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The changing names of local towns

By on February 25, 2020 in Columnist with 0 Comments
Rod Molzahn

By Rod Molzahn

The 1880s and 1890s were a time of town building in north central Washington. 

Settlements became villages, then towns, and during that process town names often changed.

A small gathering of prospectors’ and trappers’ tents and shacks formed in the late 1880s near the confluence of the Wenatchee and N’asikelt rivers. By the 1890s, it had grown to settlement size and residents named it and the smaller river Icicle, a more familiar sound to them then the Indian word N’asikelt.

In 1892, anticipation of the Great Northern Railroad’s arrival spurred the Okanogan Investment Company to acquire land and plat a new town on the site. They named it Leavenworth after Charles Leavenworth, the town’s largest investor, who personally platted the town and laid out its streets.

Down the Wenatchee in 1873, Father Urban Grassi, a Jesuit priest, along with his Wenatchee/P’squose followers built a log mission near the confluence of a small stream and the Wenatchee River. 

Fifteen years later a new priest, Father de Rouge, built a larger mission for his growing congregation. By this time white settlers were trickling into the area. They eventually named their growing village Mission in honor of the Indian church. The next year the Mission post office was established.

In 1906, an over abundance of towns named Mission in the Northwest caused confusion for mail and train services. The Postal Service and the residents of Mission determined that the town deserved a better name. 

Judge James Chase suggested the town be renamed after a line from a Thomas Moore poem;

 “And who has not heard of the vale of Kashmir,

 With its roses, the brightest that ever gave.”

His neighbors agreed and, after a spelling adjustment, Mission became Cashmere.

Down the road a bit, in 1902, the community of Brown’s Flat, named for its first settlers, Deak and Lucy Brown, also decided a new town name was in order. 

A town meeting was called and George Richardson’s suggestion was adopted. The town would be called Monitor, honoring the Union ironclad ship that sunk the Confederate Merrimac in the civil war.

At the Wenatchee River’s confluence with the Columbia, storekeeper Sam Miller had second thoughts about what to call the settlement taking shape around him. 

In his store ledger, began in April of 1872, each page was headed with the name, Wenatchee. 

In March of 1875 the store became an unofficial post office handling mail from and to Ellensburg. Sam changed the heading on his ledger pages to Millersburg and that’s what the name stayed until September of 1883 when Sam was made postmaster of the town’s first official post office. Sam changed his ledger page heading back to Wenatchee, perhaps at the request of the U.S. Postal Service.

Up at Lake Chelan in April of 1888, Tunis Hardenburgh and Captain Charles Johnson, from Nebraska, claimed adjoining homesteads on the lake south of the Chelan River. Tunis built a log store on part of his land. 

A year later, he and Captain Johnson combined 40 acres from each homestead and platted a town they called Lake Park. When the town got its own post office the Postal Service noted that there already was a Lake Park in the state. The town name was changed to Lakeside where it stayed until the 1950s when the town was gobbled up by the larger and faster growing city of Chelan,

In 1886, Lee Ives and his wife, Rena, drove a herd of horses up from the Kittitas Valley to the mouth of the Methow River. On the north side of the Methow, they claimed a homestead bordering the confluence of the Methow and Columbia rivers. 

About 1893, they built a showplace hotel that was a landmark for years along the Columbia. The budding town took Ives Landing as its name. 

In 1900, the Ives sold the townsite to Charles Nosler, who promptly changed the name to a town he admired in the Philippines — Pateros, a village built on sticks.

A few miles up the road, in 1893, with the nation mired in a financial panic, “Virginia Bill” Covington built a trading post on the shore of the Columbia. The store was soon joined by a handful of other businesses including a steamship landing, a saloon and hotel built by Dan Gamble from Nova Scotia. 

The town was called Virginia City. Soon, a half-mile to the north, John Bruster built an excellent steamship landing and wharf on his homestead, platted a new town and called it Bruster. 

Most of the buildings in Virginia City were moved north to the new town including the Gamble Hotel. 

Bruce Wilson, in Late Frontier, tells the story. 

A team of 32 horses pulled the hotel with guests and Mrs. Gamble, cooking on the wood stove, the half mile to Bruster. In 1898, when the town got a post office, the Postal Service changed the town name to Brewster.

In 1897, Henry Glover found his way into the Methow Valley. He located a homestead and platted a town at the confluence of the Methow River and a smaller stream Indians called the T-wapsp River. Henry called his new town Gloversville. 

Two years later, Amanda Burger platted a town site adjoining Gloversville and called it Twisp. That became the name of choice for the combined towns. 

Twisp grew to become the leading business and trading center in the Methow Valley with Glover Street its main drag.

The road from Twisp up Benson Creek and down the Chiliwhist Trail took travelers to the Okanogan Valley’s first town, Alma. 

The town was named for Alma Kahlow-Hansen, wife of early steamboat captain, Charles Hansen. 

In 1905, determined to honor Dr. J.I. Pogue, the valley’s first physician and early orchardist, a group of community members met and changed the town name to Pogue. 

The change was unacceptable to other residents and after two years of debate a vote was held. Both Alma and Pogue were rejected in favor of the town’s final name, Okanogan.

Fifty miles north, in 1891, Robert Allison opened a store and restaurant at the confluence of the Similkameen and Okanogan rivers. 

Inspired by all the gold mining in the area, Allison named his town Oro, Spanish for gold. Two years later the town got its post office and discovered that the Postal Service had added “ville” to the town name to avoid confusion with the west side town named Oso.

Up the Similkameen River in gold country, the settlement first called “Ragtown” became Loomis. At the head of the Sinlahekan Valley, in March of 1888, the mining center of Salmon Creek became Conconully and was voted the county seat, an honor previously held by Ruby, the wildest mining town in the West from 1887 to 1893.

According to Oz Woody, editor of the Okanogan Independent, Ruby was cursed into extinction by a miner who claimed he had been “rolled” and robbed of $300. 

He climbed a ways up Ruby Hill and roared down at the town, “May you be burned, drowned and burned again.” 

His words proved true. The town suffered, in succession, “a disastrous fire, a big flood and a second fire.”

Historian, actor and teacher Rod Molzahn can be reached at shake.speak@nwi.net. His third history CD, Legends & Legacies Vol. III – Stories of Wenatchee and North Central Washington, is now available at the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center and at other locations throughout the area.

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