Welcome to Bucoda, Washington
The Town of Bucoda is defined by its history – its role as the site of the first prison in Washington Territory, its position on the first Northern Pacific transcontinental railroad, and its repute as a historic logging town with a “million dollar payroll.” While many of these industries, and the community bustle associated with them have left Bucoda, the community’s history (and beauty) remains for those who visit.
Seatco Prison – Hell on Earth
Bucoda, originally known as Seatco – the Indian word for ghost or devil – housed the first prison in Washington Territory. This prison was located in Bucoda for two main reasons: the territory had no place other than county jails to hold felons, and the Legislature was unwilling to spend public funds on a penitentiary. The Legislature solved the problem by entering an agreement with William Billings, the Thurston County sheriff, in 1877.
Seatco prison was built at Billings’ expense. The state paid 70 cents per day for the prisoners' keep and Billings was allowed to sell or use their labor as he pleased. The labor conducted as part of the agreement, and harsh living conditions, caused one prisoner to call the prison Washington’s “hell on earth.” A territorial penitentiary in Walla Walla, established by the legislature in 1886, signaled the end of the prisoners in Seatco.
Even without the prison, Bucoda prospered up to World War II as a result of nearby mines (the Tono Coal Mine), lumber and the proximity of the Northern Pacific railroad line. A key to this activity was the Mutual Lumber Company. This mill produced 120,000 board feet of lumber per day between 1902 and 1912 (until a large fire caused operations to be shifted to nearby Tenino), and even more upon its return to the community in 1919. This company caused Bucoda to be known as the “town with the million-dollar payroll.”
While the historic bustle of the community has waned, Bucoda remains a great place to visit. Key attractions are Joe’s Place, a restaurant that has been in operation since Bucoda’s heyday (try the handmade curly fries), and the poured concrete Odd Fellows’ Hall, a structure recently restored by the community and available for events, such as weddings and family get-togethers. For individuals seeking to recreate in Bucoda, the community’s Volunteer Park offers camping and fishing along the beautiful Skookumchuck River.