Naches Train Depot before and after pictures

Naches Train Depot – then and now

Naches, Washington is located at the foot of Mt. Clemans on State Highway SR12, approximately twelve miles northwest of the city of Yakima. It is a small town of 756 people, located in a farming area on the foothills of the Cascade Mountain Range. A large quantity of fruit, including apples, pears, cherries and peaches are grown on the rolling hills and river valley surrounding the town. The number of privately owned warehouses and growers’ cooperatives indicates the large crop of fruit that is taken from the valley each year. Naches is the gateway to a large forested area in the Cascade Mountains to the west, where logging operations are carried on. At one time, lumbering kept many of the residents busy in all phases of the industry, from the forest to the kiln dried products ready for market. Due to a variety of reasons the large lumber mill located on the west edge closed in 2006.

Called “Natchez” by the Indians, the town’s name means “rough, turbulent water” taken from the swift moving Naches River flowing through the valley. The town has had several different spellings, but in 1908 the United States Postal Authorities changed the name to its current spelling.

Establishment of a Post Office

The Natchez area post office was first established on June 6, 1878. It was discontinued in December of 1881, and reestablished in January of 1882, only to be discontinued again in November of 1885. Finally on July 28, 1906, the first permanent post office was located in Naches and thus, the final name change occurred in 1908.

One of the first permanent settlers to the Naches area was Elijah Denton, who found the sagebrush flats inviting. Denton and other settlers began raising sheep, dairy, and beef cattle in the Naches Valley in the 1870s.

Historic Town Hall and Fire Station

Historic Fire Station and Town Hall

Early Naches Area Schools

In 1872, two school districts were organized near Naches. To the east was School District No. 12, known as Kincaid or East Eureka, and to the west was School District No. 18, known as Clark or West Eureka. (Eureka came close to being the name of the town instead of Naches). In 1885, South Naches or Etolia School District No. 21 was established. In 1908, School District No. 83 was organized in Naches. In 1910, consolidation began with the surrounding districts. By 1917, Naches was to honor its first high school graduate, Willard Sedge.

The first school building was erected on the NE corner of Sinclair Avenue and 2nd Street (present location of the Naches Presbyterian Church). As school enrollment increased, it became evident a high school was needed, so in 1922, one was built on the hill at the north end of Naches Avenue. As enrollment continued to increase, Naches residents voted to build a second high school on Shafer Avenue that opened in 1938. The old high school on the hill was converted into the Naches Grade School. In 1944, Lower Naches and Naches School Districts were joined creating the Naches Valley School District, Joint #3. In 1978, the current high school was ready for occupancy, and the old high school on Shafer Avenue became the Naches Valley Middle School. In 1994, that building was partially demolished and anew, modern, technologically advanced Middle School was built to house students from grades 5-8.

Early Development of the Town

In 1905, the land company of West and Wheeler started platting the Naches town site on land originally homesteaded by the Denton’s, Newton Hecox, and Abner Sinclair. Prior to this time, settlers were arriving in the Naches Valley primarily to farm. Harry Painter (grandfather of past Mayor Douglas MacNeil) arrived in 1896 to begin a thriving creamery business in which farmers found a new prosperity coming their way. Many large homes still found in the Nile, Wenas, and Lower Naches were built with creamery money. In 1905, Mr. Painter built the first store in Naches on the SW corner of Moxee Avenue and 2nd Street (currently the yard of Harvey Keezer). Lumber for the store was hauled by horse and wagon from a mill in the Wenas.

By 1906, the population of the Naches area was growing so rapidly that Alfred Penney plotted twenty acres of his land adjoining the town on the west for a new housing development. Between January 31 and May 13, 1907, the town’s population grew to 300 residents and a town water system was then under construction. Instrumental to the town’s growth was the operation of the North Yakima and Valley Railway, whose terminus was at Naches. This road was constructed by local enterprise as a corporation with George Donald president of the Yakima National Bank at its head. After its first year of operation, the railroad was hauling substantial tonnage of product to market and increasing its passenger service into a steady profit. The North Yakima and Valley Railway continued to operate as a local enterprise until its eventual absorption by Northern Pacific Railroad in 1914.

Naches is as far west as the railroad extends, and has been the jump off point for several large water control projects. All of the materials for the Bumping Lake Dam (completed in 1910), and the larger Rimrock Dam and Reservoir project (completed in 1925), were taken off the train at Naches and hauled by teams and wagons approximately thirty-five miles west to the building sites. The original historic depot still stands in Naches (SW comer of Naches Avenue and Railroad Street), and serves as a Visitor Center and Community meeting place. In addition, a Federal Building was constructed in Naches to oversee the Reclamation projects. The Federal Building, now known as the Starkey Building, still stands at 609 2nd Street. Both the railroad and dam projects encouraged population growth in the area.

The young town’s commercial development, ca. 1911, included two general stores, a hotel, two pool halls, a butcher shop, two blacksmith shops, the Naches State Bank (still standing at the NW Corner of Moxee Avenue and 2nd Street), a post office, and a telephone exchange. A Presbyterian Mission was started in the Naches Valley in 1885 to meet the religious needs of the settlers. In 1893, the Naches Presbyterian Church was organized and their first church was constructed near the foot of the Wenas Grade. In 1908, the building was moved to a site on the west side of Moxee Avenue between 2nd and 3rd streets. Today, this building is the home of St: John’s Catholic Church. Commercial and social activity needs were met by the Fruit Growers’ Association, a lodge of Modern Woodmen of America (currently the club house for the Naches Boot & Spur Club), the Naches Social Club, the Commercial Club, and a grange.

Irrigation and Agriculture Grows

Provision of irrigation and domestic potable water also led to growth of the town, Water for irrigation and domestic usage by the town and northern Yakima was supplied by the Wapatox Canal. Through a gravity flow system, water was fed the length of the valley as it passed along the southern base of the mountains on the north side of the Naches River. Pressurized pipe lines then extended out from the central canal to individual user properties. Electrical power to “all parts of the valley below Selah” was provided by the Naches Power Plant which made use of the canal’s waters for provision of electrical power.

Denton purchased one half of the 500 cherry and apple trees brought into the valley by J.M. Kincaid and “Preacher” Capps in 1878, and the three of them started the fruit industry in the valley. The nature of Naches Valley agriculture began to change after 1900 and the impacts of national irrigation, farm type, and crop preference were to evolve as well. The era of open range grazing of cattle and sheep had ended with the coming of the railroad. The combination of several severe winters during the 1880-1890 period caused heavy cattle losses and, at the same time, competition for access to range and water was increasing.

By 1911, agriculture in the Naches Valley was represented by fenced ranches of beef cattle, sheep, and dairy herds, as well as ranches of hay, alfalfa, clover, and young orchards, all irrigated. However, fruit growing was more common in the vicinity of Naches, with orchard operations typically ranging in size from 5 to 40 acres. According to McCormick (1911), large commercial orchard operations were just coming into bearing at this time: apple, pear, peach, cherry, and other small fruit orchards were beginning to dominate the agricultural output of the area at the expense of hay production. The expanding fruit industry was to further stimulate other types of industrial endeavors. Naches became the site of lumber mills and box factories which produced wooden shipping containers for agricultural produce. Both the abundance of local fruit and the Cascade Mountains ample timber resources favored the location of agricultural-related industrial growth.

The Town of Naches Incorporates

By 1920, the Naches Commercial Club was exerting its influence to incorporate the town. Incorporation occurred in 1922 and Lewis Smith, a local merchant, was elected as mayor.

Physical Setting

Naches rests at the foot of Mount Clemans on State Highway SR12, approximately 12 miles northwest of the city of Yakima. The lands around Naches consist mainly of orchards and the foothills of the Cascade Mountain Range.

Residential development, streets and rights of way, schools, and agriculture comprise the most predominant land uses in Naches, accounting for 25.8%, 23.8%, 17.3% and 16.4% of the town’s total acreage respectively (1995).

The existing pattern of land use has been shaped by agriculture, logging, and their related industries. The introduction of rail transportation, dam construction, and intensification of irrigation efforts has also encouraged growth within the community.

Doug Mac Neil shares The Naches Story

The Naches Story: Bitts, Pieces, Facts and Figures of Naches History from the 1850s to 2023

Thank you to Doug Mac Neil for his tireless efforts to compile information on Naches’ history!  Download Doug Mac Neil’s “The Naches Story“.  (162 pages)