When I was growing up in Spokane Valley, I took countless trips up north on Highway 395 to visit my grandparents who lived just south of Northport. We’d pass through towns where extended family lived, towns like Chewelah and Colville. Towns that were in beautiful mountain settings, but unimpressive to me as a child in the 70s. Back then, I probably would have called them boring. I paid little attention to the stories from my mother about growing up in the area. I don’t remember asking any questions. Now that I’m old enough to appreciate the value of these stories, my parents are no longer here to share them with me, leaving me to regret my naive foolishness.
Given my experience, I was surprised to learn that in 2019 Chewelah was designated a “Creative District” I was somewhat surprised. I wondered, what is a creative district? Why Chewelah? With a little research I learned that the Washington State Arts Commission, also called ArtsWA, supports several programs such as the State Art Collection and Arts in Education. It provides grants that help to grow the arts throughout the state. Of great interest to me, is the Creative Districts program, which “supports communities that connect arts and culture to economic development.” Chewelah was actually the second town in Washington to be named a Creative District, recognizing its potential for artistic and economic growth.
Learning of Chewelah’s designation as a Creative District also magically sparked a memory of one of the few stories I do remember hearing on those drives north on 395. It’s a story that involves creativity and artistic genius through the medium of rocks. This story stuck, for it involves castles. Of course, as a little girl, castles were fascinating to me. But what could castles have anything to do with Stevens county and these sleepy little towns? If you live in the area, you might have seen the Hixson Castles, an architectural feat constructed from natural materials of the earth. The look like a miniature fairyland.
The Hixson Castles are named after my mother’s grandma, my great grandmother Ada May Hixson. She built them with her bare hands. What possessed her to take on such an endeavor? According to family, she simply wanted to. But no one takes on the challenge of a project without having some artistic drive, some need to create from the imagination.
My great aunt Genevieve, my grandma’s youngest sister who is in her 90s and still lives in the Blue Creek area, shared the story of the Hixson Castles with the Stevens County Historical Society. According to the society’s website, my great grandmother started building the castles in 1940 when she was 54 years old, and Genevieve was 15. The seven older children had been raised and left home, or passed on, but Genevieve recounts that she and her father sometimes helped her mother build the castles. The last castle was finished in 1950.
This 10-year architectural project was built on the family’s land near Blue Creek. When Highway 395 was widened in 1968, the family’s house and the castles were moved to make room for the road. In 1993, the Hixson family gave permission to move the castles to the Keller Heritage Center in Colville in memory of my great grandmother.
My great grandma Hixson died when I was a young child. She is buried in Chewelah Pioneer Cemetery with her husband Isaiah Lewis “Lew” Hixson and their son Orville, who died at the age of nine. Their headstones were also created by Ada and are strikingly reminiscent of the castles she built.
Remembering my great grandmother’s creative legacy in the Chewelah region, I’m no longer surprised that Chewelah is now a “Creative District.” Chewelah’s creative roots go back for generations with Ada Hixson a pioneering example of ingenuity. I’m proud of my Stevens County roots, and proud of the creative energy great grandma Hixson brought to the community. I’m glad her memory has been honored in displaying her art for the community to enjoy.