Home of the Washington State University, and a commercial, grain storage, and shipping center, lies on the eastern edge of the wheat belt, only six miles west of the Idaho Line. On three sides of the town are the fertile, treeless hills of the Palouse, and on the east, beyond a rolling plain, are the forested foothills of the Moscow Mountains. Flowing through the town in a northwesterly direction is South Fork, a branch of the Palouse River.
The business district of Pullman centers at the intersection of Grand Street, identical with US 195, and Main Street, once the route of a Native American trail, and spreads over a hollow formed by three valleys. Modern stone, brick, and concrete buildings line the paved streets, with a few older structures standing here and there. Adjacent to the business area on the northwest is the industrial section, where numerous grain elevators, produce houses, and warehouses bordered the many railroad sidings.
Pullman began in the late 1870s when Bolin Farr, a young cattleman, and two others filed homestead claims here. In rapid succession two stores, a tavern, a sawmill, a land agency, a school, and a church were established as settlers came to Three Forks, the name given the townsite when it was platted in 1882. Two years later, the town was renamed for George Pullman, the sleeping-car magnate. In 1885, the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company’s railroad was completed as far as the town, and in 1888 the Northern Pacific’s branch was extended from Spokane. Succeeding years were marked by the rapid expansion of farming in the surrounding area and a corresponding growth of Pullman. Newspapers started and failed; twice the town was nearly destroyed by fire; artesian wells were developed. Depressions came, with the accompanying low price for wheat, failure of business houses, and closing of banks; but recovery followed, and slowly the town grew into the modern city of today.
Pullman is the commercial and cultural nerve center for the agricultural area around it; but in addition the town has another life, derived from the Washington State University. The thousands of students who flow into the town during the school year build a world of their own there, and the influence of the institution flows out into the surrounding countryside.
Shortly after Washington became a state, a commission was appointed to select a place for an agricultural land-grant college. When the citizens of Pullman learned that the commissioners were due to visit their town, word was sent out for everyone to appear in the streets on the day set, to create an impression of great bustle and enterprise. The strategy proved successful. The commissioners found Pullman with the air of a boom town—cattlemen on horseback, farmers in their buckboards, pedestrians crowding the sidewalks and stores, two artesian wells spouting. The city offered 150 acres of land and $12,000 in cash, and on January 13, 1892, the Washington Agricultural College opened its doors as a co-educational institution to 46 students. In 1917, the name was changed to the State College of Washington (commonly called Washington State College), and in 1960 to Washington State University.