The beautiful city of Yakima has come a long way since its humble start, now setting as Washington’s 11th largest city by population. Since its beginning more than 125 years ago, it has become the cultural, business, educational, health services, and governmental focal point of the Central Washington region. Sitting just on the banks of the Yakima River just below the mouth of the Naches River, the Yakima community has grown its agricultural roots of pickin’ to become a diverse metropolitan city with a vibrant history.

History of Yakima
Looking east at the south side of East Yakima Avenue in 1885. This was the north side of the busiest salon block in the city during the early years. Photo courtesy: Yakima Valley Museum

The diversity of the city rings true for how it got its name. Though nobody really knows how Yakima was named, and there have been many theories about its origins, the most popular theory is based on a legend about an Indian Chief’s daughter who fled from her home after breaking the rules. The story goes that the Chief’s daughter then made her home along the river named Yakima, and our current city’s area is said to be located near the site where the Chief’s daughter settled. Others, however, speculate that the origins come from less of a tale and more of a derivation of the plural form of the native word for black bear, yah-kah.

History of Yakima
The Yakima County Courthouse still stands today after being built in 1906. Photo courtesy: Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office

Either way, there’s no denying Yakima’s Native American roots, as the Yakima People were the first known inhabitants of the Yakima Valley. It had been their private home until the first American expedition to the region occurred in 1805. That was when the Lewis and Clark Expedition came to the area and discovered the land’s abundant wildlife and rich soil. This prompted settlement of homesteaders, and in 1847, a Catholic mission was established in what is now known as the Yakima Valley. It was quickly seen as a land of grand opportunities, and settlers began to promptly flock to the area.

Sadly, the arrival of settlers was without conflict and ultimately resulted in the outbreak of the Yakima Indian Wars. Fights between the two groups lasted for almost a decade. In 1858, U.S. President James Buchanan took action by sending an American army garrison to build Fort Simcoe in the region to deal with the ongoing battles between the Native Tribes of the area and the white settlers. Once the fort was in place and the wars were over, the Yakima Natives were forced to relocate to the Yakima Indian Reservation.

History of Yakima
Yakima Valley’s fire department has also come a long way since its start all those years ago. Photo courtesy: Yakima Valley Museum

As a result, more white settlers came. In 1870, these settlers finally began referring to a small village with only two stores as Yakima City. That same year, Yakima City became the county seat of the fledgling Yakima County. And the new seat was not without its perks, resulting in a new courthouse and thriving business district being added to the area. A prosperous growth resulted in the city’s population reaching close to 2,000.

Time marched on for Yakima, and in 1883, it was incorporated, and residents thought that would be both the ending and beginning of a happy story, but the city wasn’t done with its vibrant origin story just yet. Soon after, there was a dispute between land owners and the Northern Pacific Railway Company. This led to the railroad establishing a new town about four miles north of the original site of Yakima. It was in December of 1884 that over 100 buildings were moved with rollers and horse teams to the nearby location off the new depot as a result of this dispute. A new city emerged, dubbed North Yakima, that went on to be officially incorporated and named the county seat on January 27 of 1886. It was known as North Yakima until the name was changed to simply Yakima in 1918 after the Washington State Legislature officially renamed the city, renaming the old location of the town to Union Gap in the process.

History of Yakima
The Northern Pacific Railroad played a key role in the development of Yakima’s history, having forced the city to move over 100 buildings in its early years. Photo courtesy: Yakima Valley Museum

Though the name and location may have changed in the early years of its formation, one thing has remained steadfast and still stands today — that Yakima is still diversifying and growing. The community that the Northern Pacific Railroad once torn asunder has been brought together, all thanks to steady population growth and development that has now crept so far south that there is barely any visible demarcation between Union Gap and Yakima.

Moreover, Yakima’s economy has showcased the ability to adapt to the times after all these years, further ensuring the city’s prosperity. Though the majority of its economy still revolves around agriculture, modernization has also crept in, securing Yakima’s role as an important regional medical center with the addition of two hospitals and the Pacific Northwest University of Health and Science. Not only that, but the Yakima community has experienced tremendous growth in tourism over the years, with tourism being the fastest growing segment of the Yakima economy, all thanks to the creation of multiple craft beverage makers that tend to draw visitors to the area.

History of Yakima
The fair city of Yakima has had tremendous growth since its start over 125 years ago. Photo courtesy:
Yakima Valley Museum

The beautiful city of Yakima has indeed grown its agricultural roots into such a vibrant, diverse metropolitan city since its start all those years ago. Today, Yakima is known for so much more than being the leading producer of apples in the world, but also for our tremendous contributions to other fruit and vegetable supplies, as well as being a favorite destination for people throughout the Northwest and around the world for all the rich valley has to offer.

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