Washington Apple Country History
Throughout its history, Leavenworth has undergone many incarnations. As with other parts of the state, explorers, trappers and a handful of settlers entered the area in the early 1800's and, by the mid-nineteenth century, a steady stream of homesteaders began to populate the area. They set down their early roots roughly 10 miles east of Leavenworth, near present-day Cashmere (known as Mission in pioneer days). Leavenworth, which was originally called Isicle, gained credence as a community 1885 when a small group of homesteaders settled where the Wenatchee and Icicle Rivers meet in the Leavenworth Valley. The site was named Icicle Flats and, because it was the location of the Wenatchi Indian salmon fishery, the colonists were able to establish a trading post there. By the close of the century, settlers were also moving up the Chumstick Valley and around Lake Wenatchee and Plain.
The Great Northern Railroad began laying track up the Wenatchee Valley in 1892, along what is now Highway 2 and over Steven's Pass the following year. As it did to other parts of this fledgling country, the railroad brought a sudden increase in growth to the western frontier. Both a switchyard and division headquarters were constructed in Leavenworth, making this pioneer town an important railway hub.
1893 proved to be a pivotal year: not only was The Great Northern Railroad completed, bringing to Leavenworth new job opportunities and the human resources with which to fill these prospects, but the town was, quite literally, 'put on the map' by The Okanogan Investment Company during that year. Encouraged by the migration from other parts of the country, the company induced speculation in the newly opened territory of the continental northwest. When the town--which took its name after the then-president of Okanogan Investment Co, Charles Leavenworth--was mapped in 1894, the incipient hamlet barely contained 700 residents. Over the course of the next few decades the population would swell into the thousands.
In 1904, where the southern-most end of Leavenworth meets the Wenatchee River, a dam was constructed in order to channel the river's water. The Lamb-Davis Lumber Company built a large sawmill on the site to facilitate timber and logging operations through the area. Because Leavenworth served as one of the Great Northern's principal division points, this transportation corridor gave rise to new service industries as well as more lumber mills. For nearly the next half-century, the local marketplace was economically driven by the Great Northern railroad and these regional logging companies.
The first fruit trees in Leavenworth were planted in the very early 1900s. In the same way that the rest of the Chelan Valley was being developed in order to provide the most hospitable environment for agriculture, miles and miles of irrigation canals were constructed to secure Leavenworth's agronomic base. (Logging and fruit production remain important industries to this day). The town was finally chartered in 1906, and with its triple-industry economy--logging, railroading, and ruit farming--became a boom town almost overnight. This early prosperity lends itself to the archetypical folklore of America's Old West--or, in the case of Leavenworth, the Wild West. The city soon played host to numerous saloons and brothels, and the population reached a peak of nearly six thousand inhabitants by the 1920s.
Leavenworth's good fortune crashed nearly as fast as the stock market did in 1929. The decline began toward the end of the twenties, when Lamb-Davis closed its sawmill. Following on the heels of the lumber company's decision to re-locate, taking so much of the profitable logging revenues out of the area, the Great Northern Railroad transfered its headquarters to Wenatchee. The new route made travel easier, since it by-passed the steep and dangerous rail line from the Tumwater Canyon down to Chumstick Valley--but it also by-passed the town of Leavenworth. The loss of these two primary sources of revenue had inevitable economic consequences. Local farmers and orchardists were producing their goods, but the big market for their products was Wenatchee or Seattle, and Leavenworth's economy took a turn for the worse. The 'ripple' effect proved irreversible with the stock market crash in 1929. Not even the economic up-turn during the war years, which brought so much of the rest of this country out of the Great Depression, seemed to help Leavenworth. Its providence continued to spiral downward throughout the forties and fifties. Businesses closed, job opportunities dwindled, and people left to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Streets became deserted as the old pioneer boom town came to resemble a ghost town.
A handful of resolute and ambitious townspeople and civic leaders were determined to reverse Leavenworth's misfortunes. Might not the natural beauty of their city, located in the very heart of the splendiferous Cascade Mountain range, have much to offer travelers and tourists? Civic leaders began to look for ways to capitalize on Leavenworth's location.
In 1962, a group of local business people and community organizers set up the first of many meetings with the Bureau of Community Development, located on the campus of the University of Washington. They were determined to find ways to rebuild the economy of their beautiful city, and it was from these initial efforts that the decision was made to invest in tourism as the key to Leavenworth's future. Utilising the work of researchers from the university, residents began to plan a tourist "theme" for their town. Framed as it is by the Cascade Mountains and located on the confluence of the Wenatchee and Icicle Rivers, Leavenworth is blessed with the natural environs of a European mountain village motif. Due to the close resemblance of the rolling countryside to that of southern Germany, this unique American city was soon remodeled as a Bavarian alpine village.
Leavenworth today is a captivating Bavarian hamlet which draws tourists from all over the world. Born of detailed and ambitious strategies laid down more than thirty years ago, the many alluring specialty shops, picturesque hostelries, traditional Germanic fare, live theatrical productions, and year-round festivals and celebrations have helped to ensure a very bright future for its industrious citizenry.