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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.


Ca. 1917 view along Main Street, Kennewick.

Source: Washington State Historical Society.

Ca. 1952 view of the former bridge between Pasco and Kennewick, spanning the Columbia River.

Source: Washington State Historical Society

Themes You'll Find at this Main Street


Kennewick’s Railroad beginnings and it’s bustling riverboat past set the groundwork for its multimodal future.


The first gravity fed canals transformed the land into a bountiful garden paradise.


Rail to Riverboat

Incorporated in 1905, Kennewick’s origin as a railroad town and its location along the Columbia River, destined the town to become the area’s hub for shipping and retail. Kennewick’s primary industry was agriculture and its bounty of fruit, vegetable, alfalfa, cattle, and wheat was shipped by rail to the coast and made famous nationwide. Within the area of the Mid-Columba, one of the main methods of getting from one city and town to another was by riverboat, steamer, and ferry. Kennewick was a busy port for transportation and scenic expeditions up and down the Columbia River as well as the Snake River. The growth of the railroads led to the death of a robust steamer service along the Columbia by 1913 and with the construction of automobile bridges, the first of which opened in 1921, slowly phased out ferry service across the river as well.

In 1912 when this photo was taken, steamboats were the major form of transportation between Kennewick, Richland, and other communities along the Columbia River. The boat in the back, the W. R. Todd, lost control in a heavy spring runoff in June 1912 and struck the railroad bridge and sank. It was never salvaged and it is believed that pieces of the W. R. Todd still are imbedded in the bottom of the Columbia River today.

The Green Bridge

In the early part of the 1900s, Kennewick and its neighbor across the Columbia River, Pasco, were linked only by a railroad bridge and ferry Service. These “Twin Cities” clamored for an automobile bridge, but were denied funds from the State. The Green Bridge was build and paid for locally and opened as a 75 cents toll bridge in 1922. In 1931, the toll fee was removed when the Green Bridge was given to the state and made a highway. In the 1990s the Green Bridge was replaced by the Ed Hendler Cable Bridge and torn down for scrap. A section of the Green Bridge, once part of the Yellowstone Trail, is on display at the East Benton County Historical Society & Museum.

View of the Green Bridge.

In the 1920s, downtown Kennewick was a bustling place for retail and commerce. The proliferation of automobiles also changed the visual character of downtown.

Garden of the West

From the Highlands and the Horse Heavens to the river shore and Garden Tracts, Kennewick was an arid, shrub filled grassland, with rolling hills that was transformed into a rich agricultural area through irrigation. The first gravity fed canals were made possible by railroad sponsored irrigation companies, local cooperative developers, and eventually by federal irrigation programs, such as the Columbia River Basin Irrigation Project. Promotional pamphlets would be left on the seats of passenger rail cars to lure prospective land buyers with promises of “300 days of sunshine a year” where, with Kennewick’s mild climate and plentiful irrigation, it was the land of “The Early Ripe Strawberry” and was dubbed the “California of the Northwest.” Kennewick would become nationally famous for its fruit; from peaches and strawberries to cherries, apples, and concord grapes.

The Kennewick Canal runs through Kennewick providing irrigation water. The canal is still in use each summer, though no longer safe for swimming.

In 1913 the Kennewick Highlands fruit orchards were lush with apples, cherries, peaches, pears, apricots, and strawberries. In May of that year it was reported that the strawberry crop brought in $55,000. In 1923 the Strawberry Festival was revised with a big berry banquet. Passengers on trains through Kennewick that day were served free Kennewick Strawberries.

Photo of downtown Kennewick taken facing west. The building in the forefront on the right still stands as a hardware store. Notice how the street is still an unpaved dirt road; that shows this photo was taken before 1920.