Tenino, Washington

Coordinates: 46°51′24″N 122°51′1″W / 46.85667°N 122.85028°W / 46.85667; -122.85028
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Tenino, Washington
Downtown Tenino, along Sussex Ave., 2011
Downtown Tenino, along Sussex Ave., 2011
The Stone City[1]
Location of Tenino, Washington
Location of Tenino, Washington
Coordinates: 46°51′24″N 122°51′1″W / 46.85667°N 122.85028°W / 46.85667; -122.85028
CountryUnited States
 • Total1.46 sq mi (3.77 km2)
 • Land1.46 sq mi (3.77 km2)
 • Water0.00 sq mi (0.00 km2)
289 ft (88 m)
 • Total1,870
 • Estimate 
 • Density1,280.91/sq mi (494.66/km2)
Time zoneUTC-8 (PST)
 • Summer (DST)UTC-7 (PDT)
ZIP code
Area code360
FIPS code53-70630
GNIS feature ID1512718[5]

Tenino (/təˈnn/) is a city in Thurston County, Washington, United States. The population was 1,870 at the 2020 census.[3]

Incorporated in 1906, the city sits upon land first established as a food-source prairie for Native Americans living in the area. The town grew around an economy of stone quarrying, with local sandstone being used in several government and university buildings in the Pacific Northwest. With a decrease in demand for stone, the town converted one abandoned quarry into a community pool. Its downtown district is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.[6]

Tenino gained notoriety during the Great Depression for the use of wooden money as public currency for its residents, a practice briefly revived during the COVID-19 Pandemic.[7][8] Research released in a 2019 book provided an answer regarding myths surrounding the name of Tenino; it was determined the name is borrowed from the moniker of a steamboat used during a railroad committee expedition.[9]


Tenino was officially incorporated on July 24, 1906, though it existed as a rural community since the mid-19th century. Initially, American settlers were attracted to the open prairies created and maintained by local natives through controlled burns to cultivate camas root, a staple food source. Records indicate the initial settlers' community centered on the prairie approximately 12 a mile (0.80 km) south of the present town. Early residents named their first post office and school "Coal Bank", in the 1860s, a reference to a nearby coal outcropping.[10] It was later renamed Tenino.

In the late 19th century, a number of sandstone quarrying companies began shipping building stone, used in many regional buildings outside of Tenino, including the Old Capitol Building and the old Thurston County Courthouse in Olympia, the Mason County Courthouse in Shelton, Washington, the First Congregational Church, developed by Cameron Stone, in Tacoma, Washington, Denny Hall and the Theodore Jacobson Observatory at the University of Washington, Seattle, the Pittock Mansion and the Pioneer Courthouse in Portland, Oregon, the Calvary Presbyterian Church (San Francisco) and several US post office buildings, including at The Dalles, Oregon. The US Government also used stone from these quarries to construct jetties at Westport, Washington and elsewhere. The quarries declined in the early 20th century when many builders switched to concrete. In addition to quarrying, logging, saw mills, and coal mining were also well established industries in the area. However, as the timber played out and railroads switched to diesel in the mid-20th century, these industries also declined.[citation needed]

In the years before the construction of Interstate 5, Tenino gained a reputation as a notorious stretch along U.S. Route 99. Many motorists considered it a speed trap because of the strict enforcement by police of the abruptly reduced speed limit through town.[11]

While Tenino retains its historic downtown, now a historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the town serves largely as a "bedroom community", many of its citizens commuting by car to larger cities such as Olympia and Tacoma for work.[citation needed]

Since the mid-1970s, the US Army has used a geographical map of Tenino as a training aid in map reading, because of the variety of symbols represented on the map.[12]

Wooden money[edit]

Tenino wooden money

Tenino briefly achieved national notoriety during the Great Depression of the 1930s. After the local bank was closed, the town government temporarily issued wooden money scrip for use by Tenino's residents when cash was scarce.[7] However, most of this wooden money was never redeemed as it became a valuable collector's item.[13]

Tenino began printing the wooden currency again during the COVID-19 recession in 2020, to distribute to the local residents.[14] The revival of the program was approved by the Washington State Auditor and began in May 2020.[15][8]

Name origin[edit]

The origin of the name Tenino, used by the Northern Pacific Railroad for their station when they arrived in 1872, has been debated for over a century. The two main theories given for a century were that Tenino was a Chinook Jargon word for a fork or branch in the trail, or a form of T9o or 10-9-0 used by the railroad for numbering on a locomotive, survey stake, or train car. Both these theories have been disproven for decades, but keep resurfacing because definitive proof of the actual origin was lacking.

Recent research published in The Naming of Tenino by the Tenino City Historian, Richard A Edwards, chronicles the visit of the Pacific Coast Committee in early October 1872. This committee, including Northern Pacific Railroad President Cass, traveled up the Columbia River on steamboats of the Oregon Steam Navigation Company. One of the Oregon Steam Navigation Company's steamboats operating on the upper Columbia and Snake rivers was named the "Tenino". Earlier that year, the Northern Pacific Railroad had purchased controlling interest in the OSN as part of their goal to connect their Kalama to Puget Sound line, then under construction, to their transcontinental railroad being built westward from Minnesota.[9]

On October 12, 1872, at a meeting in Portland, Oregon, shortly after their tour up the Columbia River, John Ainsworth and other officers of the OSN made a presentation about their common interests, President Cass proposed a resolution that also named the momentarily Northern terminus near Hodgden's station "Tenino". As reported the following month in an Olympia, Washington, newspaper, this connection allowed travel from the "old Tenino" (the OSN steamboat which held the record for traveling the farthest east up the Snake River), to "the new town" of Tenino which was the railroad's then current northwest terminus.[16]

In early 1873, the Northern Pacific Railroad and local homesteader Stephen Hodgden filed plats in Thurston county establishing the town of Tenino. By late 1873, the financial backing of the railroad was in financial crisis and their stock in the OSN was sold for debt, ending the railroad's direct connection to the steamboat Tenino. The steamboat Tenino was itself named after the Tenino native band who once lived near The Dalles in Oregon and whose descendants are now part of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

With the influx of people in Tenino in the 1890s, due to the opening of thriving sandstone quarries, the question of the origin of the name arose. With the steamboat on the distant river gone and long forgotten, locals created mythical stories about its origins. By the early twentieth century, the press were referring to the origin of the name as a mystery.

The name also appears informally as "T-9-O," a shortened variation in use as early as 1873.[17]


Tenino is located at 46°51′24″N 122°51′01″W / 46.856745°N 122.850290°W / 46.856745; -122.850290 (46.856745, -122.850290).[18]

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 1.44 square miles (3.73 km2), all of it land.[19]


Historical population
2021 (est.)1,958[4]4.7%
U.S. Decennial Census[20]
2020 Census[3]

2010 census[edit]

As of the census[21] of 2010, there were 1,695 people, 691 households, and 440 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,177.1 inhabitants per square mile (454.5/km2). There were 740 housing units at an average density of 513.9 per square mile (198.4/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 90.7% White, 0.2% African American, 0.9% Native American, 1.2% Asian, 0.3% Pacific Islander, 2.1% from other races, and 4.6% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 7.4% of the population.

There were 691 households, of which 35.6% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 42.3% were married couples living together, 16.2% had a female householder with no husband present, 5.2% had a male householder with no wife present, and 36.3% were non-families. 28.9% of all households were made up of individuals, and 12.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.45 and the average family size was 3.01.

The median age in the city was 36.8 years. 25.4% of residents were under the age of 18; 7.6% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 27.1% were from 25 to 44; 26.8% were from 45 to 64; and 13% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 46.7% male and 53.3% female.

2000 census[edit]

As of the census of 2000, there were 1,447 people, 575 households, and 396 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,720.3 people per square mile (664.2 people/km2). There were 615 housing units at an average density of 731.1 per square mile (282.3/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 90.53% White, 0.83% African American, 1.17% Native American, 3.11% Asian, 0.07% Pacific Islander, 1.94% from other races, and 2.35% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.80% of the population.

There were 575 households, out of which 37.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 48.7% were married couples living together, 15.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 31.0% were non-families. 27.3% of all households were made up of individuals, and 13.6% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.52 and the average family size was 3.01.

In the city, the age distribution of the population shows 29.8% under the age of 18, 7.6% from 18 to 24, 29.4% from 25 to 44, 18.9% from 45 to 64, and 14.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 34 years. For every 100 females, there were 91.4 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 89.2 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $34,526, and the median income for a family was $41,208. Males had a median income of $31,058 versus $25,972 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,244. About 5.0% of families and 9.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 12.4% of those under age 18 and 9.9% of those age 65 or over.

Arts and Culture[edit]

Inspired by a mayoral proclamation in 1968 for Tenino to honor pioneer history and culture, the city began holding an annual weekend "Oregon Trail Days" festival. Demonstrations of logging, blacksmithing, railroad work, and pioneer home life often highlight the event. "Black powder shoots", historical exhibits, live music, cuisine, vintage car shows, and a parade round out the celebration. Several other organizations, such as the local farmer's market and rock-and-gem shows, will often hold events concurrently throughout the city.[22][23]

In 2020, Tenino created the "Tenino Creative Arts District" by certification thru the Washington state Arts Commission. The area, designated as including the historic downtown, business district, and the entirety of Tenino City Park, is projected to include public art of various mediums, including murals and metal banners and signs depicting Tenino's history. A scavenger hunt is to be based on the artworks.[24]

De Beers heiress, Rebecca L. Oppenheimer, built a luxury home Merkaba near Tenino. In 2023, it was sold for $2.3M to former child actor, Scott Strader.[25]

Parks and recreation[edit]

The city contains 50 acres of parks. The largest, Tenino City Park, sits south of the center of town, with the Yelm–Rainier-Tenino Trail crossing through the area. The park contains the Tenino Stone Quarry community pool, the renovated Quarry House,[26] and the Tenino Depot Museum, along with various ballfields and picnic areas. A supplemental appropriation of over $500,000 was awarded to the city in 2022 for the rebuild of the park's playground after damage from a winter storm the prior year.[27]

Historic buildings and structures[edit]

There are 26 historic sites in or near Tenino. Following are some of those properties.[28][29]

Name Image Address Built in NRHP? Notes
Tenino Downtown Historic District Tenino, WA - Campbell & Campbell Building 01.jpg Two blocks long, one-half block-deep on either side of Sussex Street; approximately three acres in size. June 25, 2004 Sussex Street is the main thoroughfare of the community and is also part of State Route 507.
Tenino Depot Tenino, WA - Tenino Depot 01.jpg Tenino City Park December 27, 1974 The Tenino Depot, now a museum, was moved from its original site to the Tenino City Park near the Tenino Stone Company Quarry. At the time the Depot was moved, the area of relocation was examined to ensure that no archaeological remains significant to the operation of the quarry would be destroyed or altered.
Hercules Sandstone Company Office Tenino, WA - City Hall 02.jpg Originally located near the Hercules Sandstone Company Quarry west of Tenino, In 1922, each stone of the building was numbered, moved separately, and reassembled at it current site at the corner of Sussex and Hodgen. It is currently Tenino's City Hall.
Tenino Stone Company Quarry   2712 Huston Street 1891 July 28, 1983 Located in the Tenino City Park, the quarry is now the Memorial Swimming Pool.
Ticknor School   3212 SE Skookumchuck Road now at 399 Park Avenue West 1934 May 10, 1990 Now located in the Tenino City Park, the school was moved from it original location in unincorporated Thurston County to the Tenino City Park next to the Tenino Depot in 2002.
Ticknor Barn   6710 Skookumchuck Road 1860
Colvin Farmstead (Colvin House)   16828 Old Highway 99 1877 June 23, 1988
Hercules#2/Eureka Quarry   4220 SE Old Military Road 1891
Taylor Farm   2400 SE 180th Avenue 1902
Morgan Davies Barn   S Skookumchuck Road of the junction with Johnson Creek 1910
Engstrom House/Weber House   3741 SW 143rd Ave 1910
Violet Prairie Grange   17104 SE Violet Prairie Road 1935
Ada's Resort   4005 SE 120th Avenue 1939
Linklater Ranch   13911 Military Road Southeast
Bronson Resort   4122 SE 119th Avenue 1915 Located on Offut Lake
Offut Lake Resort   4005 SE 120th Avenue 1939

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (2015). Rail-Trails Washington & Oregon (1st ed.). Wilderness Press. p. 116. ISBN 9780899977942.
  2. ^ "2019 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved August 7, 2020.
  3. ^ a b c "Explore Census Data". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved May 15, 2022.
  4. ^ a b "City and Town Population Totals: 2020-2021". United States Census Bureau. June 23, 2022. Retrieved June 23, 2022.
  5. ^ "US Board on Geographic Names". United States Geological Survey. October 25, 2007. Retrieved January 31, 2008.
  6. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. March 13, 2009.
  7. ^ a b "Archives Treasure #2: Tenino wooden money". Washington Secretary of State. September 16, 2015. Retrieved June 20, 2020.
  8. ^ a b Johnson, Gene (June 17, 2020). "A Washington City Turns To Wooden Money To Get Through The Pandemic". Oregon Public Broadcasting. Associated Press. Retrieved June 20, 2020.
  9. ^ a b Edwards, Richard (2019). The Naming of Tenino (PDF). Tenino, WA: Arkeep Press.
  10. ^ Guy Ramsey, Postmarked Washington: Thurston County Thurston Co Historic Commission, n.d. 44.
  11. ^ Guy Reed Ramsey, Postmarked Washington: Thurston County. Thurston Co Historic Commission, 1988, 53.
  12. ^ "Tenino's Global Place on the Map Thanks to the U.S. Army". January 25, 2020.
  13. ^ Arthur Dwelley, "Brief History of Tenino" Accessed online at "History by Dwelley". Archived from the original on January 23, 2010. Retrieved January 21, 2010. January 20, 2010.
  14. ^ Greuener, Posey (May 7, 2020). "Washington town plans to use wooden money to boost its economy amid the pandemic". KNKX. Retrieved June 14, 2020.
  15. ^ Thompson, Franque (May 5, 2020). "Tenino plans to recreate famed Depression-era wooden currency during COVID-19 pandemic". Q13 Fox News. Retrieved June 14, 2020.
  16. ^ "Washington Standard". November 16, 1872.
  17. ^ "The Territories" Sacramento Daily Union, May 28, 1873.
  18. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. February 12, 2011. Retrieved April 23, 2011.
  19. ^ "US Gazetteer files 2010". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on January 12, 2012. Retrieved December 19, 2012.
  20. ^ United States Census Bureau. "Census of Population and Housing". Retrieved October 11, 2013.
  21. ^ "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved December 19, 2012.
  22. ^ Muncy, Racquel (July 26, 2018). "Tenino's Oregon Trail Days Celebrates Pioneer History". The Chronicle. Retrieved 1 November 2021.
  23. ^ The Chronicle Staff (July 17, 2015). "Circle the Wagons for Oregon Trail Days in Tenino". The Chronicle. Retrieved 1 November 2021.
  24. ^ Warn, Daniel (March 14, 2022). "Tenino Creative District Moves Forward With Plans to Make Arts 'Economically Viable' in City". The Chronicle. Retrieved 29 July 2022.
  25. ^ Sailor, Craig. "'Karate Kid' actor turned energy drink maker buys heiress' Tenino estate after huge price cut". News Tribune. Retrieved 30 May 2023.
  26. ^ "Tenino Receives $350,000 Grant for Quarry House". The Nisqually Valley News. The Chronicle. May 30, 2019. Retrieved 29 July 2022.
  27. ^ Warn, Daniel (April 4, 2022). "Tenino to Use State Appropriation of $515,000 to Build New Playground City Park". The Chronicle. Retrieved 29 July 2022.
  28. ^ (2005) "Archaeological and historic resources," Thurston County Comprehensive Plan. Retrieved October 18, 2010.
  29. ^ "Thurston County Historical Register", Thurston County, Washington. Retrieved October 18, 2010.

External links[edit]