For many years it was the headquarters of Yakama Indian Reservation. The surrounding area is extremely fertile. In 1885, the Native American name for this place was given to the railroad station by the Northern Pacific Railway Company. In 1853, Capt. George McClellan mapped the place as Sahpenis. On some old maps the name is spelled Topinish.
Toppenish (“people from the foot of the hills”), like Yakima, is divided by railroad tracks. Old frame structures, relics of the early days, once stood beside staunch modern brick buildings. Hotels and stores with long, wide, creaky verandas lined sections of the main streets. On Saturday nights during the harvest season, the streets were crowded with hop and fruit pickers; whole families exchanged their meager wages for high-priced groceries and cheap entertainment.
Potatoes of a high quality were raised around Toppenish. In 1909, the Northern Pacific Railway began featuring a giant baked potato in its advertising, and the large symmetrical tubers grown here played no small part in popularizing the slogan: “Route of the Big Baked Potato.” Other important agricultural products were sugar beets, alfalfa, wheat, corn, watermelons, cantaloupes, and fruit.