Our Region's History
We are delighted that you have joined us. We trust that our efforts to make our online place an extension of your home or office will meet your expectations. We are here to help you learn or remember about the land and the people. Our online presence is designed to make you feel comfortable, safe and hopeful for the future of the Yakima Valley, one of the most beautiful regions in Washingon State, of which we are justifiably proud.
Our Valley’s population represents several ethnic groups from around the world - Native Americans, French Canadians, Dutch, German, Japanese, Filipino, Latin Americans along with Hispanic Americans tracing their roots to Texas, Wisconsin, Iowa and other states. Diversity runs deep in the Yakima Valley.
Native American Indians had wintered herds of cattle in the Yakima Valley since Chief Kamiakin brought the first herd to the area in 1840. In 1859 legendary cattleman Ben Snipes (1835-1906) drove his first herd of cattle through the Yakima Valley to the gold fields of the Fraser River in Canada. John Jeffries, Major John Thorp, and many other cattle owners followed. Some stock was also shipped by steamboat to Portland or Kalama and then by rail to Puget Sound.
The earliest European settlers were members of the Catholic Oblate Missionaries of Mary Immaculate. At the invitation of Yakama chiefs Ow-hi (d. 1858) and Kamiakin (ca. 1800-1877), the Oblates established several small missions in the Yakima Valley beginning in 1848 and a larger mission, St. Joseph's Mission on the Ahtanum, in 1852.
Yakima is Washington's second-largest county in area, covering 4,296 square miles (2.7 million acres). The location of many towns within Yakima County was largely determined by the Northern Pacific Railroad, along whose route the sites were chosen, named, platted, and eventually sold to settlers. Yakima County's primary industry is agriculture.
Present-day Yakima County was briefly part of a large county called Ferguson County. When Ferguson was dissolved after only two years, the County of Yakima, including more or less present-day Yakima and Kittitas Counties, was established. On November 24, 1883, Kittitas County was divided from Yakima, leaving the county boundaries approximately as they remain.The first town in the county was Yakima City, established in 1861 and incorporated in 1883.
The Cities and Towns of the Lower Yakima County
In 1884 the Northern Pacific Railroad located its station four miles north of Yakima City and the townspeople moved most of the town's buildings north to the station. Incorporated in 1886 and initially called North Yakima, in 1918 the new town became simply Yakima.
The old town was then renamed Union Gap. Moxee was founded in 1867.
Over the next four decades other Yakima County towns were established, although some were little more than names for their first few years and were not officially incorporated for many more: Mabton (incorporated 1905), Toppenish (incorporated 1907), and Wapato (incorporated 1908) were founded in 1885. Zillah was established in 1892 and incorporated in 1911, Sunnyside was established in 1893 and incorporated in 1902. Granger, established in 1902, and Grandview, established in 1906, both incorporated in 1909. Selah was founded in 1907 and incorporated in 1919, Naches was established in 1908 and incorporated in 1921. Tieton incorporated in 1942 and Harrah in 1946.
The Valley's Agriculture
The first wine grapes in the Yakima Valley were planted in 1869, the first hops in 1872, and the first commercial fruit orchard in 1887. All of these crops would eventually become major parts of Yakima County's primary industry, agriculture. Once the land was pegged for commercial fruit production, the transformation from sagebrush to cultivated acreage was accomplished briskly.
In the Selah Valley, for example, 36,000 fruit trees were reportedly set out in one year alone. The Northern Pacific Railroad provided a ready way for farmers to ship their produce to market, and processing plants and fruit storage facilities soon flourished near railroad stations.
Migrant Workers Arrive
Commercial farming was dependant on migratory harvesters. Indian pickers harvested hops each fall. During the Great Depression of the 1930s Yakima County's laden trees and fields provided much-needed employment for the thousands of families from across the country seeking work, and migrant campsites dotted the region. Conditions at these migrant camps varied, but many lacked basic sanitary facilities. By the early 1940s many families of Japanese origin were farming in Yakima County. During World War II these families, more than 1,000 individuals, were later forced to abandon their farms and enter internment camps under Executive Order 9066.
Increased farm production to aid the war effort and labor shortages caused by internment and the exodus of men into the military during the war led to the creation of the Bracero Program, a federal program that brought Mexican and Mexican American migrant workers into Washington and other states to harvest crops. After the Bracero Program was discontinued in 1964 Mexican and Mexican-American workers continued to provide a substantial portion of the farm labor in Yakima County. In recent years a federal guest worker program has brought Thais to Yakima County to harvest field and tree fruit crops.
Since 2002 an influx of people from other parts of the world - attracted by the beauty of the land, opportunities and potential for growth - has turned the cities and towns of the Yakima Valley into the fastest growing region in Washington State.