The railroad influence

April 22, 2010

A train is parked at the third North Yakima Northern Pacific Depot which was built in 1898. A section of it was moved north to Cherry Lane where it was used as part of a duplex. A bigger depot, which still stands today, was built in 1909. This photo was taken in 1908.

If it wasn’t for the railroad, Yakima might not be here.

It likely would have stayed right where it started, some 125 years ago, four miles away in present-day Union Gap.

The small town south of here gave birth to what would become the city of Yakima with the tough-fisted determination of the Northern Pacific Railroad.

Instead of siting a railway station in what was then called Yakima City — and already established with churches and homes, hotels and streets — railroad officials opted to locate a depot in uninhabited pastureland to the north.

And they urged residents and businesses to move, erecting a city around a train station.

Essentially, the railroad company — with its money, power and influence — dictated where North Yakima, now simply known as Yakima, would be built.

“We can’t find any other town in America that this happened to — moving an entire town for the railroad,” says Yakima historian Yvonne Wilbur.

When settlers in Yakima City learned the depot wouldn’t be located there — and that the train would not even stop there — they were none too happy. Some opted to stay behind, refusing to budge at the will of the railroad.

An 1886 photo of Weed and Rowe Hardware at the corner of Yakima Avenue and First Street in North Yakima. The store later became Yakima Hardware.

Resentment toward the railroad even reached the children. There are reports of girls greasing the tracks with soft soap to make trains spin their wheels, delaying arrival in North Yakima.

The tracks reached Yakima City on Dec. 17, 1884. And the migration started in January.

In the early months of 1885 —and well into summer — homes and businesses began rolling across the snow-covered sagebrush to the new townsite. In all, about 100 buildings were moved.

An outfit out of Portland was contracted by the railroad to move the buildings, using jack screws to hoist them onto horse-drawn wagons. Bigger buildings were pulled on rollers. Smaller ones were hauled by rail.

Guilland House, a hotel, took about three weeks to make the move on rollers. It was the first building to be moved, finally reaching its destination on Feb. 27.

Moving didn’t keep proprietors from doing business.

“Business was carried on as usual while the buildings were on the move,” according to the 1919 book “History of Yakima Valley,” which went on to say: “A farmer wishing to buy something at a store would hitch his team to the latter end of a moving building, transact his business, come out with his purchases, load his wagon, while the team followed slowly along with the building.”

John Adams Kingsbury was there, watching the exodus.

In his early childhood memoirs, he says: “Soon the whole town seemed to be moving … the little patch of desert that lay between the sad old town and the gay new town was literally alive with moving houses. … Veritably Yakima was a town on wheels during that tragic and eventful summer of 1885.”

Other notable buildings that made the trek were the Bartholet House, another hotel, and Centennial Hall, built in 1876 and named in commemoration of this country’s first 100 years.

It’s long gone now. But for years after the relocation, Wilbur says, “It was about the last building in Yakima that survived from the move.”

North Yakima didn’t spring up overnight — but almost.

Northern Pacific officials had been plotting the move for months before settlers learned of the plan. At the center of the scheme was Paul Schulze, general land agent for the railroad in Portland.

“The average person didn’t like him,” Wilbur says. “He would strut around town, all dressed up. He’d walk around like the town was his.”

In a secret letter to Schulze dated Aug. 28, 1884, Charles B. Lamborn, land commissioner for the railroad, wrote about the company’s intent to bypass Yakima City and start a new community further north.

“When the town is platted, we could agree with the owners of other lands to give each party now owning an improved lot in Yakima City a corresponding lot in the new town, provided he would agree to move his building thereon from the town of Yakima City or erect a good building on the lot,” Lamborn wrote.

But he didn’t want the railroad to look bad in the deal. It was important settlers saw the company in a positive light.
Settlers were told the land was too swampy to site a station in Yakima City. Really, the railroad just wanted more land with which to grow and sell.

The company also wanted the land for nothing.

In the 1974 book “Valley of the Strong: Stories of Yakima and Central Washington History,” author Joseph C. Brown wrote that Schulze had tried to obtain right-of-ways for the railroad in Yakima City.

Some of the Pioneer Daughters stand outside the Centennial Building with owner H.J. Cahalan (left) in a photo taken abouit 1951. The Centennial Buiulding was one of the 50 moved in 1885.

“The land owners wanted to be reimbursed generously for the land they gave the railroad, but Paul Schulze wanted the land owners to donate the right-of-ways for the privilege of having the railroad come to their town,” Brown wrote. “As a result, with hard feelings on both sides, the railroad company chose to bypass Yakima City and organize its own town … ”

In those days, it wasn’t uncommon for railroad companies to wield their power, overruling the wishes of the residents.

“Where they decided to take their lines, they went. When they decide to establish towns or depots in certain locations, they simply established them,” the late Selah historian Bob Lince told the Herald-Republic in 1985, a hundred years after the Big Move.

At first, the depot in the new city of North Yakima was simply a boxcar located smack dab in the middle of Yakima Avenue.

Leta Conrad Dickson, who came to Old Town as an 11-year-old girl in 1876, was chosen to ride on the first train from Yakima City to North Yakima. She recalled that symbolic journey in 1935, telling The Grange News: “The train was stopped while the last rail on the road was laid.”

School was initially held in Centennial Hall. Central School was built three years after the Big Move, in 1888.
North Yakima incorporated in 1886 and officially became Yakima in 1917. A dozen years earlier, in 1905, Yakima City was renamed Union Gap.

Meantime, businessmen did their darndest to attract more people and industry to the new town.

In the May 1889 issue of The Northwest Magazine, a story touted North Yakima under the headline “A Verdant, Blooming Town in the Midst of Highly Fertile Valleys.”

“It is ‘water, water everywhere,’ pure, cold and sparkling, and yet there are no damp marshy or malarial places in the valleys, because the streams keep in their natural courses until turned into the winding irrigating ditches which may be seen in all directions following the bench lands like huge serpents,” C.M. Barton wrote.

The story goes on to describe the city as “laid out on a broad gauge plan, with electric lights and waterworks about to be put in, with a fine new brick hotel, a spacious opera house, a dozen brick blocks, two new elegant brick bank buildings, sixty business houses, hundreds of frame modern residences, a half dozen beautiful sites for the Capitol of the State of Washington when it is located here, as it ought to be, 5,500 people who look as if they had came to stay and do not wander around the streets with a far away gaze, busy merchants with stores well filled with customers, thrifty farmers who ship their produce from the city, none of the ‘tough’ element, several churches and schools, a charming climate and grand mountain scenery.”

By some accounts, the New Town was designed to resemble Schulze’s hometown, Baden-Baden in Germany. A ditch was built to bring water from the Naches River to the city.

Ten years after the Big Move, Schulze would be dead. He committed suicide in Tacoma in April 1895 — shooting himself in the head with a .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver — shortly after Northern Pacific requested his resignation.

Another key player behind the move, Martin Van Buren Stacy, a wealthy landowner who often stayed at the Guilland Hotel, died in an insane asylum.

Yakima never did become the state capitol. But the “grand mountain scenery” and some of those brick blocks remain.

The original boxcar depot has long since been replaced. The 1910 station — built during the city’s silver jubilee — is now home to a restaurant and lounge. But it remains in the heart of downtown, an enduring testament to Yakima’s railroad origins.

By Adriana Janovich

The Guilland House in Yakima City, now Union Gap, in 1884 before the Big Move.

Comments are closed.