Historic Downtown Selah

The History of Selah

Excerpts from "Selah -- Thumbnail History"
By Alan J. Stein (7/12/13)

Early Selah

The city of Selah in Yakima County is located just north of Yakima above the confluence of the Naches and Yakima rivers. Its name comes from an Indian word meaning "still or smooth water."

For centuries, Yakama Indians camped near the confluence of the Wenas Creek and the Yakima River, where the water tended to swirl, thereby making it easier to catch fish. The tribe also found the fertile land in the valleys of Wenas and Selah creeks, which flow from west (Wenas) and east (Selah) into the YAkima River a few miles north of the confluence of the Yakima and the Naches, an excellent place to grow food.

In 1855, the Yakama Tribe was forced to cede its lands when Chief Kamiakin (ca. 1800-1877) signed the Treaty of Yakima under duress. The Yakima Reservation was established as the tribe's new home, but when gold was discovered on the Colville and Fraser rivers later that year, miners began trespassing on Yakama land on their way to the gold fields. This set off the Yakama Indian War, which lasted until 1858. Because of the conflict, non-Indian settlement in the Wenas and Selah valleys did not begin in earnest until the 1860s.

Early Settlement

The first [non-Indian] settler in what is now Selah was Alfred Henson, who in 1865 staked a claim on land that later became the Elks Gold and Country Club.

By 1905, Frank Charbonneau built and opened a small store in the Selah Valley to provide goods and services for local farmers. The store was only in operation for two years, but by the time it closed in 1907, A. E. Treat (1876-1949) had opened a mercantile business across from it. That same year, Gus Remington (!876-1950) and Olaf LArson arrived and began to transform Selah into a town.

The two Swedish immigrants built and opened the Selah Trading Company on their newly purchased property. They followed this with a feed store and a hotel, but just as Selah began to grow, a fire wiped out most of its businesses in 1908. [Following the fire] Remington and Larson built a new store, the Selah Mercantile Company, and other residents built a new hotel.

Remington placed ads in Swedish newspapers in the Midwest, enticing other immigrants to come farm the fertile Selah Valley. When newcomers arrived, he helped them set up their own businesses, and by 1912 Selah had a bank, a drug store, a livery stable, a meat market, and even a newspaper. Children were being taught in a brand new brick schools, from which the first high school class of nine students graduated in 1914.

In 1918, Selah boasted a population of nearly 200 residents, and the newspaper began promoting incorporation. But state law required that a town have 300 residents in order to incorporate, so local boosters waited until the fall harvest and the arrival of itinerant workers at local apple orchards and alfalfa farms. Some of these men were quickly signed up as citizens, and with a tally of 310 "residents," Selah promoters held a caucus in February 1919 to see if the townsfolk wished to incorporate. The official election was held in March, and of the 63 citizens who were present, all of them voted yes.

On March 17, 1919, the Board of County Commissioners of Yakima County validated the results, making Selah a municipality of the fourth class.

Education and Celebration

Selah was growing quickly. The town already had a brick school, but by the 1920s so many families were living in the area that a new high school was needed. It opened in 1926 and was filled with 154 students.

The opening of the high school also led to the town's first Community Days celebration. At the end of the school year a parade of floats, flower-festooned autos, and children on decorated bikes made its way through town to the high school grounds, where a picnic was held. The tradition of holding a town-wide summer gathering has continued into the twenty-first century.

Rising From the Depression

Like many farming communities, Selah was hit hard by the Great Depression of the 1930s. Families suffered through lower wages, and many local orchardists struggled to meet expenses. After riots broke out in the Yakima Valley between farmers and striking workers, the State Patrol and the National Guard were called in to protect local crops, and it was not uncommon to see machine gun-toting guardsmen patrolling Selah's streets.

After Prohibition ended in 1933, the Yakima Valley Brewing Company opened a brewery in Selah, which brought some work to town. For a time, Selah Springs beer was a very popular beverage in Central Washington, until the brewery went out of business in the 1950s.

One industry that gained a foothold in Selah during the Great Depression and has continued on until this day was apple-juice production. What started out as a small processing plan grew into a vibrant industry by the 1950s and was taken over by the grower-owned Tree Top co-operative in 1960. Selah has since become known as the "Apple Juice Capitol of the World."

From Town to City

Selah saw considerable growth after World War II, when many new businesses -- including fruit and vegetable packers, dairies, creameries, and other agricultural endeavors -- set up shop. Whereas Selah's population in 1930 was less than 800 people, by the end of the 1950s it had blossomed to more than 2,500.

The population remained relatively stable during the 1960s, but by the 1970s it shot upward again as more people discovered the town as a fine bedroom community for those working in nearby Yakima.

The growth continued. In 2010, Selah boasted a population of 7,147, almost 2,000 more than were counted in the 2000 census.