Was Walla Walla once Washington’s biggest city? | Taking Stock

By Tim Raetzloff | Sep 06, 2017

I am not a political junky so I usually don’t watch TVW, the state’s public affairs television network. But on a weekend morning as I was channel surfing I discovered a show called “My Favorite Places.”

Former Washington Secretary of State Ralph Munro was talking about his favorite places. I went online to see the full list of his favorite places – many of which I know and have visited. They include the Claquato Church, Port Blakely – about which I think I have written – Washington State Ferries, the Pig War on San Juan Island, the Tenino Sandstone Quarry and Medal of Honor recipient Douglas Munro’s gravesite in Cle Elum.

But Mr. Munro also talked about a few things of which I was ignorant. He said that Walla Walla was once the largest town in Washington. I assumed he was using politician’s hyperbole.

Maybe Walla Walla was the biggest with 50 people when Fort Vancouver had 30, and Monticello had 15. Those were all important early locations in Washington.

Monticello, which no longer exists, was the location of the convention to separate Washington Territory – then known as Columbia Territory – from Oregon Territory, which not too many years earlier had also been known as Columbia Territory.

Walla Walla was the location of an early convention seeking statehood. Vancouver, then known as Fort Vancouver, had been the earliest non-native settled place in what is now Washington.

But upon investigation it turned out Mr. Munro was not using political hyperbole. On Wikipedia, I discovered that in the 1870 census Walla Walla had 1,394 residents, Olympia had 1,203 residents and Seattle had 1,107 residents. Walla Walla really was the biggest.

That revelation further explained something I had known but hadn’t thought much about. The first railroad built by Seattle to connect to the rest of the country was named the Seattle & Walla Walla. I had never thought much about it, but building a railroad to Walla Walla really doesn’t seem like a very good plan considering today’s populations. In 1875, though, it was a very good plan for a railroad that would link the largest settlements east and west of the Cascades.

The Seattle & Walla Walla never got to Walla Walla. Its farthest reach was to Franklin and Kummer in southeast King County. Both Franklin and Kummer are now ghost towns.

The Kummer School still exists, and the Black Diamond Historical Society sponsors a tour of Franklin each year during late winter. The Black Diamond Museum is in the building that was once the depot of the Seattle & Walla Walla, which came to be known as the Columbia & Puget Sound by the time the depot was built.

So I learned that Walla Walla was once the “Queen City” of Washington Territory. I wasn’t taught that in history class. The problem is that I don’t know what I don’t know. I will have to keep my eyes and ears open.

While doing research, I also learned that Olympia has not always been the capital of Washington. I wrote a few months ago about moveable county seats, but at that time I believed that Olympia had always been the territorial and state capital.

Apparently in the 1850s there was a move to make Vancouver the territorial capital. But that didn’t last and the capital reverted to Olympia. Even Ellensburg saw a push to make it the capital, based on its more central location. Of course, that didn’t happen either.

 

Tim Raetzloff operates Abarim Business Computers at Harbor Square in Edmonds. What he writes combines his sense of history and his sense of numbers. Neither he nor Abarim have an investment in any of the companies mentioned in this column.

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