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When Interstate 5 was constructed in the 1960s, it cut right through farmer Alfred Hamilton's land, creating two useless sections of land. With little else to do with it, Mr. Hamilton decided to lease the space for billboards - which then were attacked during the 1960s "Highway Beautification" project initiated by First Lady Johnson. This made him quite upset, as it created two less than useful pieces of land and then attempted to take away the only income potential this land still had (it should be noted that this land was quite rural at the time - as it predated the 1990s sprawl of Chehalis) by eliminating billboard placement on it.
Mr Hamilton's revenge was to construct his own billboard on one of the less useful pieces of land, and write an ever changing series of anti-government slogans and messages, anti-environmentalist sayings, pro-gun rights messages, and similar other sentiments.
The original owner died in November of 2004, but his children have now carried on the tradition. Originally, there was some discussion that this might not happen, as not even Hamilton's children necessarily agreed with everything Hamilton put on the sign.
Unfortunately, these days the signs are (in my opinion and those of others) not quite as entertaining or as thought provoking as they were when Hamilton himself was writing them.
While the billboard is not quite as tall as the commercial billboards in the area, it is still quite visible as it is located on a sharp curve as Interstate 5 enters the south side of Chehalis. You can't miss it: it is the billboard that has the rather crude Uncle Sam image on it. For that reason it is nicknamed the "Uncle Sam Billboards". The billboard is not lit, however, and so you will not see it at night.
The message on the north and south sides are different. Once in a while the sign does advertise some local event or institution (such as the food at a particular restaurant that is apparently a favorite of the family) but most of the time the sign continues to complain bitterly against whoever happens to be the selected victim at the time.
According to an interview with the Oregonian (Portland newspaper), Mr. Hamilton's favorite sentiment expressed was ''Let's keep the Canal and give them Kissinger'' from the 1970s and 1980s Panama Canal negotiations. That same newspaper interview also yielded an interesting insight into Mr. Hamilton's quotes: ''I'm not trying to convert anyone to my way of thinking,'' he said. ''But I want to make people think.''
In a November 12, 2004 editorial about the billboards upon Mr. Hamilton's death, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer was moved to comment "We thought the billboards cranky, but worth looking at...That billboard is what makes America better because it celebrates a founding principle of our nation, the First Amendment. We completely disagree with Hamilton's view of the world, but praise his discourse.''
Updated May 4, 2013
The thermometer/clock on the PUD building. The tallest building in town (St. Helens Hotel) is in the background.
Written Oct 4, 2002