- City History
- 1800 to 1970
1800 to 1970
The City of West Richland was incorporated on 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.
1800 to 1850
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.
1850 to 1880
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.
1880 to 1905
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. Riverboats 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 rangelands 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 the sand were a common sight.
1905 to 1930
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.
1930 to 1950
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 a 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.
1950 to 1960
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 Number 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 was 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.
1960 to 1970
West Richland's population was 1,347 in 1960.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Walla Walla District) determined in the early 1960s that a lowland area along the east bank of the Yakima River immediately west of a 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 its 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 the 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.