This compact little city in the middle of fertile lands and orchards, named with an Indian word translated as ”grassy place, winter paradise, and dried acorns,” was a bunchgrass waste until platted by the Northern Pacific Irrigation Company in 1892. The Yakima Irrigation and Improvement Company later boomed the town by importing settlers from the Middle West. Irrigation canals were in operation by 1903, causing a land boom. Although some of the buildings in the business district date back to the town’s first boom, many modern structures reflect the prosperity that has come to the region with the establishment of the nearby atomic works, and the developing irrigation project of the Columbia Basin. The town was a growing transportation center by water and by rail. Large grain elevators were located here. Today Kennewick is part of the triumvirate of cities (along with Pasco and Richland) collectively referred to as the Tri-Cities.
The region around Kennewick, with its brief winter season, is the best grape-growing area in the state. The Church Grape Juice Company began in 1906 and maintained here its main office and bottling works, and was probably the largest private Concord vineyard in the United States; the company was sold to Welch’s Grape Juice company in 1953 and the bottling plant was closed in 2006 (Welch’s biggest presence is now in Grandview). Cherries also are an important crop; in 1941 about 25 percent of the state’s production came from here. Over the last several decades, juice extraction has shifted to wine production.