History of Thorp



Until the mid-1850s, the Kittitas Valley saw little encroachment by pioneer settlers. But in 1853 the first immigration wagon trains passed through. Miners followed, and cattlemen supplied those mines. These first adventurous families were the Splawns and the Thorps, and they united in 1863 with the marriage of Charles Splawn to Dulcina Thorp. Early settlers focused on the valley of the Taneum Canyon, which provided shelter for their wintering cattle, as well as water, and fertile soils for agriculture.


By the late1860s, settlers were beginning to trickle into the Kittitas Valley. Charles and Dulcina Splawn were among them, as well as Tillman Houser, who brought his family over Snoqualmie pass to settle on Coleman Creek, Martin Dervan and his wife, and F.M. Thorp. Irrigation ditches were begun and cattle running gave way to farming.


In 1878, James L. Mills walked over the old trail from Puget Sound and saw great possibilities in the Kittitas Valley. He built a saw mill, diverting water from the Yakima River to turn its wheels. But he was no ordinary business man. He was tinkerer and an inventor. Not content with a simple sawmill, he devised a way for the same wheels to power the grist mill which Oren Hutchinson created to provide feed for livestock and flour for the local residents. The reservoir for this system also served as a log pond for the saw mill. Added to these was a second reservoir to serve as an ice pond. Much later, in 1906, the same wheels that turned the mills would be used to generate electricity. To be sure, many others had a hand in this development, but it seems clear that the vision and the guiding hand were Mills’.


A few words must be said about the importance of Hutchinson’s North Star Mill. Although we now take enriched flour for granted, in the latter part of the 19th century, the nutritional content of flour ground with the wheat germ intact was vast improvement over flour ground without the wheat germ, and contributed greatly to the health of settlers in developing communities. However, the presence of wheat germ also meant that the flour would spoil quickly, especially in the heat of summer. A local mill allowed area residents to process smaller quantities of wheat at a time. In addition, the grist mill processed other grains for animal feed. Locals were able to "fatten out" stock intended for market and to keep their working stock in better condition.


Still, the town of Thorp, as we know it today, might never have come to be but for the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railroad. While some of the initial settlement was undoubtedly influenced by the confluence of trails which would eventually cross Snoqualamie Pass, it was the location of the Cascade Spur that ultimately determined the location of the town. The Northern Pacific had been working its way up the canyon of the Yakima River. In 1895, it reached the head of the canyon and a depot was built there. The town of Thorp developed around this depot. The first development was directly related to the railroad and included maintenance facilities, shipping facilities and warehouses. But the railroad also brought opportunities for business and employment. Three blocks were plotted around the depot. Houses and businesses sprang up in these blocks. Small farms appeared around the edges.


As in many western regions, settlement and development patterns in the Kittitas Valley were greatly influenced — one might even say determined— by developments in transportation. The addition of a Milwaukee Railroad depot in Thorp, the establishment of bridges across the previously imposing barrier of the Yakima River, and the eventual location of Highway 10 all played vital roles in the changing population and economic conditions that shaped this small community and continue to influence it today.