Sunnyside: A tale of two beginnings

April 22, 2010

Irrigation gave this Lower Yakima Valley city, known as “The Holy City,” its early start.

Ranch horses stand on Edison Street in downtown Sunnyside in a photo taken about 1908.

Sunnyside has two beginnings, really.

Like many of the communities in the Valley, Yakima County’s second-largest city traces its earliest days to the arrival of irrigation.

Engineer Walter N. Granger, working for the Northern Pacific Railroad, began work in 1891 on a canal that would deliver water to the Lower Valley’s unclaimed sagebrush.

An undated photograph of the construction of a diversion flume and temporary check basin for the Sunnyside canal at the Outlook pumping plant.

Within three years, water reached present-day Sunnyside. Granger convinced the company to purchase and plat the townsite.

He proposed naming the eastern townsite Mayhew, but entrepreneur William H. Cline preferred Sunnyside and promised to set up the town’s first store if the name was changed.

The isolated town grew for a few years at the turn of the 19th century, in spite of being separated from the nearest rail stop in Mabton by an unbridged Yakima River. The infant city included a three-story hotel with business cards that boasted owning the only bathtub in town.

However, the Depression that gripped the nation in the late 1800s caught up with Sunnyside. Stores closed, residents moved away and the Philadelphia Securities Co., which held the mortgage to the townsite, foreclosed.

The first beginning ended just as it got started.

Then, in 1898, three Midwest churchgoing men formed the Christian Cooperative Colony with the goal of creating a haven for God-fearing, moral families in the West. They picked Sunnyside, which had been visited by one of men, Harvey M. Lichty, a devout Progressive Brethren.

The men purchased the bankrupt townsite and drafted ordinances that mandated piety. Anybody caught gambling, drinking alcohol or engaging in prostitution had to forfeit property back to the Cooperative. Alcohol remained illegal until 1933.

Pioneers from the Midwest were recruited to a land of “Ideal Homes, Schools and Churches” with “no saloons, no blizzards, no pear blight,” according to a promotional flyer from the times.

Nicknamed by outsiders “The Holy City,” Sunnyside incorporated in 1902.

By Ross Courtney

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