You might think your town is old, but it probably isn’t the oldest in the country.
That is unless you live in St. Augustine, FL. Which looks pretty good for being 454 years old.
That’s older than America for those playing at home.
So that got us thinking, what is the oldest city in Washington? And how old is that when you put it into perspective of St. Augustine or American Independence in 1776?
Because even if your Washington city or town is old, it isn’t really all that old in the grand scheme of things. For example, the Pyramids in Egypt were built around 2600 BC, a cool 4100 years before St. Augustine.
And now that we have you thinking about how the time line of your existence is really kind of unimpressive on the timeline of history, let’s drop right into the analysis.
These are the 10 oldest cities and towns in the Evergreen State according to their ‘date of foundation’:
- Longview (Photos)
- Olympia (Photos)
- Seattle (Photos)
- Tumwater (Photos)
- Tacoma (Photos)
- Spokane (Photos)
- Ellensburg (Photos)
- Yakima (Photos)
- Aberdeen (Photos)
- Mount Vernon (Photos)
For being 168 years old, Longview doesn’t look a day over 40. And the newest city in Washington? That would be Spokane Valley — a brand spanking 15 years old.
How We Determined When A City Was Founded In Washington… Or Is It Settled?
Surprisingly, there’s not a definitive data set that contains the dates of incorporation or settlement for cities in America. Put differently, there’s no official data set from the Census that contains when every place in America was founded.
So what did we do instead?
Use the internet’s version of official government data — Wikipedia of course!
For the majority of cities in Washington, Wikipedia offers data on some kind of ‘date of foundation’ in the infobox. Unfortunately, because it’s Wikipedia and not a sprawling government bureaucracy, that can take the form of any of the following nomenclature (plus others):
And then even more stuff — for example Atlanta has a ‘Terminus’ date, whatever that is.
If no ‘date of foundation’ was found in the infobox, we looked to the general text in the History section of the city for ‘Founded in XXXX’.
All in all, we were able to collect data on 118 out of 185 in Washington with over 5,000 people. That’s good for a 63.8% completion rate.
We then ranked them from oldest to newest with Longview turning out to be the matriarch of Washington at the ripe old age of 168.
Here’s a look at the top ten and a snippet of their history from Wikipedia.
Longview was the location of Mount Coffin, an ancestral burial ground for the local indigenous people.
The site of Olympia has been home to Lushootseed-speaking peoples for thousands of years, including Squaxin, Nisqually, Puyallup, Chehalis, Suquamish, and Duwamish.
Archaeological excavations suggest that Native Americans have inhabited the Seattle area for at least 4,000 years. By the time the first European settlers arrived, the people (subsequently called the Duwamish tribe) occupied at least seventeen villages in the areas around Elliott Bay.
The first European to visit the Seattle area was George Vancouver, in May 1792 during his 1791–95 expedition to chart the Pacific Northwest. In 1851, a large party led by Luther Collins made a location on land at the mouth of the Duwamish River; they formally claimed it on September 14, 1851. Thirteen days later, members of the Collins Party on the way to their claim passed three scouts of the Denny Party. Members of the Denny Party claimed land on Alki Point on September 28, 1851. The rest of the Denny Party set sail from Portland, Oregon, and landed on Alki point during a rainstorm on November 13, 1851.
The city of Tacoma and surrounding areas were inhabited for thousands of years by American Indians, predominantly the Puyallup people, who lived in settlements on the delta.
In 1852, a Swede named Nicolas Delin built a water-powered sawmill on a creek near the head of Commencement Bay, but the small settlement that grew around it was abandoned during the Indian War of 1855–56. In 1864, pioneer and postmaster Job Carr, a Civil War veteran and land speculator, built a cabin (which also served as Tacoma’s first post office; a replica was built in 2000 near the original site in ‘Old Town’). Carr hoped to profit from the selection of Commencement Bay as the terminus of the Transcontinental Railroad, and sold most of his claim to developer Morton M. McCarver (1807–1875), who named his project Tacoma City, derived from the indigenous name for the mountain.
The first humans to live in the Spokane area arrived between 13,000 and 8,000 years ago and were hunter-gatherer societies that lived off plentiful game. The Spokane tribe, after which the city is named (the name meaning ‘children of the sun’ or ‘sun people’ in Salishan),[a] are believed to be either their direct descendants, or descendants of people from the Great Plains. When asked by early white explorers, the Spokanes said their ancestors came from ‘up North’. Early in the 19th century, the Northwest Fur Company sent two white fur trappers west of the Rocky Mountains to search for fur. These were the first white men met by the Spokanes, who believed they were sacred, and set the trappers up in the Colville River valley for the winter.
The explorer-geographer David Thompson, working as head of the North West Company’s Columbia Department, became the first European to explore the Inland Empire (now called the Inland Northwest). Crossing what is now the Canada–US border from British Columbia, Thompson wanted to expand the North West Company further south in search of furs. After establishing the Kullyspell House and Saleesh House trading posts in what are now Idaho and Montana, Thompson then attempted to expand further west. He sent out two trappers, Jacques Raphael Finlay and Finan McDonald, to construct a fur trading post on the Spokane River in Washington and trade with the local Indians. This post was established in 1810, at the confluence of the Little Spokane and Spokane rivers, becoming the first enduring European settlement of significance in Washington state. Known as the Spokane House, or simply ‘Spokane’, it was in operation from 1810 to 1826. Operations were run by the British North West Company and later the Hudson’s Bay Company, and the post was the headquarters of the fur trade between the Rocky and Cascade mountains for 16 years. After the latter business absorbed the North West Company in 1821, the major operations at the Spokane House were eventually shifted north to Fort Colville, reducing the post’s significance.
Ellensburg was officially incorporated on November 26, 1883. John Alden Shoudy came to the Kittitas Valley in 1871, and purchased a small trading post from Andrew Jackson ‘A.J.’ Splawn, called ‘Robber’s Roost.’ Robber’s Roost was the first business in the valley, other than the early trading that occurred among American Indians, cattle drivers, trappers, and miners. Robber’s Roost was located on the present-day 3rd Avenue, just west of Main Street near the alley. There is a placard on the wall commemorating the location, as well as a small stone monument against the wall on the sidewalk. Shoudy named the town after his wife, Mary Ellen Shoudy, thus officially began the city of Ellensburgh around 1872. Shoudy was not the first settler in the Kittitas Valley, nor was he the first businessperson, but he was responsible for platting the city of Ellensburgh in the 1870s, and he was the person who named the streets in the downtown district.
The Yakama people were the first known inhabitants of the Yakima Valley. In 1805, the Lewis and Clark Expedition came to the area and discovered abundant wildlife and rich soil, prompting the settlement of homesteaders. A Catholic Mission was established in Ahtanum, southwest of present-day Yakima, in 1847. The arrival of settlers and their conflicts with the natives resulted in the Yakima War. The U.S. Army established Fort Simcoe in 1856 near present-day White Swan as a response to the uprising. The Yakamas were defeated and forced to relocate to the Yakama Indian Reservation.
Yakima County was created in 1865. When bypassed by the Northern Pacific Railroad in December 1884, over 100 buildings were moved with rollers and horse teams to the nearby site of the depot. The new city was dubbed North Yakima and was officially incorporated and named the county seat on January 27, 1886. The name was changed to Yakima in 1918. Union Gap was the new name given to the original site of Yakima.
Aberdeen was named after a local salmon cannery to reflect its Scottish fishing port namesake Aberdeen, and because it, too, is situated at the mouth of two rivers, like Aberdeen, Scotland, which is between the rivers ‘Don’ at the north and the river ‘Dee’ to the south.
10. Mount Vernon
Jasper Gates and Joseph Dwelley first settled on the banks of the Skagit River, where the city of Mount Vernon now lies, in 1870. Later on, Harrison Clothier came to the community in 1877 to teach school and join in business with a former student, E.G. English. They were later recognized as the city’s founders and pioneer businessmen. A post office was established in November 1877 with Clothier appointed postmaster. The city was named after Mount Vernon, the plantation estate and resting place of George Washington. The two men laid out the city’s first plan while the area was still heavily timbered.
Oh How Time Flies For The Oldest Towns And Cities In Washington
So there you have it, a look at some of the oldest places to live in Washington. If we missed your city’s ‘date of foundation’, let us know in the comments. Or feel free to take a look at the table of the oldest places in Washington.
And now, let’s raise our glasses, to the next 100 years of existence for these cities and towns in the Evergreen State.
And for those wondering, here are the newest additions to Washington:
- Spokane Valley (Founded in 2003)
- Bellingham (Founded in 2003)
- Arlington (Founded in 2003)
Detailed List Of The Oldest Cities In Washington
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