History of West Richland 1805 – 1962

The first people in the Lower Yakima Valley were Chemnapums, the Horn People. They lived near the mouth of the Yakima River, and were closely related to the Wanapums, the River People, who lived on the Columbia, which was known as Tapteal. They were nomadic, roaming from the Columbia to Mount Adams, depending on the food supply, and the weather. The Chemnapums fished for salmon at Horn Rapids during the spring and fall runs. For many years after Richland was established in 1905, they had a longhouse frame on the north bank of the Yakima at Horn Rapids. When they were in residence there, the frame was covered with tule mats and skins. In later years, canvas replaced the mats.

There are no early records of journeys of the Yakima, by the British and American trappers, or the naturalists. They could have explored the valley, for they used the Columbia as a freeway. The trappers began their explorations in 1807, several years after the Lewis and Clark expedition visited the mouth of the Yakima in October of 1805. In 1818, a fort was established at Wallula, and soldiers came to the flood plains of the Yakima to gather the wild timothy hay that grew there. The Army Corps of Topographical Engineers mapped and analyzed the west beginning in the 1830’s. One of these expeditions, headed by Robert E. Johnson, went through the Yakima Valley in 1841.

The visits of the white man made a disastrous effect upon the Indian nations of the northwest, as three times, in the 1790’s, 1810’s and 1830’s, the nations were devastated by the white man’s diseases. In each instance, half of the people died.

Settlement in the Valley did not begin in earnest until the 1870’s but in 1853 Congress authorized a wagon road through the valley, passing through what is now West Richland. The Longmire Wagon Train followed this route through the valley in September of 1853. They crossed the Yakima River eight times in about ten miles between the mouth and Horn Rapids. There were 155 people and 36 wagons in the train, and were accompanied by hundreds of Indians.

West Richland country was in Oregon Territory in 1848, and in Washington Territory in 1853. Washington Territory’s first governor, Isaac Stevens, visited the Yakima Valley in November of 1853. He directed Lieutenant Tinkham to make a survey for the Northern Pacific Railroad in December of that same year.

For a short time this same country was to be in Ferguson County, which was created in January of 1863, but the county officials did not qualify themselves, so the county was not formed. There were less than one hundred people in the huge area. By 1865, more people had arrived, and Yakima County was formed and its officials qualified.

It was not until about 1879 that private irrigation systems began to appear in the lower Yakima Valley. There were small systems, formed to irrigate properties owned by cattlemen. The Valley was a popular place to graze cattle and horses. Taking note that the soldiers gathered hay in the flood plains, some irrigated feed for their stock. The winter of 1880-1881 brought the necessity of having winter feed home hard to the cattlemen. The whole of the northwest was covered with several feet of snow, that froze and melted on the surface, forming a thin layer of ice that cut the legs of the cattle to ribbons. 80% of all the cattle and 10 to 20% of the horses died of starvation and exposure. Stockmen had depended upon the mild winters and bunchgrass to feed their grazing animals during the winter.

The stockmen who recovered from this devastation, faced almost the same results in the severe winter of 1886-1887. The stench of the decaying animals when spring came was unbelievable and unbearable.

Agitation for a separate county began in 1901, when the county was to be named Riverside, and in 1903 when it was to be McKinley, and in 1905, when it finally succeeded, it was called Benton in honor of Nelson Hart Benton, a Missouri Senator, who was the author of Manifest Destiny. Benton was formed in April 1905, and renamed in July to Richland. Benton County was formed on March 8, and the declaration was signed June 17, 1905, by Governor Albert E. Meade and Thomas Hickey, Secretary of State.

Two families who settled in the West Richland district were the McNeills and the Souths. Chinamen, who were panning for gold on the Yakima at that time, helped to build their house. It still is in use. McNeill (Alex) was later to be sheriff of Benton County, when it was formed in 1905. When he was a cowboy, he told that there was but one cottonwood tree on the Yakima. All the rest was sage brush and river willow.

As more and more people settled in the valley, a ferry was provided by the county a short distance above the Fallon Bridge. It was up to the user to make sure the ferry was on one side and the small row boat on the other, so that no matter which way you came, you could cross the river.

People in the Lower Yakima, as it was called, went to Kiona to get their mail before the town of Richland was established.

The dam at Horn Rapids was built in 1892 by the Yakima Irrigation and Improvement Company. It furnished water by the ditch we still have here on the south side of the Yakima to as far away as Finley. There was a national panic in 1894 followed by a severe break in the ditch in 1896 and that put an end to the company. In 1902, the Northwestern Improvement Company (N.I.P.) began rebuilding the canal. The N.I.P. was a subsidiary of Northern Pacific. This company put in a more substantial dam at the Horn in 1903.

Scattered residents of a school district formed in November 1889 urged Harry and Hannah M. Van Horn to homestead near what became Richland so that Mrs. Van Horn could teach their children. The Van Horn’s moved to land south of present day Van Giesen St. on the west side of SR 240. The first classes were held in the Van Horn home where Mrs. Van Horn was paid one dollar per day to teach the children. A small school building was erected and in 1896, the Van Horns deeded two acres to the school district and a larger school was built. It was on land now the Northeast corner of the cemetery. After the town of Richland began in 1906, a school was built at the townsite. The Van Horn school property reverted to the original owners as specified in the deed.

The Grosscup family had a large, well-managed farm due north of West Richland across the Yakima River. Judge Benton S. Grosscup of Tacoma, former chief counsel and later vice-president of the Northern Pacific, acquired sections of railroad land in 1904 and land from early cattlemen who moved on when the range lands were taken up by settlers.

The first bridge was built several miles downstream from the county ferry. It didn’t last, for ice in the river took out the wooden structure the same year it was built – 1904.

In 1908, Allen and Downs bought the water rights from Grosscup and built the large canal that went to Richland, and north along the Columbia, from the north end of the dam at the Horn of the Yakima.

Children in the valley attended Van Horn School. This meant they must cross the Yakima and Mrs. Fallon, one of the parents who worried about the dangerous little river, traveled throughout the valley to get signatures on a petition to the Yakima County Commissioners to build a bridge. The resulting structure was named Fallon in her honor. The family had large land holdings in this area, also. The Fallons lived in the valley before the town of Richland was started.

Drilling began in 1914 for gas wells on Rattlesnake Hills, and until the wells closed down in 1941, people traveled the Old Inland Empire Highway, now called Van Giesen Street in West Richland, turned North on Grosscup Blvd., which was Hanford Highway, the intersection being at the base of Arneburg Hill, which we now call Flattop. Arneburgs lived just to the northeast of the hill, across the canal at the location where Reichts lived.

The farm people in the district formed their own telephone company in 1914 and a line was extended into our area to the Grosscup ranch in December of 1916.

The Yellowstone Trail, a national highway stretching from Albany, New York, to Seattle, was located through our valley in 1917 and 1918. It went across the Fallon Bridge and directly west to Kiona. Signs painted brown and lettered and edged in yellow pointed out the route to travelers.

In the 1940’s Bombing Range Rd. was built for access to the Navy bombing range to the south, but no information has been found to suggest why the road was located here.

In 1948 Carl & Vera Heminger purchased eighty (80) acres and made plans for a model city. He called it Heminger City but by vote of residents in February 1949 then name Enterprise was selected. No reason for the name has been found. Mr. Heminger led a group who objected and found a second Heminger city a mile to the west.

Several businesses were under construction in Bridge Acres, Heminger Acres and Hunts Acres. Six trailer courts were in operation. The REA installed power lines about 1948, and Interstate Telephone Company was offering service mid 1949. Sunset Acres subdivision was being developed on 20 acres on what used to be Kron Ranch (street on which Bethany United Protestant Church is situated). At once time there was a community house in West Richland between the Coney Island (no longer present) and The Neighborhood Market. Bingo games, dances, weddings, and receptions were held there; youth groups such as 4H clubs and boy and girl scouts used it for their meetings and activities. At one time this was known as the Enterprise Women’s Improvement Club and had about 20 members. It was changed to the Community Club about 1954. It was torn down or burned about 1955. The town stretched about 3 miles along Van Giesen and extended back about 1 mile.

The Brotherhood was a small communal sect that was active in the West Richland area before the community was developed. An unusual part of West Richland history is commemorated by the Brotherhood Addition. The Village reporter described the group as a kind of religious communism. Inspiration for this small colony came from biblical passages describing communal life of the apostles. They sold all their possessions and goods. The colony, composed of men, women and children, had lived in Kent then in West Richland. At the start of 1949, they were living on a 100 acre farm between canal on the west and the Yakima river on the east, one mile north of Twin Bridges. The colony totaled 24 persons.

The community was developing rapidly. The Brotherhood Addition was purchased by Charles Glenn in 1950; the Brotherhood had added 130 acres. This to be sold for housing, each lot 75 x 150. A garage to be built on 30 acres, possible for RV supplies along with other businesses and places for religious meetings. The Brotherhood Colony moved to Plattsburg, Missouri, purchasing a farm owned by Lucille Curry of West Richland. There was a trade of land, the whole corner of Grosscup and Gray to 58th. The Brotherhood also owned a strip of land near the drive-in theater (Star View). Definitely where RV Supply is, Benton County platted the Brotherhood Addition and graded the streets. Mrs. T. A. Morton, former resident of West Richland, 1943, said the Brotherhood left the West Richland area about 1947.

Late, in 1953, businessmen of Enterprise and Heminger City circulated petitions and scheduled town meetings to ask support for combining the towns as West Richland. Enterprise residents felt that they could get more recognition with the name West Richland by cashing in on the publicity Richland received.

From late 1953 until the final vote in March 1954 approving the name West Richland by a vote of 218 to 80, there was heated criticism from a minority led by Carl Heminger. Immediately following the final vote in favor of West Richland, Carl Heminger announced that he would sell out and move away.

The first fire department was formed in 1953 when the regular community council appointed Melvin Schultz, O. R. Kelly, F. M. Marshall, and Lloyd Thayer to organize the department and act as Fire Commissioners. It was through their efforts that the first department was formed on January 22, 1953, and the first fire truck was purchased from the AEC General Surplus division; 1942 Ford 6, with a 350 gallon tank and pumper.

On September 13, 1953, the land for the present site of the fire department was donated by Mr. John W. Allen. The construction was started through donations of material from many Tri-City merchants and labor from the Volunteer Firemen; however, materials and money soon were exhausted and construction finally came to a halt. In the spring of 1956, the city council voted to lend the fire department capital enough to complete the building, which was then without a roof or floor, and the building was then finally completed.

The StarVue outdoor theater was located here in 1954 and a source of pleasure to the citizens. In August of 1955 the limits of the town were extended almost a mile to the west when the Heminger Acres addition annexed to the town, and again in June of 1956 when the Brotherhood Subdivision annexed itself to the town.

In the spring of 1956, prior to the annexation of the Brotherhood Subdivision, Gray and Osborne, Consulting Engineers, made a survey of the town to determine the bonding capacity for the purpose of building a water system. A figure of $155,000 was decided upon and a vote of the people decided the issue by a vote of 84 percent. Bids were prepared and the contracts set, and construction started on August 1, 1956.

The first Mayor of West Richland was James O. Zwicker. The first council elected under incorporation were: Wesley Meyers, Bob Marlow, O.J. Hove, Opal Morton, and Melvin Schultz. Appointed employees were Jennie Faust, Clerk; Walt Leslie, Marshal; James Lawless, Attorney; and T. A. Morton, Police Justice.

In September 1956, at the regular election, James Gates replaced Melvin Schultz, and West Meyers resigned from the council to become the town’s first Water Commissioner, and Charles Kiehl was appointed to fill his unexpired term. W.W. Benedict was elected Justice of the Peace and appointed Police Judge in the general election in November, 1956, to hold police court.

The Chamber of Commerce was formed in 1956; the first civic club to be founded in the town. It had a total membership of 157.

Other active clubs included the West Richland Women’s Club, the Enterprise Garden Club, the Green and Purple Club, and the Mary Harrington Extension Club. Youth activities are comprised of Scout Troops, Bluebird and Brownie groups, Church and Fraternal youth programs, and a Chamber sponsored Teenage Club.

In 1958 (we don’t know when it was first established) Edgewater Golf Course was a source of pleasure and pride to the town. It had a large Tri-city membership and had emerged from sage brush and sand and periodic floods to excellent greens. Plans for enlarging its club house were being made.

West Richland was anticipating the extension of the water system in 1958, to include the Brotherhood Addition, and also planning to construct a sewer system that should be completed sometime in 1959.

Highway 3R ran through town. It was the most direct route to Richland from the west and coupled with the Richland Ferry saved many miles to north and east towns and cities.

West Richland was part of the Rural Electrification Association. Plans and surveys for street lighting had been made and would probably get underway in 1959.

The potential of the town as a large residential area was unlimited. FHA and other financing was much nearer to becoming a fact with the improvement of the fire district, the municipal water system and enforced ordinances on zoning and building codes. In the past ten years, West Richland had developed from a few farm fields into an incorporated area of 1,700 and adjacent unincorporated areas totaled about 1,000. The next ten years could bring an even greater growth with the foundation for it already established.

The Chamber of Commerce purchased 2 1/2 acres below Flat Top in 1960. Plans were made to level and seed in 1962, construction of a baseball field and picnic area were also started. Now called Flat Top Park, it is leased to the City of West Richland. Cement was poured for construction of a chamber building at a later date. Construction started in November of 1961 for a sewer system and was completed in June 1962.

West Richland was incorporated in 1960. According to the census bureau in 1960, West Richland had a population of 1,347.