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Walla Walla's history

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Walla Walla, Then & Now™

Using vintage images and current-day photographs taken from the same vantage point, City of Walla Walla Communications Manager Brenden Koch creates then-and-now views of Walla Walla scenes. Check back here occasionally to see what's new (and old).

Valencia Street houses  Second and Main looking north  City Hall            


Whitman Hotel Then & Now thumbnail


Walla Walla's post-contact history 

Walla Walla is a First Nations name meaning "many waters." In 1805, when Lewis and Clark traveled by the mouth of a small river flowing into the Columbia River, they met a group of Native Americans who told them their name for the small river was "Wallah Wallah." So Lewis and Clark called the Indian tribe by the same name as the river.

A few years later, a fur-trading post was set up at the mouth of the river and was called Fort Walla Walla. In 1836, American missionaries Marcus and Narcissa Whitman established the first European-American settlement on the river.

The U.S. Cavalry in 1856 established a new Fort Walla Walla about 20 miles east, where our city is now located, to enforce the Indian treaty and protect the settlers. Our city was originally called Steptoeville, named after the officer in charge of the fort. However, he lost a battle with the Native Americans, as well as his reputation, so the name of the town changed to Walla Walla on Nov. 7, 1859. For a few years, it was the largest town west of Minneapolis and north of San Francisco. Now, it is a small city of about 34,000.

Al Jolson, a famous entertainer, is said to have visited Walla Walla and called it "the town so nice they named it twice."

The Walla Walla Valley is a place where scenic beauty, incredible wineries, enticing restaurants, cultural inspiration, outdoor adventures, and small town friendliness come together.

A vibrant reflection of the past and the present, downtown Walla Walla is the place where you begin to discover what makes the city so special. A walk down tree-lined streets reveals an eclectic mix of vintage shops, boutiques, cafes, bookstores, tasting rooms, and restaurants. Our downtown has been recognized time and again as one of the best small-town Main Streets in the country.

Walla Walla has long been known as one of the most fertile agricultural areas in the nation, producing many crops, including the famous Walla Walla Sweet Onions. The town has become world renowned for its wine, and there are more than 100 wineries in the area.

We have many beautiful parks here, including the 50-acre Pioneer Park. John Langdon created the initial park design with assistance from John Charles Olmsted, nephew of Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park in New York City and was known as the father of American landscape architecture.

If you are interested in viewing vintage images of Walla Walla, please visit Bygone Walla Walla, a large collection of local images collected by Joe Drazan.

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