Kennewick Washington History

Kennewick, whose name is believed to mean “grassy place” in a native tongue, makes up one-third of the famous Tri-Cities region of Washington and is the largest and most populous of the three Tri-Cities communities (the other two cities are Pasco and Richland). In fact, with well over 60,000 residents, Kennewick is the largest city in the entire Benton County. The dynamic and bustling community of Kennewick, which has been around as an “official” city for more than a century now, is also situated near the convergence of the popular Columbia River, Yakima River, and Snake River of the Tri-Cities area.

Kennewick, or “Grassy Place” for the region’s tall, grassy fields, was first home to the Chemnapum Indians, who would gather, camp, trade, fish, and pasture their horses there before Kennewick was even considered a city. It was technically recognized as a city on the day it was incorporated: February 5, 1904. Before its official city incorporation, Kennewick was known by a few other names, including the strange moniker “Tehe,” which allegedly refers to a specific native girl’s laugh when she reacted to being asked for the name of the area. Kennewick was also known as “Winter Paradise” and “Winter Haven”—and can even be translated as such. These names sometimes remain even today, because this Tri-Cities community is notorious for its mild winters and generally mild weather.

The Northern Pacific Railroad

In its earliest days after its incorporation, Kennewick soon became known in the region for the Northern Pacific Railroad, which was a major industry at the time, employing many railroad workers, and it also started bringing water into the new town through an irrigation canal. Kennewick was also renowned for its famous grape juice factory and the creamery, all three of which were the community’s main employers for many years. Agriculture also became a major staple of Kennewick’s slowly blossoming community.

The Kennewick Man

Kennewick is also historically well-known for the famous and slightly controversial “Kennewick Man,” the name given to the remains of a prehistoric man retrieved on the Columbia River banks close to Kennewick, at Columbia Park. The ownership of Kennewick Man, who, according to some, has some Caucasian features, even though he’s of indigenous ancestry from approximately 9,200 years ago, has been long debated in the Tri-Cities area and Washington state. The Kennewick Man discovery is considered of international significance. In addition, the bones of a woolly mammoth were discovered and unearthed in Kennewick.

Once the 1940s hit the Tri-Cities area, the era transformed the community of Kennewick, which was, incidentally, chosen as the Manhattan Project site, into a bustling, thriving, and growing city—its population grew from 1,900 to 15,000 within that decade. Since then, Kennewick has grown into a city of more than 60,000, is larger than the other two Tri-cities (Pasco and Richland), and is supported by its prosperous economy built upon retail trade, as well as food processing and light industry.