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History of Goldendale

The History of Goldendale, Washington
by Stuart of

The history of Goldendale began with a cattleman named Mortimer Thorp who first settled at the site in the late 1850's. Just south of the Little Klickitat River is where he built his cabin, about where the Methodist Church is now located. Thorp was not very pleased when two or three other families moved into the area, complaining that “the area was becoming too populated.” With that, he moved his family to the Yakima Valley in the north near what became Moxee.

Lyonel J. Kimberland took over the homestead location which Thorp had occupied. Kimberland also sold 200 acres of land to John J. Golden on August 15, 1871. Golden employed a surveyor who drew a plat and surveyed the townsite which became the original Town of Goldendale. This was filed with the county auditor on March 13, 1872.

On July 14, 1870, before the sale of the land to Golden, a post office named Klickitat was established with Kimberland as postmaster.

Golden’s first move after he had bought the land from Kimberland and laid out the town, was to establish a church. A camp meeting was held in the fall of 1871 and a Methodist church was organized. The subject of a name for the town was also discussed at the meeting. Since there were many willows growing near a creek, the Rev. J.H.B. Royal suggested the name “Willowdale.” Golden suggested the name “Goldendale” to which there was a popular response. Golden suggested that he was only kidding but the name stuck. It did not become the official name, however, until April 18, 1882.

More settlers were moving into the region between 1870 and 1880 and with the increased demand from the settlers for supplies, Goldendale grew steadily. By 1878, Goldendale had become the biggest town in the region, so in the election of that year, it was voted the county seat. Rockland (now Dallesport), to the south, was the previous county seat, but it never had more than a few shacks.

Following the conviction of Henry Timmerman in 1886 for the murder of a traveling companion in the county’s east end, Goldendale witnessed the county’s only public hanging. To the end, Timmerman claimed innocence and he cursed the town of Goldendale, threatening dire calamity upon it and its citizens. One month and one week after the hanging, tragedy broke out. On a hot Sunday in May, 1888, while most citizens were on a picnic a few miles away, a fire broke out on the west end of Main Street. As a typical western town, buildings were made of wood.

Being fanned by the west wind, the fire raced from building to building. There was no town water system and citizens had to battle the fire using water in buckets pumped from wells. When the calamity was over, a total of 73 buildings had been destroyed. The legend that the fire was linked to Timmerman’s curse is still talked about today.

After the fire, it was decided that the town should be rebuilt using brick rather than wood. Main Street was widened by 20 feet in its three-block center. Also, a town water system was demanded.

The citizens of Goldendale dreamed of a railroad connecting northeastern Washington with Portland, running through Goldendale. Homer C. Campbell proposed the Columbia River & Northern, which would be a line running from Lyle to Goldendale. The idea was to eventually have the line build downriver to Vancouver or northeast to the Yakima Valley. The railroad to Lyle was built and the first train rolled into Goldendale on April 25, 1903. Although the trains could only go as far as Lyle, from there steamboats could carry freight further down the Columbia River.

It was not long before a new need was recognized in Goldendale. Soon after the first train rolled into Goldendale, automobiles appeared on the scene and decent roads were demanded. It took 30 years and every political string that could be maneuvered to bring this about, but eventually, paved roads to the Yakima Valley were completed and travel by car became practical.

By 1911, Goldendale had paved streets and sidewalks. Most small towns in the region did not have this yet. Goldendale had to borrow money to bring this about and was in debt for a long time.

Ten miles to the north at an elevation of nearly 5,000 feet, there were several large springs and Goldendale was still in need of an ample supply of domestic water. Wood-stave piping was built at first to conduct water to the city but was later replaced by transite pipe in the 1930's.

After the fire of 1888, Goldendale always strived to maintain a good fire protection system. In 1924, the first motorized fire truck was obtained.

Goldendale had begun in isolation and over the years became a town that is self-reliant in every respect.