Ellensburg History

First Settlers

Settler William Bud Wilson had the first claim and built the first log cabin in 1868 where Ellensburg now stands. Cowboys AJ Splawn and Ben Burch moved a 14′ x 18′ hewn log house to a spot nearby so they could open it as a store in 1870. John Gillispie, a young settler, made a sign for the store and dubbed it “Robber’s Roost.”

Davidson Building, Ellensburg Washington

The Hotel Savoy, Davidson Building. Ellensburg Public Library Local History Collection Photographs

Settlers were few and the post depended on trade in furs and horses with Native Americans to buy supplies.

In 1872, John A. Shoudy bought the store and 160 acres of land. A Civil War veteran, he had come to the valley in 1871 as part of a business plan of his family in Seattle to create an improved road connection with the Yakima country. In 1873, John started postal service in Ellensburg. John and his wife Mary Ellen platted the town and it was officially filed in April 1875. John named the new town Ellensburg for his wife.

Early Growth and Incorporation

Early Pearl Street, Ellensburg Washington

Early Pearl Street X. Ellensburg Public Library Local History Collection Photographs

Between 1878 and 1883, the town grew dramatically: a bank was established; Hook and Ladder Company Number 1 was organized; and the first newspaper, the Kittitas Localizer, was published on July 12, 1883. With a population of 2,768, Ellensburg became the county seat of Kittitas County when it was formed in 1883. The City of Ellensburg was first incorporated on November 26, 1883 under a territorial act effective January 1, 1884.

A second Charter of Incorporation was enacted by the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Washington on January 28, 1886. The City’s government was officially formed with the first election on February 26, 1886 and the first council meeting on March 2, 1886.

Spread of Amenities, Education and Utilities

The first train of the Northern Pacific Railroad reached Ellensburg on March 31, 1886, helping to fuel a boom in building and population.

Early Businesses, Ellensburg Washington

Early Ellensburgh Businesses. Ellensburg Public Library Local History Collection Photographs

The first telephone was installed in 1889 to connect two downtown stores. It wasn’t until 1889 that Washington became a state, and Ellensburg could have become the capital if a fire had not destroyed most of the city on July 4, 1889. The fire started in J.S. Anthony’s Grocery store on the east side of Main Street, between Fourth and Fifth. The town recovered quickly, with brick buildings rising to replace the former wood ones.

Pearl, Ellensburg Washington

Fourth Street View. Ellensburg Public Library Local History Collection Photographs

The first water system, and the City’s sewer system, one of the first in Washington, was installed in 1889. In 1889, Ellensburg became the home of Washington State Normal School, now Central Washington University. It opened in 1891. The City purchased the private electric lighting system from John Shoudy in 1890. The post office changed the spelling of the town’s name to Ellensburg in 1894. The public library was begun in 1910.

Want more information about the history of downtown Ellensburg? Check out our “A Step Back in Time” blog series found here .

Content Credit: City of Ellensburg (online)
Photo Credit: Ellensburg Public Library