About West Richland
Located near the Columbia River, West Richland offers a vibrant community and an economy based on private industry and commerce. The region boasts some of the best recreational opportunities around, including water-skiing, boating and picnicking. The city’s integrated park system, rivershore and wide-open living spaces add to the quality of life found here.
West Richland was officially incorporated on June 13, 1955. Originally in Oregon territory, West Richland’s sage brush and river willow became Washington Territory in 1853. The railroad, gold panning in the Yakima, and the good ole cowboy way of life were rooted themselves in making of West Richland. Since the 1940’s when the Navy came and established a presence, the good life only continued to flourish as the Tri-Cities itself began to take shape in a variety of booming industries. While the rest of the Tri-Cities are showing the signs of growth and commerce, West Richland continues to hold on to its open charm and quiet, even while it expands its own horizon.
The City of West Richland is centrally located to all major Northwest markets and features an extensive transportation system that includes air, highway, river barge, and railway.
City of West Richland History: 1955-2005
The City of West Richland was incorporated June 7, 1955. Yet its history began many years before when Native Americans settled along the shores of the Columbia, the Snake, the Yakima, and the Walla Walla and other rivers and streams. Travel was by canoe or overland on horseback or foot. Many villages would migrate to the mountains for summertime gathering of roots, berries, and wild game. Their long established system of trails and “roads” would guide future travelers.
The first recorded and best known exploration through the region was the Lewis and Clark expedition sent west by Thomas Jefferson in 1804. Having canoed down
Lewis’ River (Snake) from present day Lewiston, Idaho, the explorers camped at today’s Sacajawea State Park in October 1805.
Other explorers followed. By the mid-1830s, American trappers and mountain men had explored the mountains and valleys of the west from the Rockies to the Pacific Ocean. The Army Corps of Topographical Engineers was also busy mapping and analyzing the west.
West Richland, part of the Oregon Territory in 1848, later became part of the Washington Territory in 1853.
In 1853 Congress passed a bill authorizing a survey for a route suitable for a northern railroad, which included a provision for wagon roads. Congress allowed $20,000 for the road. In September 1853, the Longmire Wagon Train, with just a promise of such a road, left the Oregon Trail at the present site of Pendleton, Oregon, deciding upon an unknown route which took them through what is now Finley, Kennewick, Columbia Park, Richland, West Richland, and the Hanford Reservation. Later that year Isaac Stevens, the first governor of Washington Territory, made the first reconnaissance for the Northern Pacific Railroad up the Yakima Valley and across the Cascades.
River transportation aided early travelers and settlers as more immigrants moved west. The Northern Pacific Railroad Company Bridge across the Columbia was finished in 1889. River boats were running on the Columbia up to the foot of Priest Rapids.
A school district was formed in November 1889. Mrs. Harry (Hannah) M. Van Horn held the first classes in her home, located to the south of what is now Van Giesen and on the west side of SR 240. Mrs. Van Horn was paid one dollar per day to teach the children. A small school building was erected and in 1896, the Van Horns deeded two acres to the school district and a larger school was built.
The Grosscup family had a large, well-managed farm due north of West Richland across the Yakima River.
Judge Benton S. Grosscup of Tacoma, former chief counsel and later vice-president of the Northern Pacific, acquired sections of railroad land in 1904 and land from early cattlemen who moved on when range lands were taken up by settlers. By 1903 settlers were arriving in increasing numbers. River traffic was easy in those days but land travel was not. As the population increased, the roads got worse. Wagons stuck to the hubs in sand were a common sight.
Benton County, formed on March 8, 1905, was named after Nelson Hart Benton, a Missouri Senator, and author of Manifest Destiny. During this time, two families settled in the West Richland district – the McNeills and the Souths. Alex McNeill would later become the sheriff of Benton County. Roads began to improve with a new road between Richland and Hanford- White Bluffs area completed in March 1914. The route, by today’s description, went west on Van Giesen through West Richland, north on Grosscup, across Twin Bridges, along Snively Road, along SR 240, and north on Hanford Route 10. The trip took two hours by car.
Children in the valley attending Van Horn School had to cross the Yakima River. Mrs. Fallon, one of the parents who worried about the dangerous river, traveled throughout the valley to get signatures on a petition to encourage the Yakima County Commissioners to build a bridge. The resulting structure was named the Fallon Bridge in her honor. The steel Fallon Bridge on Van Giesen between Richland and West Richland was built in 1923 to replace the old wooden bridge that had been declared unsafe.
Yellowstone Trail, a national highway stretching from Albany, New York to Seattle, was located through the Columbia Valley in 1917 and 1918. It went across the Fallon Bridge and directly west to Kiona.
By 1932 railroads had driven river freight companies out of business. The price of mailing a letter went up to 3 cents. The price of gasoline went up to 23 cents a gallon, forcing some people to travel again by horse and
wagon. Ice threatened the Fallon Bridge on the Yakima, but careful dynamiting kept the jam loose.
Bombing Range Road was built for access to the Navy bombing range in the 1940s.
The remains of a bombing target can be found today near the Bombing Range Sports Complex. In 1948, Carl and Vera Heminger purchased eighty acres and made plans for a model city. He called it Heminger City but by vote of residents in February 1949 the name, Enterprise was selected. The town stretched about 3 miles along Van Giesen and extended back about a mile. Mr. Heminger led a group who objected and found a second Heminger city a mile west.
Several businesses were under construction in Bridge Acres, Heminger Acres and Hunts Acres. Six trailer courts were in operation. The Rural Electric Association installed power lines about 1948 and Interstate Telephone Company was offering service in mid-1949. The first fire department was formed in 1953 when the regular community council Melvin Schultz, O.R. Kelly, F. M. Marshall and Lloyd Thayer organized the department and acted as Fire Commissioners. It was through their efforts that the first department was formed on January 22, 1953, and the first fire truck was purchased. In the 1960s it became the Benton County Fire District No. 4.
In 1953, businessmen of Enterprise and Heminger circulated petitions and scheduled town meetings to ask support for combining the towns as West Richland.
Enterprise residents felt they could get more recognition with the name West Richland. The name West Richland was approved by a vote of 218 to 80 in March 1954.
The StarVue outdoor theater was located on the side of Flat Top in 1954. In August 1955 the limits of the town were extended almost a mile to the west When the Heminger Acres addition annexed to the town, and again in June 1956 when the Brotherhood Subdivision was annexed to the town. The first Mayor of West Richland was James O. Zwicker. The first council elected under incorporation was Wesley Meyers, Bob Marlow, O.J. Hove, Opal Morton, and Melvin Schultz. Appointed employees were Jennie Faust, Clerk; Walt Leslie, Marshal; James Lawless, Attorney; and T. A. Morton, Police Justice. The Chamber of Commerce, the city’s first civic club, was founded in 1955. It had 157 members. The West Richland Police Department purchased its first new patrol car in 1957.
That same year, phlox was declared the flower of the City of West Richland by Mayor Jim Zwicker.
West Richland population was 1,347 in 1960.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Walla Walla District) determined in early 1960s that a lowland area along the east bank of the Yakima River immediately west of residential area in West Richland has the potential
for urban development. The area is excellently located with respect to access to and from working, trading, and recreational areas; but flooding is a problem. A levee and pumping stations were constructed on the
right bank of the Yakima River between river miles 7.7 and 8.8 to provide protection for West Richland and vicinity.
In February 1961 the payroll for eight employees was $824. West Richland Days, beginning in the 1950s, was a vibrant three-day celebration with a parade, motorcycle race, an old fashioned dance and concessions and exhibits. A contest for queen of West Richland Days was held. For the hardy, runners competed in a torch race to the top of Flat Top. West Richland Days continued until the early 1990s.
West Richland was under the jurisdiction of the Marshal’s office until 1968 when the Police Department was formed. In 1969, the department has two officers, ten reserve officers and one vehicle.
In 1970, Council approved $10 a month pay for the mayor.
The City’s annual budget was $119,911. Elda Belcher retired in 1971 after 15 years as West Richland’s water and utilities clerk. She saw the city grow from 88 utility hook ups to over 400.
Seventeen years after incorporation, West Richland got its first flagpole and flags in 1972. Douglas L Morton, age 13, organized the flag pole project as the last requirement for becoming an Eagle Scout. A third police officer was hired in 1977. To stretch limited funds, the Chief Police was also the Building Inspector and Public Works Supervisor.
In 1978, 12,000 year old mammoth bones were found in a construction site on Ironton Drive. The area was a flood plain of the Yakima and Columbia Rivers. University of Washington archeologist Jim Martin also found the bones of rodents, frogs, birds, rabbits and other small mammals. Once excavated by the UW team, the bones were sent to the University of Washington Burke Museum. Tapteal Elementary School was built in 1978. The original library opened this same year. The population in 1980 was 2,958. The police department purchased its first portable radios.
West Richland was the fastest growing incorporated community in Washington in 1981. The population had increased by 242 percent since 1970 from 1,143 to 3,783.
The city purchased the former Elks golf course in 1982 for $170,000. In 1985, the State Transportation Commission approved construction of a new four-lane bridge over the Yakima to replace the 62-year-old Fallon Bridge. The estimated cost for the new bridge was $5.5 million. The Ben Franklin Transit Center opened by Flat Top Park in 1989. Widening Van Giesen was completed in 1993. A new bridge was built over the Yakima River. The old Fallon Bridge was lowered onto a barge and floated away. In 1996, a new library was built. The bright contemporary building houses the city council chambers and meeting room. This year, West Richland got its first D.A.R.E. officer.
Voters cast ballots for or against a change in the city’s form of government at the November 1996 election. The city’s current form of government is Mayor-Council. Some community members believed the city should have a council-manager form of government. Voters chose to keep the existing form of government by almost 2 to 1. West Richland had 3,652 registered voters.
For West Richland’s horse lovers, a hitching post was installed behind the library in 1997.
For drivers, West Richland received a $1.1 million construction grant to improve Bombing Range Road from Austin to Chukar Drive. West Richland sponsored its first annual Harvest Festival in 1998. The family festival is known for its free kids’ activities, great food and interesting craft vendors. The 2004 festival attracted a record
attendance of 10,000 visitors.
In 1998 construction began on Wiley Elementary School. West Richland’s Chamber of Commerce began their resurgence this year with a new president and Executive Director. A farmers’ market was opened at Flat Top Park in 1999. It operated for five years.
A pavilion was built at Flat Top Park in 2000. The project was supported by dozens of volunteers and contributors. Since its completion the pavilion has been used for weddings, family reunions, picnics and community gatherings. During this year a club house and restrooms were built at Bombing Range Sports Complex.
The first annual Veterans’ Day Parade rolled down Van Giesen in 2000. The parade is the first of its kind in this area.
The summer concert series, Concerts at the Pavilion, began in 2001. The free family concerts have grown in popularity. The fourth concert season, in 2004, attracted record crowds. More than 1,500 people attended the Fourth of July celebration with the Mid- Columbia Symphony and Richland Light Opera Singers.
The Moving Wall, a half-scale replica of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., was hosted at Flat Top Park in November 2003. More than 50,000 visitors came to pay their respects at the memorial.
The city grew from 3,962 residents in 1991 to 9,840 in 2004. The city administration building and the police building were renovated in 2004. The original City Hall is now occupied by the West Richland Police Department. A new building was constructed for the Public Works and Community Development Departments. Construction of Enterprise Middle School began in 2004. The school will open in fall 2005.
The City of West Richland is known for the community events it sponsors each year. From summer concerts to the annual Harvest Festival, hundreds of people look forward to attending these family events. The fifth season of the summer concert series, Concerts at thePavilion, featured six free concerts. Music ranged from jazz to steel drum bands to the popular Mid-Columbia Symphony Independence Day celebration to barbershop harmony. Hundreds of people enjoyed the varied music and an evening at the park with their families.
West Richland’s Harvest Festival is held each September on the Saturday after Labor Day. This much-awaited festival is a day of old fashioned family fun with abundant free children’s activities, unique craft vendors, fabulous food and music. The festival has grown from a small event attracting about 1,000 people in 1998 to a large celebration of over 10,000 people in 2004.
West Richland participates in the annual Earth Day Celebration by providing a clean up day for its citizens. With the help of many volunteers and Ed’s Disposal, the city’s residents can dispose of their home and yard waste at no cost. Participation has increased each year. Hogs & Dogs brings hundreds of motorcycles and classic cars to West Richland. West Richland Chamber of Commerce coordinates this exciting event with the city. Hundreds of people admire the bikes and cars while eating hot dogs and listening to music.
The city and the West Richland Chamber of Commerce proudly host the annual Veterans Day Parade each November. Almost 100 organizations march down Van Giesen in honor of our veterans.
The final music program of the year rings in the holiday season. Caroling by Girl Scouts, the crisp sounds of hand bells and a soothing Gospel trio are heard by enthusiastic and warmly-dressed residents. Hot cocoa is served to make the evening complete.