Ellensburg History

While there is evidence of Native American inhabitants spanning back more than 300 years, western settlers first arrived in Ellensburg in the late 1860's. It is an excellent area for farming and the first wheat was harvested in 1868. John A. Shoudy moved to the area and purchased a trading post called “Robber’s Roost” in 1871. It was the first business in the area besides trading that had occurred among Indians, trappers, cattle drivers, and miners that settled in the area. He named the town that sprung up after his wife, Ellen Shoudy. Shoudy platted the city in the 1870s naming the streets in the downtown district. The city was officially incorporated in 1883.

Historic Davidson Building

Ellensburg grew quickly in the late 19th century. The first sawmill was established near the town in the early 1870s and others followed. The sawmills prospered as settlers built homes and railroads expanded into the area. Several old historic brick remain from this era in town. The Davidson Building, which was built in 1890, still stands at the northeast corner of Pearl and 4th Streets. Robber's Roost was located on the present–day Third Avenue near Main Street. A placard and small stone monument still stand at the location commemorating the business' history.

Ellensburg was nearly the capital of the state of Washington. It had a booming population in the 1880s and its advocates also noted its fertile land, good rail access and central location. Ellensburg also had excellent infrastructure for the time. By 1888, Ellensburg had electric lighting and all the hotels and several streets were lighted. Water was also piped into the city.

Residents were so fervent in becoming the state's capital that in 1889, Brittain A. Craig, who was co–owner of the Capital Hill Water Works, and his brother Samuel Craig built a prospective governor's mansion. Nonetheless, Ellensburg lost its bid and the city of Olympia officially became the capital of the newly admitted state of Washington on November 4, 1890. Ellensburg's chance to get the capital was adversely affected by a destructive downtown fire that occurred on the evening of July 4, 1889. The town was consumed by flames and residents had to focus their efforts on rebuilding.

Much of Ellensburg's subsequent growth stems from the establishment of Central Washington University, which was founded in the city in 1891 as Washington State Normal School. Ellensburg was selected by the state legislature as the location for the new school as a consolation prize after the city lost its bid to be the state capital.