Greater Kent Historical Museum

History of Kent and Kent Valley
(Condensed Version)

Home Local History

Compiled from History of King County, Washington
By Clarence B. Bagley published 1929

The first white settler in what is now the Kent Valley was Samuel Russell. In the spring of 1853, he came by canoe up the Duwamish and White Rivers and established a claim 2/3 mile Southeast of what is now downtown Kent. Other settlers and their families soon followed, coming up the river by canoe or into the Valley by way of the recently opened Naches Pass. Claims were established by Joseph Brannons, George Kings, Harvey Jones, Enos Coopers, Moses Kirklands, William Coxes, John Thomases, R.H. Beattys, David A Neelys and the C.C. Thompsons.

In 1853, Washington became a territory of the United States and Isaac Stevens was appointed both Territorial Governor and Superintended of Indian Affairs. Stevens moved quickly to resolve the Indian Land rights issue by signing a series of treaties with the Puget Sound Indians. In this way the settlers could legally acquire title to their claims. The Skope-ahmish, Smalh-kamish, and the St-kah-mish peoples were apparently included in the Point Elliott Treaty of 1855 with the "saltwater" peoples, the Duwamish, Snoqualmie, and Snohomish. This treaty ceded the Indian lands and established one reservation approximately forty section in size near the Snoqualmie and Snohomish lands. The White and Green River, or "inland" people opposed this treaty as they were unwilling to leave their hunting and fishing grounds to live on a "saltwater" reservation with people traditionally their enemies.

White settlers meanwhile were continuing to move into the area although by terms of the treaties the Indians were not to move until the treaties were ratified. The nomadic Indian culture required considerable territory to support a relatively small populations. Land itself could not be owned or possessed, rather, it was part of their religious heritage. The conflict between the Indians use and concept of land and the white settlers farming activities and "ownership" concept was inevitable. Without going into the question of fairness of the treaties or the white Americans poor understanding of the Indian culture, it can be said that by 1855, the Indians realized that if they were to maintain their way of life, they would have to stop White settlement of their sacred lands.

As previously indicated, the White River Indian bands were particularly unsatisfied with the Point Elliot Treaty. As "inland" peoples, they also had close ties with the Indian bands living east of the Cascades and these bands were intent on ending the encroachment of the settlers. Hostilities east of the mountains had already begun.

On October 28, 1855, the White River Indians attacked White River settlers killing nine in what became known as the "White River Massacre". Other settlers, including the Russells, had left for Seattle earlier, fearing a possible Indian attack. In January 1856, Seattle was attacked unsuccessfully, and the Indians withdrew to the upper Green River. Skirmishes between Indians and soldiers continued, and the "end of the Indian war west of the Cascades" occurred on March 10, 1856, on the Muckleshoot Prairie. There, under Chief Leshchi of the Nisqually, the Nisqually, Puyallup, "Muckleshoot", and Klickitat Indians were defeated by Army soldiers. Chief Lechi was later hanged. The upper White and Green River Indians surrendered and were relocated on the Muckleshoot Prairie by Fort Muckleshoot instead of the saltwater reservation designated by the Point Elliott Treaty. This effectively ended the Indian way of life. Those bands relocated on the Muckleshoot Reservation later became known as the Muckleshoot Tribe.

By 1857, White River settlers were able to return to their clams. The Neelys, Russells, Brannons, and Thomases returned and continued the task of clearing their lands. Ezra Meeker also came to the area to survey and became a well-known resident. A new era was beginning - the next one hundred years would bring remarkable changes to the character of the White River Valley.

The early White River settlers cleared their land with the help of Indian labor. At first, settlers established small subsistence farms and would travel by canoe to Seattle to sell surplus produce and purchase needed provisions. These early farmers were generally poor; producing butter, eggs and vegetables such as onions, potatoes, and cabbage. Farming was supplemented by growing fruit trees and livestock as well as hunting and fishing.

In 1853, the Military Road between Seattle and Fort Steilacoom had been opened, but travel on it was difficult and the road was generally passable only in summer. Most travel was by means of canoe on the river or by foot on Indian trains. In the early 1860's, the first flat-bottom scows were run up the river as far as O'Brian. The scows were slow - the trip from Seattle to O'Brian took four days. By 1865, a number of scows were on the river, as were several ferries, the Langston and Van Doren ferries being the best known. Bridges over the river were not constructed until 1883. The few roads that were built were dirt and served mainly to provide access to the river. In low, marshy areas the roads were constructed by laying slabs of cedar across long poles, like ties - these were known as "puncheon" roads.

The small settlements of Thomas, Christopher, O'Brien (an Irish Catholic settlement), Orillia and what is now Kent and Auburn (Slaughter) were then generally known as "White River". Orillia was first known as the Adams Claim, after being settled by Henry Adams in 1853. O'Brien was first settled by the O'Brien brothers in 1868. In 1861, the first White River Post Office was established. This Post Office was located at the Neely residence (near O'Brien) and soon thereafter; this area became the center for Valley activities. In 1867 the Post Office was moved to Langston's Landing (located approximately 100 yards downstream from the West Valley Highway bridge). This area also became a center of the Valley activities, including the opening of the first White River School in 1869. In the 1860's and 1870's both Catholic and Protestant missionaries came to White River.

In 1878, J.J. Crow planted and harvested the first hop fields in the Kent Valley, after obtaining hop roots from Ezra Meeker in Puyallup. The high yields and profits from the hops attracted other farmers and soon hop growing spread through most of the Valley. In 1888, in Kent alone, nearly on million pounds of hops were harvested. Local farmers were able to enjoy several years of prosperity and the White River Valley became well known as a major hop growing center.

The hop boom led to improvements in the transportation system. In the early 1870's, Captain Simon Peter Randolph had dredged and cleared the White River and the Black River between the Duwamish and the outlet of Lake Washington. In 1871, he ran the first steamboat up river. As the popularity of the steamboats increased, there came to be as many as 5 or 6 sternwheelers operating on the White River. The steamboat Lily, skippered by Captain James Crow, was the best known. Alvord's and Van Doren's landings were the principal landing sites. Alvord's landing was located approximately 200 yards south of the "T" Bridge on 1st Avenue South, and was the last regular landing on the upper end of the river run.

Supplies were landed here for settlers around Thomas, as well as the Alvord ranch itself. Van Doren's Landing was located where the present 220th street intersects the river. Van Dorens ran a cable ferry as well as a store in the nearby community of Maddocksville. Riverboat travel ended about 1887 as other modes of transportation became available. In 1883 the Puget Sound Shore Railroad was built.

The hop boom of the 1880's also led to selections of "Kent" as the name for the growing town. In 1884 the Puget Sound Shore Railroad was built through Kent, it later became the Northern Pacific Railroad. Prior to this time the west side of Kent was known as Yesler and the east side as Titusville, and there was disagreement as to what name the town should have. In 1884, H.L. Yesler platted the Town of Yesler. With the coming of the railroad, one name for the depot was needed. The Post Office also desired a single name for the town. Consequently, the name Kent was chosen after the English hop-growing center, Kent Count, England.

The first plat of the Town of Kent was made in 1888 by John Alexander and Ida Guiberson. Platting activities then continued with the Ezra Meeker (Meeker's First Addition), Washington Central Improvement Company, Crow, Clark, and Shinn plats.

Commercial logging was also becoming active during the period. The Kent Lumber Company was opened in 1881 and began the clearing of the East Hill. Peter Saar and Company opened a sawmill in 1884 at Mill Creek. West Hill was also logged in the late 1800's and for the next forty years logging was one of Kent's principal activities - at the turn of the century sawmills in the Kent area employed approximately 350 men.

In 1884 the first hotel, "The Titusville House" (located at 1st Ave and Meeker Street) was built and a small drug store and blacksmith shop were opened. In 1888 the Kent Water Company began pumping water from a spring on the Crow farm on the East Hill, and in 1890 the first electric lights were installed.

The hop boom lasted ten years. A heavy decline began in 1889, and by 1893 hops were no longer commercially grown in the Valley. This decline was due to lower yields, appearance of the hop louse, and lower market prices for hops.

The national depression of the early 1890's and the decline of the hop industry resulted in great losses to Valley farmers. Many farmers were required to mortgage their lands and were later faced with foreclosure. Sporadic failure of hops and other crops caused Valley lands to frequently come under the ownership of the Seattle merchants and bankers to whom debts were owed. As times improved, the Valley farmers were generally able to redeem their land and reestablish themselves financially.

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Copyright 2000 Greater Kent Historical Museum
Last modified: February 11, 2003