The City of Connell is located in Franklin County, about 35 miles north of Pasco. Connell is known for its parks, school district, corrections center, and neighborhoods. The town, originally called Palouse Junction, developed from a railroad station and homestead settlement in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Completion of the transcontinental rail line through the area in 1883 brought growth to the tiny settlement. The Connell post office opened in 1887. The area was platted in 1903. Connell incorporated as a city in 1910. By the 1930s new businesses flourished. By 2020, the population had increased to more than 6,000. Throughout its history, Connell has maintained its strong sense of community in a small-town setting.
Railroad Junction to Small Railroad Town
As early as 1860, land in the area was used for sheep and cattle grazing. Then railroads came, securing the future of the area. Many small communities throughout Washington got their start when the railroad came through. Connell was no different. In 1883, the Northern Pacific Railway established a station named Camp 39 Mile Post. The railroad soon changed the station name to Palouse Junction. The junction was not on the Palouse River and should not be confused with the town of Palouse in Whitman County. The seed of the town of Connell began to sprout and opened the way for settlement.
Palouse Junction was full of sagebrush and bunchgrass, a dry sandy wasteland occupied by snakes and coyotes. The earliest residents of the new town were railroad service men, with a hotel for travelers and a saloonkeeper. There was no apparent reason for anyone else to live in such a place.
But on September 8, 1883, the first transcontinental passenger and freight train passed through Palouse Junction, and the little town began to grow. On November 28, 1883, the Washington Territorial Legislature established Franklin County from the western part of Whitman County. The county, named after Benjamin Franklin (1705-1790), covered an area of 1,244 square miles. Railroad stations made up most of the new county's early settlements.
The following year French-German immigrant Frederick D. Mottet (1850-1916) established a homestead in Kahlotus, some 14 miles east of Palouse Junction. Mottet raised flocks of sheep near Palouse Junction with his brothers and he discovered a water source there that he named Mottet Springs.
Abram M. Vance (1858-?), a telegraph operator, submitted an application dated December 13, 1886, to establish a post office at Palouse Junction, where the Northern Pacific tracks and Oregon Railway & Navigation Company tracks met. The name for the post office requested on the application was Connell, for Joseph H. Connell (1863-1939), a Northern Pacific Railway station agent. That name was approved on January 16, 1887, and two days later Vance was appointed by President Grover Cleveland as the first postmaster of Connell. With no post-office building initially, the town's grocery store managed the mail by emptying a sack on the counter. It was then sorted and routed to other post offices for the community picked up.
Johann (John) Henning Schlomer (or Schloemer) (1870-1931), born and raised in Germany, arrived in Kahlotus in 1892 via California. He bought land in 1894, and sheep in 1898. By 1900, he ran sheep on an open range west of Connell. Johann's younger brother Peter Detrich Schlomer (1872-1946), a sheepherder, arrived from Germany in 1898. He joined his brother and took up a homestead in Connell where he resided for nearly 20 years.
In 1890, the Northern Pacific Railway discontinued service to Connell. When settlers began arriving in large numbers a decade later, they found the tracks between Connell and Washtucna to the east in Adams County abandoned. Many rails were removed, but the foundation that supported the tracks and the right-of-way remained, and service would soon resume.
New Settlers, Growth, and Progress
The turn of the century brought a sudden rush of settlers into the area. German-born Rosina (Rosine) Gaiser Finkbeiner (1856-1914), a widow, arrived from Nebraska with her children. Following the death of her husband Johann Georg Finkbeiner (1850-1889), she decided to pull up stakes and settled in Franklin County in March 1900. Finkbeiner and her oldest son, John Finkbeiner (1876-1948), immediately established adjoining homesteads in Connell. Finkbeiner opened her home as a hotel and boarding house.
Reverend Adam Buehler (1855-1914) of Michigan established a farm in Connell one mile west of the Finkbeiners in 1900. A Methodist, he attracted others of the same faith to the community. He named the area Paradise Flats. More families would soon arrive, including the Mittelstaedts, Oldenburgs, Frischknechts, Nelsons, Yagers, Dillings, Klugs, Reeders, Pepiots, Fiegenbaums, Langes, Buckleys, and more.
In 1901, local Methodists began building a church, 24 by 36 feet. The German Methodist Church was completed in January 1902 by citizens who volunteered their time to assist in construction, and was dedicated on March 29, 1902. The morning service was in German and the afternoon service in English. The new church established its own burial ground, named Mountain View Cemetery.
Many new settlers were single men. Brothers Ernest (1874-1936) and Herman Sohm (1872-1929) from Minnesota boarded at Rosina Finkbeiner's hotel for $3.50 per week. The Sohm brothers were largely responsible for many Minnesota settlers coming to Connell. The brothers owned the town's first general mercantile store, Connell Hardware Company, and became active members of the community. William Thomas Anderson (1871-1930) left Missouri in 1900 and came west to Connell. He opened and operated a little general-merchandise and hardware store. In the spring of 1903, he moved his entire business to the town of Mesa, about 15 miles southwest.
John B. Love (1836-1915), born in Tennessee and raised in Missouri, established a homestead three miles south of Connell in 1900, building a house that was part wood and part sod. He farmed and raised stock. Love had one of the largest families in Connell. He married twice, to Katharine Pharis (1840-1865) and then Permelia Shipman (1843-1919), and raised eight children.
Charles A. Joyce opened a store that at first was not much more than a small shed. He enlarged it into a two-story building. The second floor was used for meetings, religious and educational purposes, and the store occupied the first floor. Joyce purchased a farm three miles south of Connell. He sold his store to William Alexander Campbell (1851-1924), a dry goods merchant who arrived in Connell in 1900 from Illinois by way of Minnesota with his wife Iola Kitchell Baker Campbell (1857-1925) and family. Campbell and his son William Lloyd (1879-1937) renamed the store Campbell Mercantile Company.
Joseph Janosky (1836-1926), from Russia, arrived in 1900 with his family. He built a home and barn, farming wheat on more than 2,000 acres of land.
Dr. H. C. Hall and Emery Troxel (1879-1945) owned the first drugstore in Connell. Hall was the town's first doctor. William Goldbach (1871-?) owned the first blacksmith shop and William Vernarsdale owned the first barber shop.
Railroad service was restored by the Union Pacific Railroad, which took over the station. Seven-year-old Otto E. Olds (1893-1978), who decades later would write a memoir of his pioneer days, arrived in Connell on December 23, 1900, on a passenger train from Nebraska with his mother, aunt, siblings, and cousins. As Otto recalled, his father Robert Lee Olds (1864-1946), who would be a huge contributor to building the town, and his uncle John Edward Olds (1866-1952) arrived several weeks later on January 8, 1901:
"Dad, Uncle Ed, and all our worldly possessions (which consisted of four mules, two cows, a couple of pigs, three dozen chickens, a few household goods, some farming machinery, a narrow-tired wagon which we found useless in the dry Eastern Washington climate -- the wood kept shrinking and the tires wouldn't stay on so we had to invest in an iron-wheeled wagon) came by freight" (Olds, 3).
Tennessee-born Benjamin D. Leonard (1865-?) arrived in Connell on January 1, 1901, and immediately began working as a carpenter and contractor. He took up a homestead north of town. Leonard was widowed twice. After his first wife, Mary A. Dodd, died in 1896, he married Ricina Pickering in 1899, and she died the following year. His two children, one with each wife, were raised by family members.
Charles Forrest Younce (1869-1955), a butcher, owned the first meat market. He made his own bologna, liverwurst, head cheese, and wieners.
First Newspaper and Schools
On September 20, 1901, the Franklin County Register, owned and operated by Edmund Gray Bonney (1873-1935), became Connell's first weekly newspaper. Bonney was born in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. He changed paper's name to the Connell Globe around 1905, and later to the Connell Tribune.
Until 1901, Connell had no public school. In 1900, there were only four school districts in Franklin County, with 87 students enrolled. The Connell School District (known as No. 7) was organized and its boundaries were fixed on July 1, 1901. The first school opened in 1902 in the newly completed German Methodist Church. There were 40 students and the first teacher was Eberhard C. Nagle (1870-1951).
On August 8, 1902, Connell School District No. 7 purchased a two-acre tract in the southwest corner of the town as the site for a new school building for $2,500 in bonds. The two-story schoolhouse was built in the fall of 1902 by Herman W. Brummond (1873-1936), a farmer and carpenter. Classes began in the spring of 1903. The upper part of the building was used as a gymnasium. Baseball and football were enjoyed by students. The teachers were Jesse E. Ashworth (1878-1964) and Elsie Arabelle Figenbaum Eaton (1882-1958).
The first high-school graduation was held in 1917, for four students. Edward C. Klindworth (1897-1966) was valedictorian. The class of 1924 was the first to graduate from the fully accredited Connell High School.
Banks, Water Supply, and Town Plat
By 1902, most nearby available farm land was taken as homesteads, bought from the railroad, or reserved as school sections. This included land that was usually used only for grazing cattle, sheep and horses.
At the time, most buildings in Connell were unpainted. The streets were dirt rather than paved, with wood-plank sidewalks. But the town boasted several general stores, a hardware store, a blacksmith shop, two hotels, two restaurants, two saloons, a drugstore, a furniture store, three lumber yards, a livery stable, two harness shops, a barber shop, a butcher shop, several lawyers and doctors, a United States land office, and a post office. The dirt streets were filled with goods, farmers and their wagons coming and going.
In May 1902, the Franklin County Bank was incorporated with a capital of $25,000. The only bank in the county at the time, it purchased the Connell townsite. The bank opened for business on June 8, 1902. Officers were President Frederick Mottet and Vice President B. N. Wadsworth, with Miltiades M. Taylor (1852-1930) as cashier.
That October, Herman Sohm was tasked to supply water for the community, but he did not complete the job. On December 6, 1902, the Connell Land and Improvement Company was established, and a month later it took over the work of providing water by drilling a 268-foot well that began pumping on April 17, 1903. A month later on June 19, the Franklin County Register, as quoted in a 1966 manuscript history, reported:
"Every day long strings of farmers' teams have lined up and received loads of pure, sparkling water, and have gone on their way rejoicing. The pump has now been running for a week and there has not been the slightest indication of the supply of water in the well being reduced" (Klindworth, 8).
Even before the well was finished, on January 15, 1903, the townsite of Connell was opened, and Connell was platted on February 12. Lots were sold for between $50 and $300. The streets that ran east and west were named Main, Franklin, and Mottet. By then, the population was estimated at 350.
The State Bank of Connell was established as the second financial institution in town. It was housed in a brick building. Miltiades Taylor was cashier at the opening.
"Great Connell Post Office Robbery"
In 1903, the post office finally obtained its own building instead of residing in the local grocery store. Emery Troxel was in charge and it was a one-person job. So much so that three boys decided to rob the post office. For about a year, after he totaled the day's receipts, Troxel would be short sometimes between a dime and quarter. At first he thought it was a simple error, but it kept happening and the only other person he thought could be a suspect was his wife. He had to do something, so one day he hid himself inside the store after closing. After some time, three boys crawled through a hole and went into the till. Caught in action! When asked why they took the money, they said they wanted it for candy or ice cream. This came to be called the Great Connell Post Office Robbery.
The Connell Presbyterian Church was established in 1905, organized by William and Iola Campbell. Presbyterians came from far and wide to be a part of the congregation. The church building sits on a hillside that overlook looks the town. A 1980 history described it:
"Cut boards that form a distinctive arch, fancy shingles and large windows divided into Gothic and diamond shapes ornament the gables of this hip-roof frame church. The large corner entrance tower set at an angle to the face of the building, the octagonal belfry with tall arched openings, the spire with fancy-cut shingles, and the small cupola atop the roof are other interesting design features (Pearson, 156).
The building became home to the Connell Heritage Museum in 2002.
Fires, Floods, and Incorporation
On July 18, 1905, the first devastating fire in Connell started in the rear of the drugstore. Michigan natives John Thomas (1875-1942) and Isaac Dirstine (1877-1955), who both lived in Lind some 30 miles northeast, managed the drugstore. The fire broke out when Dirstine was killing bedbugs with gas and stepped on a match, causing an explosion. Younce's meat market and a building belonging to William Panhorst (1859-1916) were demolished as an entire block of buildings burned. However, the northern part of the business section was not destroyed. New brick buildings were designed and built.
Once in a while, a cloudburst would occur in the summer. On August 24, 1907, harvesting was not quite completed when heavy rains north of Connell came down, washing out the Northern Pacific Railway tracks. When the water reached Connell, it spread over the business section. A foot of rain flooded most basements. A stream of water made its way to Mesa where it formed a lake below the town. Both fire and floods would occur multiple times throughout the town's history.
On November 28, 1910, Connell was officially incorporated.
William Borchard Johnson (1866-1942) came to Connell around 1912 and lived there until his death of heart failure in 1942. Said to be the town's only permanent African American resident for half a century, Bill Johnson was known to his fellow citizens as "our colored friend," a phrase the townspeople had engraved on his tombstone (Olds, 42). Johnson was born in Huron County, Ohio, the oldest of six children. He lived with his parents until moving to Connell. Johnson is laid to rest in Mountain View Cemetery in Connell. Longtime Connell resident Otto Olds recalled:
"He had been around quite a bit up to the time he had arrived in Connell ... He told me many experiences he had throughout his life ... He had cooked in lumber camps throughout Canada for some years. On one of his trips to town he had a little too much to drink and got lost going back to camp. After wandering around for several hours, he saw a light and when he knocked on the door a colored man answered. Bill told me he never was so glad to see a 'N[...]' before in his life ... He could do all sorts of odd jobs, carpenter, wash windows, plasterer, clean house ... I never heard him mention it, but he was a soldier in the 'Spanish-American War.' His regiment was Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders, and he was at the battle of San Juan Hill" (Olds, 42).
The Mottet and Schlomer brothers, along with others, become successful sheepherders, driving their sheep near Connell to have them sheared before heading to the mountains for grazing. As sheepherding became profitable, so did wheat farming.
In the town's early years, wheat farming was easy. A farmer only had to plow in early spring, going over the land at least twice. In the fall when seeding the wheat, the farmer would reap the benefit of the grain the following summer. Weeds presented little problems if any. Wheat was shipped via train Connell to at all points east on the main line at the cost of $6.50 per ton.
After 1907, Russian thistles appeared out of nowhere and posed severe problems for spring wheat and other crops, as well as summer fallow cropland. Gradually, farmers switched from horse to diesel and gasoline power. This conversion increased farm income and transformed the community.
The railroad provided agricultural machinery for wheat production and housed it in a warehouse or laid it outside to be stored. Headers, mowers, rakes, and farming tools of all kinds were brought the town to supply new farms.
More agricultural enterprises sprouted in Connell through the twentieth century. Beginning in 1930, Connell Grain Growers provided products to meet farmers' needs. The Connell Grange Supply opened in 1932 to provide whatever a farmer would need. Until well into the century there was no electric service for farmers or residents. Electricity came to Connell when the Big Bend Electric Cooperative was organized by farmers to build the lines required. By 1940, the population had only reached 365, an increase 0f just 1.4 percent from 1930's total of 321. In May 1948, the family-run Ed Poe Insurance Agency opened its doors for business covering farmers, farms, and crops.
The 1960s and 1970s brought more agriculture industry to town. In 1966, Unique Frozen Foods, a potato-processing plant, was started by Connell residents. Two years later, major food-processor Lamb Weston Inc. purchased the potato plant and expanded the business. The city's population grew as the plant hired an estimated one thousand new employees.
In 1970, Irrigation Specialists Inc. opened in Pasco, providing irrigation supplies to farms in Connell and surrounding areas. Connell's BB Cattle Company, one of the nation's top Hereford breeders, in 1988 won the Jack Owens Ideal Range Bull Award and the Beef Improvement Federation's Seedstock Producer of the Year Award.
Connell's Sunset Theater, originally called Aubert Theatre, was opened on September 4, 1952, by August Aubert (1926-2014). The first movie shown was The Wild North with Stewart Granger and Cyd Charisse. The Franklin County Graphic began recording local history on June 3, 1954, as a small rural community weekly newspaper. Six owners have run and operated the paper. As of 2021 it serves a critical role as Franklin County's only "Legal Newspaper," one in which required legal notices and legal advertising are published.
In 1992, the Coyote Ridge Corrections Center opened less than a mile from downtown Connell. It is the largest prison by capacity operated by the Washington State Department of Corrections. The prison expanded between 2008 and 2009, increasing the city's population.
Dr. Dionisio L. Ang (1938-2017), a family doctor and longtime Connell resident, is credited with developing the first phonetic Chinese alphabet in 1997.
Connell Moves Forward
In 2010 Connell and its citizens celebrated the 100th anniversary of the town's incorporation. By then the railroad station had been turned into a storage building. By 2020 the population had grown to slightly more than 6,000, many of them descendants of the early settlers of the area.
As throughout its history, Connell in the 2020s depends heavily on farming and agriculture. Wheat, potatoes, corn, and asparagus are the main crops. Connell is the home of the North Franklin School District, consisting of a high school, alternative high school, junior high, and elementary school.
Residents and visitors enjoy several annual festivals. The Fall Festival, which takes place in the second week of September, features a variety of events with lots of family activities. The Chamber of Commerce hosts a Wine and Brew Festival on the second Saturday of November each year.
Much of the city's history can still be seen and experienced. Local history is on display in the Connell Heritage Museum, which opened in 2002 in the historic former Connell Presbyterian Church building following a major renovation and restoration project. The museum partnered with Washington Rural Heritage in 2012 to collect photographs, documentation, and artifacts of all types preserving Connell's history and legacy. Murals by local artists have been painted on the walls of various downtown Connell buildings. Inspired by photographs provided by residents, the murals depict the town's history.