After setbacks, Pioneer Center finds its way
A new beginning for a Cathlamet landmark
October 19, 2023
The Pioneer Community Association will open the doors of the Cathlamet Pioneer Center, ushering in a new era for Cathlamet’s Pioneer Church as a public meeting venue and arts and performance center. A dedication is in the works for early November, and will honor the last 50 years of fundraising and rehabilitation.
According to the President of the PCA, Suzanne Holmes, in 1973, the structure became the first and only building in Cathlamet to join the list of National Register of Historic Places (NRHP), a federal list of objects “deemed worthy of preservation for their historical significance or great artistic value.” There are other NRHP sites in Wahkiakum County, including the Grays River Covered Bridge, the Deep River Pioneer Lutheran Church, the Skamokawa Historic District, and the Columbia River Gillnet Boat displayed at Skamokawa Vista Park.
“It’s been a long story of doors open, doors closed,” Holmes said. “After the Cathlamet Fire Marshall closed the doors to the public until an outdated fire suppression system was upgraded, the PCA turned into a fundraising machine. The price tag was well beyond bake sale, car washes and raffles.”
Thankfully, she said, a generous community member provided the financial support needed to upgrade the fire suppression system in 2016.
“Without that gift we would have been unable to reopen the doors to the citizens of Wahkiakum County,” Holmes said. “Music, weddings, and community events all returned to the Pioneer Center because someone who cared enough, and had the resources to contribute, made it happen.”
The PCA has long relied on grants and donations to address the structure’s needs, Holmes said, and In 2019, with support and guidance from former Washington State Senator Dean Takko, the organization received a significant grant from the Washington State Department of Commerce.
Unfortunately, the pandemic wasn’t too far behind. The grant could not cover the sudden rise in costs of materials and labor.
“It seemed that we were at a dead end,” Holmes said, “a place we were all too familiar with. But the PCA has a long history of finding a way.”
Another caring community member donated $10,000, and other donations came in the form of hundreds of hours of labor. This and the Department of Commerce grant paid for a new roof, exterior lead-based paint abatement, new paint, structural foundation repairs that addressed basement flooding, dry rot removal and more structural repair, and a full remodel of spaces downstairs.
There is still work to do, and money to be raised.
“The list of remaining projects is small, when compared to the scope of what has been accomplished,” Holmes said.
Accent paint on the exterior, an upstairs remodel to improve acoustics, stage lighting, and flooring, along with an electrical upgrade, exterior landscaping for safety and aesthetics, support beam repair/replacement, and a ramp/walkway to the back door are all needed. And the new and necessary fire suppression system comes with another annual $2,500 expense.
As an organization, the PCA knows that growing membership is necessary to continue their mission. They want to develop a business model that will achieve financial sustainability. A fundraising committee is being formed to identify and pursue other avenues of income. They are working on sponsorship opportunities, and will continue to apply for grants, which Holmes said often require matching funds.
“After three years of no income as we were sidelined with both the covid-19, Centers for
Disease Control public gathering restrictions and completing the necessary structural repairs, we are, quite honestly, digging ourselves out of a hole,” she said. “A place we’ve been before.”
This is where Holmes puts her “Help Wanted ad,” she said. “Looking for caring community members interested in continuing the preservation of the Cathlamet Pioneer Center. Let us know what you can do.”
Along with the continued improvements listed above, the PCA is looking for volunteers to step into leadership roles. They are looking for people to join the fundraising committee. They need a board treasurer and a social media coordinator. They want someone to create a landscape design, and someone to fabricate new signs.
“Music, weddings, and community events will only continue at the historic Cathlamet Pioneer Center because we care enough to find the resources to continue to make it happen,” Holmes said.
The community is invited to join the PCA for a belated 125th Birthday celebration and Grand Reopening Ribbon Cutting on early November. Visitors will be able to tour the center and participate in the dedication and refreshments will be provided. More on the specific date and time, soon.
For more information, the PCA can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail at
Pioneer Community Association, PO Box 24 Cathlamet WA 98612.
Suzanne Holmes provided additional reporting for this article.