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Washington Apple Country History

History of Wenatchee


Local Native American lore claims that the name Wenatchee (Wa-Nat-Chee) derives from a poetic description of the area meaning "robe of the rainbow." The valley's lush panorama is poetic majesty indeed. Resting at 600 feet above sea level, Wenatchee is surrounded by the Central Cascades Mountain Range. This line of stunningly dramatic peaks, which climb to elevations of just under 10,000 feet, soars above the rooftops like a massive, densely furrowed wall, studded with rock out-croppings. Irrigation allows fecund vegetation to flourish along river banks and well into the more than one hundred miles of forest land which courses along the eastern crest of the Cascades. Although rich in volcanic soils, the Wenatchee Valley proved too arid for commercial agronomy until the turn of the last century. Despite the annual snowfall, which totals about 35 inches, Wenatchee boasts roughly 300 days of sunshine throughout the year.


This major city of north-central Washington is the county seat of Chelan. It is also very nearly the precise geographic center of the state. The cities of East Wenatchee and Wenatchee are situated in Douglas and Chelan Counties, respectively, and are connected to one another by a bridge which spans the Columbia River.


Known today as the Apple Capital of the World, Wenatchee's agriculture industry came to fruition at the turn of the twentieth century, with the construction of the Highline Canal and the inauguration of the Columbia River Irrigation Project. Once irrigated, the countryside was planted with fruit trees, and Wenatchee quickly became one of the world's largest producers of apples. Today there are more than 170,000 acres of orchards ensconced in these foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Plantations range from elevations of 500 to 3,000 feet above sea level.


Early in the history of the region, Native Americans hunted and gathered as they migrated across these plains, establishing scattered camps along the Columbia River. Plateau Indians utilised the Wenatchee Valley as their hunting and fishing grounds for thousands of years before the first white settlers arrived. Just after the turn of the ninteenth century, when Lewis and Clark traveled through the Columbia River valley in 1803-1805, they mentioned the word "Wenatchee" in their journal, hearing of the river and the tribe living along its banks. Not long after the Lewis and Clark Expedition, fur traders and Catholic missionaries trickled into the area. Theirs remained the only population for more than fifty years, until prospectors arrived in the early 1870s, hoping to capitalize on the gold rush sweeping the west.


Between 1880 and 1893, the first major industry in what would soon become Chelan County was being forged: the railroads, which would link the continental northwestern territories with eastern and midwestern United States.


read about the region's railroads, the Great Northern, and the Northern Pacific