The center of government in Okanogan County since 1915, it is also headquarters for the Chelan National Forest. Though less populous than Omak, it has a larger and more impressive business district. The six blocks of brick and frame buildings occupy a narrow valley on a delta bar, at the mouth of Salmon Creek. The Okanogan River winds slowly and quietly a few hundred feet left of Second Avenue, the main thoroughfare. Across a steel bridge spanning the stream are rows of warehouses, packing plants, and the railroad tracks.
Situated approximately 20 miles from the site of the first American settlement in Washington Territory, Old Fort Okanogan, the town embraces the two prior settlements of Pogue and Alma. Okanogan began with the old trading post of “Pard” Cummings, established in 1886. At that time, river transportation was limited: only during May and June, when the water was high, could steamboats reach Okanogan. Consisting of little but a river landing and a general store for more than a decade, the settlement finally attracted other enterprises. Orchards blossomed near streams on the near-by flats. When irrigation from a reservoir at Conconully was obtained in 1906, it became a thriving town. The name Okanogan was adopted in November 1906. The Great Northern ran a branch line from Wenatchee in 1915, and the county seat was acquired, stimulating future growth.
From the river bank at Tyee Street, a curiously elevated “high bridge” once arched across the Okanogan River to its east bank. Lack of a bridge had troubled Okanogan citizens: Oroville and Riverside had spanned the Okanogan prior to 1907, but Okanogan still depended on a ferry. The building of the “high bridge,” now replaced by a steel structure, encouraged trade from the mines and farms and from the Native American reservation across the river. The steeply inclined bridge, widely ridiculed, permitted even the tallest steamer stacks to pass beneath it, with more than 11 feet to spare.