Richland Washington is rich in history. For hundreds of years the area was populated by Wanapum, Yakama and Walla Walla Indians. These tribes used the area to harvest salmon that troll the waters of the Columbia River each year. Eventually, William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition discovered the area in October 1805.
A century later, in 1905, a man and his son purchased 2300 acres and proposed the town of Richland Washington. This was approved by the postal authorities and a year later the town of Richland was recorded in the Benton County courthouse. In 1910, Richland attained the status of a Washington Fourth Class City as the town was officially incorporated.
Before the onset of World War II, the population of the quiet farm town of Richland hovered at about 300. As World War II was getting underway, the US Army purchased 640 square miles, displacing some residents, in order to provide housing for workers of their nearby nuclear project. By 1943, Richland had been designated as a “closed city”, a restricted access area that could only be accessed by residents and personnel approved by the US Army. The addresses were misleading and mail was postmarked as originating in Seattle.
At the end of the war the nearby nuclear facility was shut down and the US Army moved out of Richland Washington. Many of the nuclear workers that had resided onsite were displaced and many moved to Richland to plant family roots. Reports from 1945 reflect a population of 25,000.
A short time later, in 1947, the Cold War began, reestablishing the need for a nuclear facility. Richland Wa again became a hotbed of activity and many of the residents worked at Hanford, the nearby nuclear development facility.
Richland charted a First Class City incorporation in 1958 and it was granted. Hanford continued to provide employment through 1987 as a weapons developer. After the weapons development ceased in 1987, Hanford became an environmental cleanup site. As an environmental site, Hanford still employs a significant portion of Richland residents.
The war-time history left its permanent mark on Richland. Richland High School adopted the name “The Bombers”, complete with a mushroom cloud representing nuclear weapons, and the name and cloud remain today. Because the town was designed and developed by the Army Corps of Engineers, the street names were taken from history – George Washington Way is the main street in the town, Stevens Way is named after Panama Canal’s chief engineer. After 1958, town officials named many of the new streets after US Army Generals and words associated with nuclear development.
In 1989, Washington State University Tri-Cities campus set up shop in northern Richland. A medical community is also developing, thanks in part to the Kadlec Medical Center, a hospital and training center. A few wineries dot the landscape, bringing find Washington wines to tables around the world.