its distant county seat, determined a need to establish a municipal government. Consequently, the Town of Elma was incorporated on March 22, 1888.

Joseph Young and James Long Waldrip combined equal portions of the land, each of them had acquired, and laid out the original plan, which is now the center of the City. Young officially recorded the plan in 1875, three years after Waldrip had left the area for Eastern Washington.

Waldrip's legacy to the town was the first post office, first gristmill, a store, two lumber mills and the first blacksmith shop.

The construction of the Tacoma, Olympia, and Grays Harbor Railroad line through town futher established Elma as the major comercial service center in the Eastern portion of what is now Grays Harbor County. Timber harvesting and processing and agriculture were the two engines that drove the Elma economy from its beginnings; and continue, today, as two important mainstays of the local economy.

Recent years have seen the diversification of the local economy, from the establishment of a chemical manufacturing plant in the 1970s; to the conversion of the site of a terminated power generating construction project into the Satsop Development Park, which now accomodates a number of technology businesses; and establishment of the East County Industrial Park.

The City of Elma, incorporated on March 22, 1888, lies within the Chehalis River Valley in Eastern Grays Harbor County, about 30 miles West of Olympia and 40 miles East of the Pacific coast.

Elma has historically served as the commercial center serving the East Grays Harbor County agricultural and timber industries, which even today serve as mainstays to the local economy. Recent years, though, have seen the Elma area economy become increasingly influenced by increasing numbers of commuters and retirees choosing to live in Elma, as well as by increasing numbers of commercial and industrial enterprises.

The East County Industrial Park, lying just West of Elma, and the Satsop Development Park, located Southwest of Elma, continue to attract business and industry new to the area, as well as accommodating businesses that have relocated from other areas of Grays Harbor County.

Elma's fortuitous location at the interchange of State Routes 8 and 12, providing ready access to the Interstate 5 corridor to both the North and South; its modern utility infrastructure, including a state of the art sewage treatment facility and two fiber optic pipelines; great school district; competent, reliable workforce; abounding natural beauty; and an excellent quality of life bode well for Elma's economic future.

The Elma Chamber of Commerce is dedicated to inicreasing economic activity in the Elma area and to helping make Elma a better community. Elma is a great place to live and do business. We invite you to visit and see for yourself.

How did Elma get its Name?
Well, it depends on who you ask.

One of many versions is that the town was named in honor of Elmer E. Elisworth, who was the first Union soldier killed in the Civil War. Postal authorities, so the story goes, didn't go for the name Elmer, so the "er" was dropped and "a" was added.

Another version holds that the town was namded for Elmira Hunter, whom local folks called Elma.

Another version was that James Long Waldrip named the town to honor Elma Austin, daughter of an Elma pioneer.