Wenatchee incorporates as a fourth-class city on January 7, 1893.

  • By Anita Nath
  • Posted 10/23/2009
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 9195
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On January 7, 1893, Wenatchee, located in Kittitas County (in 1899 changed to Chelan County),  incorporates as a fourth-class city. The town has a population of 500 and incorporates after a vote of 107 for and seven against. Wenatchee is a river and rail town with a booming produce industry and land laden with natural resources. It will go on to become the "Apple Capital of the World," will pioneer an irrigation system, and will continue to grow with rail and trade ventures that will lead to the city becoming county seat of Chelan County.

Ripening City

The first permanent non-Indian settlers came to the Wenatchee valley around 1872. At first the town grew slowly. It had a trading post erected in 1867 and taken over by Samuel Miller and the Freer Brothers, a post office, a general store run by a Mr. McPherson, The Columbia Valley Bank headed by J. J. Browne of Spokane, and a few hotels.

The town's location on the Columbia and Wenatchee rivers between Spokane and Seattle made it suited for a sustainable central commerce point. It was first platted in 1888 and named by Don Carlos Corbett, a member of a Seattle law firm. By 1890 Wenatchee was growing and talk of incorporating began by early 1891, along with talk of the coming of the Great Northern Railroad.

The railroad would make the town a center of rail and ship commerce. The Wenatchee Development Company headed by Judge Thomas Burke (1849-1925) worked to plat and plan more of the town in 1892. By then Wenatchee was gaining recognition as a growing town with many natural and business resources. W. J. Bowen placed an advertisement in The Spokane Daily Chronicle, which read:

"The vale of Wenatchee is already widely known as the site of the prospective city of Central Washington. This charming valley, located at the confluence of the Wenatchee and Columbia rivers, surrounded by a country incalculably rich in its varied resources -- with a navigable river, a railroad town site and a railroad division point, with fruit lands and climate that make it the land of peach and vine. This valley is destined to become the scene of the greatest activity and a place of great importance to the state. Now is the time to buy. Property is rapidly advancing in value" (The Spokane Daily Chronicle).

With an influx of population into the area and after more construction by the Wenatchee Development Company and with the railroad under way, residents wanted to hold rank of an official city. In August 1892 they presented a petition to the Kittitas County Board of Commissioners asking that Wenatchee be incorporated.

On December 23, 1892, the election was held and concluded a vote in the Australian ballot system (the system of a secret ballot in which voting is confidential, invented in Australia and adopted in the United States in 1884). Out of a total of 122 votes, 114 votes were counted with eight discarded due to strange markings and illegibility. So with a final count of 107 for and seven against, Wenatchee incorporated as a fourth-class city.

First Officials

The election for the first city officials was held on December 5, 1892.  The inaugural mayor of Wenatchee was Posey Wilson. The City Council members included R. J. Mackison, T. J. Graves, W. A. Sanders, W. B. Mercer, and M. Horan. Arthur Gunn was the first treasurer who worked with J. J. Browne and the Columbia Valley Bank in Spokane. Gunn was also involved with the Wenatchee Advance, and worked with James Hill, president of the Great Northern Railway to produce the first irrigation system in the Wenatchee Valley.

On January 16, 1893, the first city council meeting was held shortly after Wenatchee became a city of the fourth class. Wenatchee would be re-incorporated as a third-class city in 1904.

Growing as Wenatchee

After incorporation, Wenatchee grew at a steady pace. The Great Northern Railroad increased transportation to and from Wenatchee, which in turn boosted more economic growth. Irrigation and fruit production skyrocketed and population did the same.

The surrounding areas were laden with minerals and mining began. The railroad brought with it employment and what seemed like endless possibility for the growing city of Wenatchee in 1893.

Sources: Bruce Mitchell, “Judge Burke’s Wenatchee,” Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Vol. 56, No. 3, July 1965, p. 97-105; “How We Looked in 1892,” Wenatchee Daily World, July 26, 1959, p. 1; John Arthur Gellatly, The History of Wenatchee: the Apple Capital of the World(Wenatchee: Wenatchee Book & Bindery Co., 1958); Lindley M. Hull, A History of Central Washington, Including the Famous Wenatchee, Entiat, Chelan and the Columbia Valleys (Spokane: Press of Shaw & Borden Co., 1929), 218; Municipal Service and Research Center of Washington (MRSC) website accessed October 1, 2009 (http://www.mrsc.org/library/inctable.aspx);  “About this Newspaper: The Wenatchee Advance,” The Library of Congress website accessed October 12, 2009 (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn87093051/); The Republic, December 13, 1907, Vol. 9, No. No. 31; The Spokesman Review, February 26, 1950, p. 3; HistoryLink.org: The Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "Wenatchee -- Thumbnail History" (by Laura Arksey) http://www.historylink.org/ (accessed October 12, 2009); “Wenatchee’s Growth Is an Inspiration,” Newspaper clipping, July 31, 1929 Frisbie Scrapbooks, No. 1, p.12, University of Washington, Special Collections, Seattle.
Note: This essay was revised on November 10, 2015.

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