Is Centralia’s Graffiti Highway art or vandalism?

Residents and tourists see it differently

An abandoned stretch of road brings thousands of tourists from across the United States to Centralia, Columbia County. Known as “Graffiti Highway,” it is one of the last landmarks in the once-bustling mining town.

In 1962, one of the mining beds near town caught fire. That underground fire caused nearly all the residents to leave after their homes were claimed by eminent domain and condemned. Heat from the fire also cracked sections of old State Route 61, weakening its structural integrity. Now layers of colorful paint cover the pavement.

“I think it’s a good way for people to express themselves without, I guess, truly vandalizing something more public,” said tourist Maria Kelly.

Seven residents who refused to leave are allowed to live out their lives in the town, and they dislike how Graffiti Highway has changed the area.

“I have no problem with people coming and walking around,” said Harold Mervine. “But, well, the Graffiti Highway’s getting filled up, and now they come into town and they think they can do the same thing on the streets.”


This video was produced by Cedar Crest High School students Ian Morley, Megan Carpenter, Phillip Patches and Mady Doxtater for PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs, with station support from WITF.

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