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Milestones for Washington State History -- Part 2: 1851 to 1900

HistoryLink.org Essay 5380 : Printer-Friendly Format

This is a brief chronology of the milestones of Washington history. Part 2 covers 1851 to 1900. Search the HistoryLink.org database for detailed essays on these events.

  • Methodists establish first permanent church in Olympia in 1851.
  • Oregon Territory creates Pacific County for Willapa Bay and vicinity on February 4, 1851.
  • Port Townsend is settled on April 24, 1851.
  • Denny party lands at Alki Point (near site of Seattle) on November 13, 1851.
  • Oregon Territory creates Thurston County, covering the Olympic Peninsula and Puget Sound region, on January 12, 1852.
  • Nicolas Delin begins operating a sawmill on Commencement Bay in 1852.
  • Sayward and Thorndyke erect a sawmill on site of Port Ludlow, 1852.
  • Washington’s first newspaper, the Columbian, begins publication at Olympia on September 11, 1852.
  • Oregon Legislature creates King, Pierce, and Jefferson counties on December 22, 1852.
  • Oregon Legislature creates Island County on January 6, 1853.
  • U.S. President Millard Fillmore establishes Washington Territory on March 2, 1853.
  • Hudson’s Bay Co. puts 1,300 sheep on San Juan Island in December 1853.
  • Washington Territorial Legislature creates Whatcom County and Skamania County on March 9, 1854.
  • Washington Territorial Legislature creates Sawamish County (becomes Mason) out of King county on March 13, 1854.
  • Washington Territorial Legislature creates Chehalis (becomes Grays Harbor) County out of Thurston on April 14, 1854.
  • Washington Territorial Legislature creates Cowlitz County on April 21, 1854.
  • Washington Territorial Legislature creates Wahkiakum County (out of Cowlitz County) and Walla Walla County on April 25, 1854.
  • Washington Territorial Legislature creates Clallam County on April 26, 1854.
  • Steilacoom, Pierce County, the first territorial town, is incorporated in 1854.
  • Skookum Mill established near Shelton in 1854.
  • U. S. Customs Office moved from Olympia to Port Townsend in 1854.
  • Medicine Creek Treaty is signed on December 26, 1854.
  • Point Elliott Treaty is signed on January 22, 1855.
  • Treaty of Point No Point is signed on January 26, 1855.
  • Treaty of Neah Bay is signed on January 31, 1855.
  • Washington Territorial Legislature creates Slaughter County (becomes Kitsap) out of King County on January 16, 1857.
  • Vancouver (Clark County), second territorial town, is incorporated in 1857.
  • Isaac Ebey is beheaded on August 11, 1857.
  • U. S. Army Col. George Wright slaughters 800 Palouse horses beginning on September 8, 1858.
  • Washington Territorial Legislature creates Spokane County on January 29, 1858.
  • Olympia, the third territorial town, is incorporated in 1859.
  • The State of Oregon is created on February 14, 1859.
  • Lyman Cutlar shoots the boar that touches off Pig War between U.S. and Great Britain on June 15, 1859.
  • Frost and Fowler establish a store at Mukilteo, first Snohomish County settlement, in 1859.
  • Homesteaders arrive in Dayton (Columbia County) in 1859.
  • Washington Territorial Legislature creates Klickitat County (out of Walla Walla County) on December 20, 1859.
  • Whitman Seminary (future Whitman College) is chartered December 29, 1859.
  • E. C. Ferguson, founder of Snohomish County, arrives in April 1860.
  • Port Townsend (Jefferson County), fourth territorial town, incorporates in 1860.
  • Mullan Road is completed from Columbia River (Walla Walla) to Missouri River in 1860.
  • Population of Washington Territory is 11,594 in 1860.


  • Washington Territorial Legislature creates Snohomish County (out of Island County) on January 14, 1861.
  • Territorial University (University of Washington) opens on November 4, 1861.
  • Walla Walla, the fifth territorial town, incorporates in 1862.
  • Severe winter of 1861/1862 devastates Eastern Washington settlers.
  • Washington Territorial Legislature creates Stevens County on January 20, 1863.
  • Washington Territorial Legislature creates Ferguson County (a large, short-lived county of indefinite borders) out of Walla Walla County on January 23, 1863.
  • President Abraham Lincoln signs law separating new Idaho Territory from Washington on March 4, 1863.
  • Capt. William Renton establishes Port Blakely Mill Co. in Blakely Harbor, Bainbridge Island, in 1863.
  • Western Union transcontinental telegraph line reaches Seattle on October 25, 1864.
  • Washington Territorial Legislature creates Yakima County (out of Ferguson) on January 21, 1865.
  • U. S. Senate ratifies purchase of Alaska from Russia on April 9, 1867.
  • Road is completed over Snoqualmie Pass by October 7, 1867.
  • Washington Territorial Legislature creates Quillehute County on January 29, 1868 (reverts to Clallam and Jefferson in 1870).
  • Town of Seattle is formed in 1865, but legislature voids its charter two years later.
  • The City of Seattle is incorporated on December 2, 1869.
  • McNeil Island Federal Penitentiary (oldest in nation) is founded in 1870.
  • Jasper Gates settles Mount Vernon (in Skagit County) in 1870.
  • Jewish governor of Washington Territory Edward Salomon takes office spring of 1870.
  • Population of Washington Territory is 23,955 in 1870.


  • Flour mill opens in Dayton (Columbia County) in 1871.
  • John and Ellen Shoudy arrive in Ellensburg in 1871.
  • Washington Territorial Legislature creates Whitman County (out of Stevens) on November 29, 1871.
  • Earthquake stops Columbia River in 1872.
  • Northern Pacific Railroad picks Tacoma for Western terminus on July 14, 1873.
  • Washington Territorial Legislature creates San Juan County (out of Whatcom) on October 31, 1873.
  • African American George Washington founds Centralia in 1875.
  • Washington Territorial Legislature creates Columbia County (out of Walla Walla) on November 11, 1875.
  • Chief Moses war 1877-1879.
  • David Batey and Joseph Hart arrive at Sedro (Skagit County) in 1878.
  • Seattle’s first telephone line is installed in 1878.
  • Washington Territorial Legislature creates Spokane County (out of Stevens) on October 30, 1879.
  • Rutherford B. Hayes visits Puget Sound cities in October 1880 during the first trip west of the Rockies by a U.S. President.
  • Population of Washington Territory is 75,116 in 1880.


  • Northern Pacific Railroad reaches Spokane Falls on June 25, 1881.
  • Range wars between cattlemen and sheepmen in Douglas County 1881.
  • Washington Territorial Legislature creates Garfield County (out of Columbia County) on November 29, 1881.
  • U.S. Army establishes Fort Spokane at the junction of the Spokane and Columbia rivers in 1882.
  • Great Dayton (Columbia County) Fire occurs on April 8, 1882.
  • Women form first women's club on the West Coast in Olympia on March 10, 1883.
  • Women win, lose, regain, and again lose right to vote in Territorial elections between 1883 and 1888.
  • Northern Pacific Railroad’s mainline between Washington and Minnesota is completed at Gold Creek, Montana, on September 8, 1883.
  • Washington Territorial Legislature creates Asotin County (out of Garfield) on October 27, 1883.
  • Washington Territorial Legislature creates Kittitas County (out of Klickitat) and Lincoln County (out of Whitman) on November 24, 1883.
  • Washington Territorial Legislature creates Skagit County (out of Whatcom), Douglas County (out of Lincoln), and Adams and Franklin counties (out of Whitman) on November 28, 1883.
  • Northern Pacific constructs a railroad bridge over Snake River at Ainsworth 1884.
  • Chief Joseph and many Nez Perce, who were exiled to various reservations after their exodus to Canada was blocked in 1877, are relocated to the Colville Indian Reservation in 1885.
  • Whites, Indians, and others expel Chinese from Seattle, Tacoma, and elsewhere during 1885 and 1886.
  • Horse rancher Frank Beezley settles on Beezley Springs (Ephrata) in 1886.
  • Mother Joseph builds Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane in 1886.
  • John McMillan establishes Roche Harbor (San Juans) Limestone in 1886.
  • Dawes Severalty Act 1887.
  • Jesuit missionary Fr. Joseph Cataldo, SJ, opens Gonzaga College (now Gonzaga University) in Spokane on September 17, 1887.
  • Stampede Pass tunnel opens on May 27, 1888.
  • The Great Fire burns Seattle on June 6, 1889.
  • The Great Fire burns Ellensburg on July 4, 1889.
  • The Great Fire burns Spokane Falls on August 4, 1889.
  • Washington becomes a state on November 11, 1889.
  • Yakima becomes the site of the State Fair in 1889.
  • Cheney Normal School (future Eastern Washington University) formally opens on October 13, 1890.
  • Population of Washington state is 357,232 in 1890.


  • Jesuit teachers establish forerunner of Seattle University in 1891.
  • State Normal School (now Central Washington University) opens in Ellensburg on September 6, 1891.
  • U.S. Navy purchases Bremerton site for Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in 1891.
  • Washington Agricultural College (predecessor to Washington State University) opens on January 13, 1892.
  • Ritzville Warehouse Company, first farmer group in the Pacific Northwest, organizes to sell wheat in 1893.
  • Great Northern Railway completes transcontinental line to Seattle on January 6, 1893.
  • National economic Panic begins in March 1893, seriously reducing employment and investment in Washington state over the next four years.
  • Washington State Legislature passes Barefoot Schoolboy Act in 1895.
  • Japanese steamer Miiki Maru arrives in Seattle to establish regular trade on August 31, 1896.
  • Adams County bumper wheat crop spurs shift from cattle ranching in 1897.
  • Washington’s first hydroelectric plant enters operation at Snoqualmie Falls on July 31, 1899.
  • Whatcom Normal School (future Western Washington University) opens in Bellingham in 1899.
  • Washington State Legislature creates Ferry County (out of Stevens) on February 21, 1899.
  • Washington State Legislature creates Chelan County on March 13, 1899.
  • Weyerhaeuser makes one of the largest land purchases in United States history on January 3, 1900.
  • Population of Washington state is 518,103 in 1900.

To go to Part 3, click "Browse to Next Essay" below.

For the sources documenting these events, review detailed essays in HistoryLink databases. Census data for 1890 and 1900 are taken from University of Virginia Geospatial and Statistical Data Center, United States Historical Census Data Browser Online, 1998, University of Virginia (http://fisher.lib.virginia.edu/census/), accessed March 6, 2003.
Note:  This essay was corrected on June 13, 2010.

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Chief Seattle, 1864. The original photograph for this often reprinted image has been altered by painting Chief Seattle's closed eyes to make them appear open and by blacking out the studio backdrop.
Original Photo by E. M. Sammis

Columbia County Courthouse (William Burrows, 1887), Dayton, October 2003
HistoryLink.org Photo by Priscilla Long

Chief Joseph (1840-1904)
Photo by Milton Loryea, Courtesy Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture (Image No. L88-330)

Aftermath of Seattle fire of June 6, 1889, showing ruins of Puget Sound National Bank in the Occidental Hotel Building, corner of James Street and Yesler Way, Seattle, June 1889
Photo by Asahel Curtis, Courtesy UW Special Collections (Neg. No. 36934)

Celilo Falls with Native Americans fishing for salmon, 1936
Photo by Dorothea Nordstrand

Downtown Ellensburg

Spokane Lower Falls

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