Leavenworth Washington History

History: Long before white settlers arrived into the American West, the Wenatchi Indians inhabited the Valley from Steven's Pass to the Columbia River and into the present-day city of Wenatchee.

They were joined in the early 1800’s by mountain men who trapped and explored the region. By the mid 1800’s German and Swiss homesteaders were settling in the area.

By the end of the century, the Native Americans were all but gone. Leavenworth, originally known as Icicle, developed informally around a small group of homesteaders who settled in 1885 where the Wenatchee and Icicle Rivers meet in the Leavenworth Valley. Known as Icicle Flats, it was originally the site of a Native American salmon fishery.

The Railroad: The Great Northern Railroad began laying track up the Wenatchee Valley in 1892 along what is now Highway 2. One year later they crossed the Cascade Mountain range at Steven's Pass. Railroad history describes the construction as tough and dangerous.

After completing the nearly impossible rail bed, Great Northern selected Leavenworth as their division headquarters and constructed a major switchyard there. This made Leavenworth an important railhead. The formal town was laid out in 1893 by the Okanogan Investment Company and named for its president, Captain Charles Leavenworth.

The population at this time was around 700 hearty souls. A small dam was constructed in 1904 at the south edge of town on the Wenatchee River to form a mill pond and the Lamb-Davis Lumber Company built a large sawmill.

In the early 1900's the first fruit trees were planted and miles of irrigation canals were constructed which developed Leavenworth's agricultural base. Logging and fruit agriculture are still important industries today. The town was officially incorporated in April 1906.

A Change in Times: The triple-industry economy was very prosperous and Leavenworth became a boom town with a questionable reputation. Its population rose to around 5,500 (today it's about 2,100) and it boasted numerous brothels, and even more saloons.

However, the good fortune crashed as fast as the stock market did. In the 1920s, the two biggest sources of revenue disappeared almost overnight.

The sawmill closed and the lumber company relocated to a more profitable region. The Great Northern Railroad moved its headquarters to Wenatchee, and rerouted the rail line from the steep and dangerous Tumwater Canyon to the Chumstick Valley, by-passing Leavenworth.

With the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression of the 1930's, followed by the war years, Leavenworth's economy spiraled downward. These hard times plagued Leavenworth through the 1940s and 1950s.

Revitalization With little hope of an economic rebound, stores were closing and people were leaving as there were few job opportunities. However, in 1962, community leaders approached the University of Washington's Bureau of Community Development looking for ways to save the town.

Out of this work came the idea to use the town's beautiful natural surroundings and the Bavarian theme to attract visitors to the area.

Two of the leaders instrumental in this effort were Pauline and Owen Watson, longtime residents of Leavenworth who owned and operated Alpine Electric. In 1965 the decision was made by key business owners to adopt the Bavarian theme and remodel their buildings.

The town underwent an amazing transformation. The first six buildings were remodeled in 1965 and 1966. The others soon followed in the same footsteps.

The Autumn Leaf Festival and Christmas Lighting were introduced in the mid 1960's, and the Maifest in 1971. Art in the Park and Amberleaf Theater began soon after.

Today visitors from around the world visit Leavenworth to enjoy events such as Oktoberfest. Leavenworth enjoys sharing its heritage through the European style shops or gourmet ethnic restaurants.

Leavenworth is a premier American destination for families and individuals seeking a unique alpine vacation experience among some of the West's friendliest people. Willkommen!