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Destination: The Untwin Cities

You’d hardly consider Kelso and Longview, located in the shadow of Mt. St. Helens and separated only by a series of bridges across the Cowlitz River, as twin cities. They’re anything but as history shows; however, the two conjoined towns are punctuated with a dazzling assortment of vintage and antique stores, offering a broad opportunity for vintage collectors to fulfill their wishes, as well as enjoy a weekend getaway.

Located off I-5, roughly an hour’s drive from Olympia, Washington, Portland, Oregon and the Washington-Oregon Coast, the Kelso-Longview area boasts a population of more than 100,000. While the two cities are highly competitive on the athletic field, the fierce rivalry between the two has subsided over the years.

Kelso came to life first, when Scottish surveyor Peter Crawford staked the first land donation claim on the lower Cowlitz River in 1847. When Washington became a state in 1889, Kelso became an incorporated city. Driven by logging industry in the area in its early years it was a rough and tumble town offering an assortment of entertainment to loggers, who came to town on weekends to blow off a little steam.

When Kansas City timber baron Robert A. Long decided to build a planned city on the other side of the river, supporting a giant lumber mill he also built, the townspeople of Kelso actually voted to give up their name in anticipation of merging with the new city of Longview. However, Longview jilted their older neighbor and a rivalry between the two cities was born, with each town trying to one-up the other. Today, the rivalry between the two towns has mellowed, but it still seen in athletic competitions between the two high schools.

Though the lumber mills dominated the area through the early 1900s, today, manufacturing pulp and paper and wood products are the area’s chief industries, and a tour of the local paper mill is interesting and educational.

In visiting the two cities today, it’s difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins, unless you’re a native – but crossing a bridge usually means you’ve moved from Kelso to Longview, or vice-versa.

Regardless of which side of the river you find yourself on, both cities offer ample opportunity for the vintage collector to search for the item to complete a collection or start a new one.

You’ll find Jennifer Solverson and the Rusty Rose right off I-5 in the Three Rivers Mall in Kelso. It’s a spacious store which features a wide range of items from knickknacks to classic vinyl records for one’s collection to that perfect collectable antique. There’s plenty of parking in the mall lot with easy access to a variety of eateries.

Off the beaten track a bit, in Longview, a relatively new shop, Kerry’s’ Kollectibles and Gene’s Junk finds a shop with a wide-ranging collection of antique items and collectable items. The Wales, Kerry and Gene, believe their story is family oriented with items for every age group at reasonable prices.

“We strive for unique items and I believe everyone is impressed with our quality,” Kerry said.

However, on Longview’s Broadway Street you’ll find what many may call a little slice of heaven for collectors, with numerous shops focused on antiques and collectables.

Perhaps one of the most unusual and interesting is John and Ariel’s Offbeat Antiques and Oddities, which offers curiosities and oddities from all over the world. Their aim is to inspire curiosity about our world and the past.

“We’re different from the normal antique shop, said John, who added, “We have an eclectic collection of items for the truly curious.”

That includes the normal antiquities and animal skulls, framed insects, critters in a jar, and a hippo head with a top hat.

Certainly Vintage Alley fits the bill for this section of Longview as the shop offers what John Severson says is a different mix of collectable items. “I believe we have a nice selection of glassware and pottery. We also feature a number of collectable automobile and motorcycle models,” Severson said.

Commerce Corner Collectibles, a mainstay to the area for the last decade, features antique, vintage, collectibles and home decor items with eight vendors also offering a diverse range of collectable elements. According to Jim Gray, who along with his wife Cindy are the owners, the most unique thing about their store is the two characters behind the counter.

“We don’t really specialize in one area, but Cindy has a great eye for collectable antiques and our vendors each have their own unique tastes so there isn’t a great deal of duplication in the items one will find here,” Gray said.

If you need a break from overdosing on antique shops in the area there’s a number of activities to give you a breather. The Kelso-Longview area is a gateway to a visitation to Mt. St. Helens. It’s a two hour drive to this awesome mountain, but most find the sojourn well worth the time.

Closer to downtown you’ll find a wonderful park and arboretum as well as several buildings which represent the architectural style of 1920s.

Lake Sacajawea Park, a 67-acre tract in the middle of Longview, offers the opportunity for quiet repose from a day of shopping. It a man-made body of water named after the Shoshone woman, Sacajawea who guided Meriwether Lewis and William Clark during their expedition to the Pacific Ocean. The three-mile circuit of the lake gives one the opportunity to walk through a conservatory of many plants and flowers.

In Kelso, one may visit the Northern Pacific Railroad depot built in 1912, and renovated in the 1990s as a multimodal transportation center which serves Amtrak, but represents classic architecture of the day.

Three buildings built under the auspices of R. A. Long also are worth taking a timeout from antiquing. These are the R. A. Long High School, the Longview Library, and the Monticello Hotel, one of the first buildings constructed in the new city.

While in the early years the two cities battled each other for superiority early on, today they bring together the best of the Pacific Northwest – great antique shops and the opportunity for a restful getaway.

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