Nestled in the rolling hills of South Thurston County is a little historic district known as Tenino, WA. Tenino must be pronounced properly and some would describe it as 10-9-0. There is mystery surrounding the origin of the town’s name. The similarity to a series of numbers led to conjecture over the possibility that the number could be related to the railroad system that ran through these parts. However, no train number or any such thing could be traced in the railroad records… and the theory died. Originally this place was called Hodgden Station for the land claimant Stephen Hodgden which leads credence to the other name theory. It is said that Tenino is a Native American word meaning “crossroads” or “meeting place”. Hodgden station was a way station on the Oregon Trail to its terminus in Tumwater and beyond. The lay of the land makes this tiny community a natural crossroads North, South, East and West. The Old Highway 99 which was Washington’s Interstate before the Freeway system can still take you from Seattle to Portland, and Hwy 507 junctions here as well, running between Yelm and Centralia and beyond. Perhaps at one time Tenino was a crossroads for earlier people such as the Salish. But the true meaning of the name may be lost to the passage of time and out of memory.
Tenino is a Stone City and contains certain natural and man-made wonders. How many towns can boast a public swimming pool in an old sandstone quarry with a cascading waterfall, which legend would have you believe is more than 100 feet deep with cranes and equipment still lurking at the bottom beyond the reach of man? The city park extends beyond the pool with baseball fields, hiking and intercity biking trails, a Quarry House from the days of Stone extraction, the Depot Museum, and a one room school house called the Ticknor School. At the Depot Museum you can learn all about Tenino’s Depression Era Wooden Money. Yes, Tenino had its very own legal tenure, which has been newly minted in 2013 and can be obtained at Scotty B’s 50 Style Diner and used in most establishments in town.
2 Blocks north of the Tenino City Park is the Historic District which is evidence of the boom that came about in the early part of the 20th century. You will find the locally quarried stone in much of Tenino’s architecture and a self walking tour brochure is available at the Depot Museum. Most historic buildings in town currently house small businesses like gift shops, antiques, restaurants, the Scattercreek Winery and Aunt Kate’s Chocolates.
There are several natural areas of interest like the two Sandstone quarries outside of the city park, one of which can be seen cut out of the hillside on the south end of town. Continue down south Old Hwy 99 and view rare natural Western, WA prairies near Colvin Ranch which is of interest in and of itself as the Ranch is still owned by one of our area’s Pioneer families, though they have donated some of the original land claim to prairie preservation.
Besides Colvin Ranch there are several agricultural areas around Tenino like the Alplaca Ranch, Nelson Ranch and the farms of the Skookumchuck Valley including plant nurseries that open to the public in the spring. It’s a beautiful drive out the Skookumchuck and you’ll be rewarded at the end of the valley with a visit to a natural area with access to the Skookumchuck River.
Tenino, WA is known around South Puget Sound as quirky little town. I’m not altogether sure how it came by this reputation. But its citizens embrace the distinction.
When to visit? The best time to visit Western Washington is in the late spring until October if you strive to miss the worst of the rains. Tenino offers several summertime perks. The Farmer’s Market is every Saturday from June through September. The Tenino Depot Museum is also seasonal through the summer. Two wine tours happen annually in May and September. Oregon Trail Days and Four Square Mile Music Festival are the Fourth Weekend of July and include the Oregon Trail Days Parade and the Blue Ribbon Pie contest.
Where to Stay? There are no Hotels in Tenino however there are nice places to stay in nearby Centralia or Tumwater. Offut Lake Resort offers cabins, RV sites and camping, plus fine dining at the Lady of the Lake Restaurant. From the resort you may even be able to hear the wolves of Wolf Haven just down the road. Visit www.offutlake.com or give them a call at 360-264-2438. If water parks appeal to you The Great Wolf Lodge is another place to stay and located just 10 minutes from Tenino in Grand Mound.
Places to Eat? In addition to Lady of the Lake, Tenino has several restaurants:
Sandstone Café: Breakfast & Lunch at 273 Sussex Ave W.
The Old 99 Diner & Espresso 472 Sussex Ave W www.theold99.com
Don Juan’s Mexican Kitchen 639 E Lincoln Ave
Scotty B’s 50’s Style Diner 500 Sussex Ave W.
Local Tourist Information:
City of Tenino www.ci.tenino.wa.us
Farmer’s Market www.teninofarmersmarket.org
Wolf Haven International www.wolfhaven.org
Offut Lake Resort and Lady of the Lake www.offutlakeresort.com
Great Wolf Lodge in Grand Mound www.greatwolf.com/grandmound/waterpark