Lewis and Clark landed on Blalock Island in the Columbia River near the modern location of Richland in 1805, and found Indian villages dating back to prehistoric times. For the next half a century fur trade kept the locals busy, with canoes from the Hudson Bay Company travelling up and down the Columbia River. The extensive grasslands of the area were cut for hay by the men of Fort Walla Walla (now known as Wallula), and the hay was used to feed their growing herds of livestock.
Washington Territory was created in 1853, and Governor Isaac Stevens planned a cross-state railway leading up the Yakima Valley and across the Snoqualmie Pass to Puget Sound. About this same time, J.B. Nelson built the first settler’s cabin near the mouth of the Yakima River. In 1868, E. Bird moved about 300 head of cattle into the area where Richland is now, and Smith Barnum built his home just south of the Yakima River.
In 1875, Mr. Barnum’s house was made a station along a stage line between Wallula City and Yakima City. Only six years later, in 1881, James Kinney homesteaded in an area now known as Prosser City; James was later credited with giving the Horse Heaven Hills their name. Also in 1881, Colonel William Farrand Prosser filed a homestead claim in the same area. He obtained the post office for the town, which took his own name.
Construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad’s main line through the Yakima Valley was started in 1883, with construction camps located in Kennewick, Kiona, and Prosser. School districts were established in Prosser in 1884 and six months later in Kennewick to serve the children of the construction camps.
20 miles north of Richland, the Hanford Atomic Reservation was established in 1943 because of an abundance of water and electricity. The nuclear industry has been a cause of much growth since then. In the intervening time, Hanford has become a complex for energy research and development labs as well as a center for nuclear generation projects. It is the major source of employment for the entire county.
In 1953, the McNary Dam was built on the Columbia River about 30 miles south of Prosser, and has allowed ocean-going barge traffic to head as far upstream as the city of Richland.
At this time, West Richland was still split into several smaller communities by the names of Enterprise and Heminger City. In late 1953, businessmen from these cities collected signatures toward the goal of combining the towns as West Richland. The final vote passed in March, 1954. The town limits jumped out a mile in 1955 when the Heminger Acres addition was annexed and again in 1956 when the Brotherhood Subdivision was annexed.
The Chamber of Commerce was formed in 1956. It was the first civic club to be founded in the town, and had a total membership of 157. West Richland was incorporated in 1960. According to the census bureau in 1960, West Richland had a population of 1,347. The sewer system was completed in 1962. By then the town was growing rapidly, and continues to grow and evolve to this day.
Historical Credit goes to:
Benton County’s Web site
The West Richland Chamber of Commerce