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Pasco History, Washington

Pasco, the oldest city of the Tri-Cities metropolitan area of Washington, was officially incorporated in the year 1891. This is generally ear-marked as the starting point of Pasco history, but the Pasco-region had been inhabited by humans quite long. (In fact, the Marmes Rockshelter archeological site at the confluence of the Snake and Palouse Rivers in the Franklin County is believed to be the earliest human-habitation in the Western Hemisphere).

Pasco History – Exploration to Incorporation

Like the other Washington cities of Kennewick, Seattle, Spokane and Walla Walla, Pasco was inhabited by Native Americans when white-American explorers Lewis and Clark camped here (at what is now the Sacagawea State Park) on October 16th, 1805. The Native American name of Pasco was Great Forks.

Although Great Forks was frequented by other explorers and traders (mostly fur and gold traders) after this initial expedition, Great Forks did not change much before the arrival of John Commingers Ainsworth in 1850. Ainsworth was not responsible for any immediate improvement of Great Forks, but he founded a town (named after him) close to the Snake River. Three decades later, when the Northern Pacific Railways started working on the Snake River Bridge Project, the Ainsworth Township became a busy railroad town. It even became the county seat when Franklin County was created in 1883.

Things took a different turn when the Snake River Bridge was completed the next year. Ainsworth lost its significance and the Great Forks region rose to prominence once again with the Northern Pacific Railways shifting their operations to that region for the construction on the Columbia River Bridge. By 1887, the Franklin County Courthouse too was relocated to this new town-site and it emerged as the county-seat.

Pasco was incorporated on September 3, 1891, nearly two years after Washington was admitted to the Union as the forty-second state. (The city was named Pasco after the Peruvian city, Cerro de Pasco, by a Northern Pacific Railway engineer, Virgil Bogue; Bogue found many similarities with the Andes Mountain city, where he had earlier worked on a railway project).

Pasco History – 20th Century to Present Times

After this very modest beginning as a railroad town, Pasco has developed, albeit slowly. Present-day Pasco is a transportation and trade hub of Washington and also boasts of a strong agricultural sector. A close study of Pasco history of the 20th century and the new millennium reveals that this success-story has essentially been aided by its railroads and rivers.

Pasco began the 20th century on a happy note as the Northern Pacific Railroad completed its second depot in 1900 (the first depot built in the 1890s was made the freight depot). Thereafter, two more rail yards were built in Pasco, one in 1936 and the other in 1998 (the last one under NP Railroad successor, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Co.). Pasco continues to be an important hub of BNSF even to this day.

If the railroads did as much for Pasco, the completion of the Grand Coulee Dam in 1941 was the most significant moment in Pasco history. With the Grand Coulee Dam, irrigation improved giving the much-needed boost to local agriculture (and hence to the city’s economy, ultimately resulting in prosperity). The Dam, in addition, played a definitive role in the selection of the Hanford site for the Nuclear Project (as part of the Manhattan Project in 1943). The Hanford Site still remains crucial for the entire Tri-cities area and not just for Pasco.

Pasco, especially West Pasco, saw a real estate boom period in the 1990s. The construction boom, which resulted in the development of complexes, both for commercial and residential purposes has not only impacted population growth but has also upped the city’s worth as a tourism and retail hub.

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