Mabton incorporates on November 7, 1905.

  • By Alan J. Stein
  • Posted 6/17/2013
  • Essay 10409

On November 7, 1905, the farming community of Mabton, located on the Northern Pacific line in southeast Yakima County, incorporates as a town of the fourth class. The unanimous vote comes days after the town's business section was struck by a devastating fire.

Making Tracks

Mabton got its start in the 1880s, when the Northern Pacific Railroad built a section house for track maintenance workers on a small plot of land next to the eastern edge of the Yakima Indian Reservation. The Northern Pacific had three depots within the reservation -- Satus, Simcoe, and Toppenish -- but no name was given to the section house.

Charlie Sandburg, one of the workers living in the section house, suggested they name the depot Mableton, in honor of Mabel Baker Anderson, daughter of Dr. Dorsey S. Baker who built the railroad line between Walla Walla and Wallula in the 1870s. Anderson had been on a train that had stopped at the section house, and had said kind words to the workers, impressing Sandborg.

In 1892, Ted Howell was sent to Mableton as a station agent, and he shortened its name to Mabton. It was around this time that Sam P. Flower built a store and warehouse at the site, and the town began to grow. Within a few years, Mabton had several stores, a hotel, a saloon, and a schoolhouse.

Growing Up, Burning Down

The first plats for the town were filed in 1901, by which time the Sunnyside Canal had greatly increased nearby farm production by bringing irrigation water to the fertile but arid land. Mabton continued to grow.

Then, on October 1905, disaster struck when a fire broke out at the Oxford Hotel soon after midnight. The guests got out safely and some joined a bucket bridge, but the flames were too intense. The fire quickly spread to nearby buildings, and by 2:00 a.m. the bucket brigade gave up any hope of stopping the conflagration

By morning the flames had died out, and the townsfolk assessed the damage. Most of the business section was in ruins, and the town lost two hotels, a saloon, a billiard hall, a restaurant, a general store, a meat market, and the real estate office. By the end of the day, plans were already laid to rebuild and consolidate the business district one block north of the wreckage.


Within days the three-story Mabton Hotel -- which had survived the fire -- was placed on skids and moved to its new location, with the guests still inside and the kitchen still in operation during the entire process. Work began on new buildings to house businesses that were destroyed by the blaze. In the midst of all this activity, an election was held to incorporate the bustling community.

The vote was unanimous, and on November 7, 1905, Mabton became a town of the fourth class. T. W. Howell was seated as mayor, and E. W. Brewer, Frank Hartz, J. A. Humphrey, H. M. Kenyon, and William Van Nostern made up the town council. W. L. Livingston was elected town clerk, J. C. Sanger became treasurer, and Homer Young was the first marshal.

The first council meetings were held in a small room in the Mabton Hotel. Some of the council's earliest decisions were to build wooden sidewalks and graded streets.

Sources: "Mabton Now a Town," The Seattle Times, January 11, 1901, p. 15; "Town of Mabton has Big Conflagration," The Yakima Herald, November 1, 1905, p. 2; Katherine Trembley Wernex, It Did Happen Here: A Living Story of Old Mabton (Prosser: Perfect Printing, 1979); Maurice Helland, Our Valley, Too (Yakima: Maurice Helland, 1976); Robert Hitchman, Place Names of Washington (Tacoma: Washington State Historical Society, 1985). 

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