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HistoryLink.org Essay 7541
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This is a tour of historic Ellensburg, including the Downtown Ellensburg Historic District, the First Railroad Addition Historic District, and the Kittitas County Fairgrounds District. It was written and curated by Paula Becker with the assistance of Historic Ellensburg, the Kittitas County Historical Museum, and Ellensburg librarian Milton Wagy. Preparation of this feature was made possible by an appropriation from the Washington State Legislature administered by the State Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation.
Ellensburg is located in the Kittitas Valley at the geographic center of Washington and is home to Central Washington University and the annual Ellensburg Rodeo. The site was an important gathering place for the Kittitas, Yakama, and other tribes, and with the coming of non-Indian settlers became a center for banking, commerce, and education. The Northern Pacific Railroad arrived in Ellensburg 1886.
John Shoudy platted a town site he called Ellensburgh in honor of his wife, Mary Ellen, in 1875. The final “h” was dropped by the post office in 1894. The original town plat was the area between Water and Ruby streets from 1st to 7th Avenues. Ellensburg was incorporated on January 1, 1884, already a bustling city with great prospects.
On July 4, 1889, a devastating fire swept through the town, consuming more than 200 Victorian-era frame buildings and leveling 10 business blocks. The town immediately mobilized to rebuild, as is evident by the fact that many buildings bear the marking “1889.” Bricks were the building material of choice, and within a month of the fire, seven new brickyards were in business in Ellensburg. These local bricks were a soft orange color and were used primarily on rear and side walls. Pressed bricks with a smooth finish, imported by rail from as far away as Chicago, were used for front facades. Most buildings were designed in the Italianate style, distinguished by tall narrow windows and doors, recessed storefront entries, segmental arch shapes, decorative stained glass used in transom windows, cast stone trim, and entablatures made of pressed sheet metal. The Geddis, Cadwell, and Davidson blocks survive intact from 1889, and many more buildings of the same vintage survive as testament to Ellensburg’s massive rebuilding efforts.
Ellensburg also has buildings constructed between 1900 and 1920 that are designed along more classical lines with less verticality, no applied stone or metal decorative elements, more brick corbelling at rooflines, and fewer arched openings. Some older buildings were remodeled in this style. During the 1920s and 1930s some Art Deco style buildings were constructed, and other buildings remodeled along these lines.
The entire downtown historic district, an area roughly bounded by 3rd and 6th avenues, and Main and Ruby streets, was added to the National Register of Historic Places on July 1, 1977. The First Railroad Historic District, roughly bounded by 10th Avenue, D Street, 9th Avenue, and N Main Street, was added to the National Register of Historic Places on May 8, 1987. Ellensburg’s downtown serves as a valuable example of an intact Western pioneer town business district, ca. 1889.
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