The History of Pasco, Washington

The city that we know today as Pasco was originally called Great Forks by the Indians who lived there when the famous pioneers Louis and Clark reached the area on October 16th, 1805 on their journey to the Pacific Ocean. Thomas Jefferson, who long thought about an expedition to find a waterway through America, commissioned Louis and Clark to undertake such an expedition through the country.

Columbia River Sunset

Lewis and Clark Arrive at Great Forks
When the expedition led by the duo arrived near Great Forks, they decided to put up their camp at the site where Sacagawea State Park is today. The park was named after a Shoshone Indian woman, Sacagawea, who traveled with the expedition. In 1811 David Thompson, a geographer from Canada claimed the area as British territory. During the following years, fur trappers, explorers, and gold traders frequently visited the area.

John Commingers Ainsworth
In 1850, John Commingers Ainsworth arrived at Great Forks. As the eventual founder of Pasco, Ainsworth was brought west by the Californian gold rush. Once there, he built the first sternwheeler in the area. Ainsworth becomes rich after completing an entire fleet of sternwheelers to supply miners up and down the Columbia River. The original town of Ainsworth was actually located southeast of modern-day Pasco near the mouth of the Snake River.

Northern Pacific Railway
The Northern Pacific Railway was built in the 1880s and brought many settlers to the area, causing the Washington Territory to become a state on November 11, 1889. In 1886, the railroad town of Ainsworth moved to Pasco, giving Pasco the county seat. On September 3, 1891, Pasco was officially incorporated. The city was named after Cerro de Pasco, located in the Andes Mountains in Peru, by one of the Northern Pacific Railway construction engineers, Virgil Bogue.

Mr. Bogue
Mr. Bogue had been working in Peru, constructing a railway line through the Andes Mountains that also passed through the town of Cerro de Pasco. Bogue later decided to name the town of Ainsworth after the town in the Andes. Buildings and businesses including all employees to the Northern Pacific were soon moved to Pasco from Ainsworth. This included the 300 Chinese workers that worked on the Snake River Bridge. Some of these workers also became prominent citizens of the town. Wong How, who was the Chinese contractor for Chinese labor, established a general store in 1884. His son also became the only Chinese boy of this time to attend school in Pasco. Several other easterners also proved successful businessmen, as a Japanese immigrant, Harry Yamauchi, opened the first grocery and fish store in Pasco.

Three Major Rivers
As history proved, the city’s growth was exclusively a result of the perfect location between three major rivers, the Columbia River, the Yakima River, and the Snake River, as well as the building of the railroad. Later on, the largest hydroelectric dam in the United States, the Grand Coulee Dam, was built at Pasco. This also contributed to the city’s physical growth as well as to economical growth. Today, Pasco is one of the major trade centers in the State of Washington and has a population of more than 44,000. Currently, Pasco covers an area of more than 78.3 km² with a population density of 440.9/km².

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