Early Wenatchee Stories: The Creation of Chelan County 1899
The Creation of Chelan County 1899
WVMCC Board Member and Collections Volunteer
Wenatchee and the Chelan area were all part of Okanogan County from 1888 to 1899. In 1883 Kittitas County was created and bordered Okanogan County to the south of the Wenatchee River. So who was responsible for the creation of Chelan County in 1899? The Honorable M.E. Field. He lived at Stehekin and was a Washington State legislator from the vast Okanogan County. In addition to being a State Legislator, Field owned a large popular Resort at the end of Lake Chelan, the Field Hotel.
Okanogan County encompassed a large area with the mining town of Conconully as the county seat. Steamboats on the Columbia River offered the only transportation to Brewster and it was a ride on the Stage or horseback thereafter to the northern-most parts of North Central Washington. People living in Wenatchee Valley had to traverse Colockum Pass (a dirt road) to Ellensburg for supplies before the railroad arrived in 1892.This was rough country in those days; law enforcement was spread out around the large county and often people took the law into their own hands.
As more people came to the region and business increased, pioneers insisted that something be done. On this issue, M.E. Field campaigned in every precinct of then Okanogan County. It was his idea to go the State legislature to see if a county could be formed that they could call their own. His achievement during the 1899 legislature was unbelievable.
In less than two weeks, M.E. Field had drawn the bill which was then introduced and passed through both houses, and signed by Governor John R. Rogers. It was said later, that a bill of this kind would normally require up to two or more years to get passed by the legislator. Field later revealed that the passing of the bill was a surprise to his constituents and up to his dying day said the bill was passed and signed before most people were aware. He further said, “My constituents went to sleep in one county and woke up in another”.
In his later years, M.E. Field continued to run his hotel and tourist enterprise until about 1926 when the Chelan Electric Company bought the land for the purpose of enlargement of water storage capacity of Lake Chelan. The water level was expected to increase by about 21 feet. Field then devoted his attention to growing apples until his passing in 1949.
M.E. Field said “We are happy for the creation of Chelan County as the most geographical center of state, hydroelectric power, more fertile soil for fruit and agricultural products, and climate. Plus we have the most beautiful lake in the world.”
Ken Cramer is a Wenatchee Valley Museum Board Member and regular volunteer in the museum Collections Department. As Ken and his wife, Bev, work through the reference files that have been collected over the past several decades, they come across many interesting stories. Ken is writing these blog posts to share some of these stories with others.