Steilacoom is the oldest incorporated town in Washington, with a founding date of January 1851. A Maine sea captain named Lafayette Balch called the town Port Steilacoom after the Native American tribe in the area. Balch helped develop Steilacoom’s economy, and the early settlers hoped that it would become the next San Francisco. The people who live in the relaxed, quiet town today are probably glad that it didn’t.
Located in Pacific County north of Long Beach, Oysterville was settled in 1841 by John Douglas, who married a local Chinook woman. It was officially established in 1854 by J.A. Clark, who named it appropriately since it was a major oyster farming hub. Then, during a county seat war in February 1893, all of the county records and books were stolen in order to move the county seat from Oysterville to South Bend. It made the list of the National Register of Historic Districts in 1976.
When he was 14, Jacob Anthes left Germany and crossed the Atlantic to find new adventures (and avoid military service). When he reached Seattle, a businessman hired him to reside on a wild tract of homestead on Whidbey Island so that the businessman could ratify the homestead rights to the land. Jacob ended up loving it and bought 120 acres for $100. He filed a homestead in 1886, eventually buying a tract in 1890 that became the Town of Langley. He clearly chose well.
Thorp was settled in 1868 after some tension with the Native American tribes who called it home. Luckily, the confrontation ended with Smohalia, a legendary prophet of the natives, and Rev. George W. Kennedy resolving to live together in peace. The Thorp Grist Mill is currently the only remaining mill in Washington State that made the transition from stone buhr to modern rollers. It was built in the early 1880s, and it has been restored so locals and visitors can get a glimpse of history.
Spangle was established in 1872 by William Spangle, and the town was officially incorporated in 1888. Some people believe that this is where Butch Cassidy died from cancer in 1937, but the rumor remains unconfirmed.
Roy is a great example of a town that has overcome its early obstacles. This farming community outside of Tacoma thrived in the early 1900s and then faced three major blows: a major fire in 1929, the Great Depression, and the railroad discontinuing using it. Today the small town of 800 is going strong, and they celebrate every year with the Roy Pioneer Rodeo.
Tekoa is a tiny town of about 800 people, located in Whitman County. It’s a quiet place to live and farm now, but it was once a busy hub for railroads in the area. It was first settled in 1888, and the townsite was platted two years later. It was named after the Biblical town.
This little town is home to about 1,100 people, and it was an exciting place to be in the late 1800s when it was founded by gold prospectors. They originally called it Eureka, but when a post office was established around 1900, the authorities rejected the name. There was already a Eureka located in Clark County. The citizens decided to honor the Great Republic mining claim (the highest producer of gold) when they renamed the town.
You’ll find Wilkeson in a narrow valley in the Cascade foothills of northern Pierce County. In 1874, Wilkeson coal, which was needed to fuel the shipping indistry, was brought to Tacoma by wagon. The Northern Pacific Railway was soon looking at the area, and eventually the Puyallup branch of the railroad opened from Tacoma to the Wilkeson depot. The coal mines played a big role in the town’s early economy, providing thousands of jobs for European immigrants and Chinese laborers. Only about 500 people call the town home now, but it still has a historic charm.
10. La Conner
La Conner is now known as the perfect weekend getaway destination in Washington, but its history goes back thousands of years. Originally home to the Swinomish Tribe, it was settled in the early 1860s, making it Skagit County’s oldest town. It was deeded to John Conner for $500 in 1869, and he added the “La” to honor his wife, Louisa A. Conner.
During the 1860s, hopeful gold miners taking the White Bluffs Road trail to Montana stopped in what is now Davenport to camp and rest near the natural springs. The town was officially founded in 1883 by John C. Davenport, who quickly built a store, saloon, blacksmith shop and warehouse. Unfortunately it was destroyed by a fire the next year. The burned-out businesses relocated down the hill, and the new Davenport (established 1890) remains there to this day.
12. Port Townsend
OK, so technically Port Townsend is a city, but it’s just too amazing not to mention. It was once known as the “City of Dreams” because of early speculation that it would be the largest harbor on the West Coast. The first non-natives settled there in 1851, and some of them befriended Chief Chetzemoka, who helped grant permission for the white settlers to stay. Port Townsend was booming in the late 1800s, when it was a well-known seaport and Victorian homes were being built left and right. The boom ended in the 1890s when the Northern Pacific Railroad failed to connect the city to Tacoma, but what remains is a gorgeous historic town Washingtonians love to visit.