Washington - History and Heritage

Washington's history is an ancient one chronicling more than 10,000 years of mankind's existence in the region with over 11,000 documented archaeological sites. Traces of these early civilizations are revealed in ancient quarries, campsites, caves, pictographs, petroglyphs and the 9,300-year-old remains of Kennewick Man.

Prior to the arrival of European explorers, the area was home to several Pacific Indian tribes, each with their own unique culture. Today, Washington is home to 26 Indian reservations and icons of Northwest Indian culture—salmon fishing, dugout canoes, totem poles, powwows and potlatches still abound in museum photographs and exhibits, while the arts, crafts and celebrations may still be experienced at the reservations themselves.

The Colville Indian Reservation, one of the largest in the state, encompasses 1.4 million acres and over 5,000 residents. Prior to the 1850s and the influx of white settlers, the ancestors of the 12 Colville Tribes were nomadic. An order executed by President Grant in 1872 created the Confederated Tribes of Colville Reservation, now covering much of the Okanogan highlands and valleys in the northern part of the state.

On the Port Madison Indian Reservation, the Suquamish Museum portrays the lifestyle of the Suquamish people, descendents of Chief Seattle, before and after the coming of white settlers. Rated by Smithsonian magazine as the best historical museum of Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest, the museum constructs a comprehensive picture through photographs, artifacts and recorded interviews.

Since time immemorial, the Nimiipuu or Nez Perce have lived among the rivers, canyons and prairies of the inland northwest. At Nez Perce Historical Park, the Buffalo Eddy Petroglyphs preserve artwork from early Nez Perce people dating back over 4,500 years. Visitors can also walk among battlefields from the region's Indian-European conflicts or visit three sites used by the Lewis and Clark expedition—the Weippe Prairie (1805), Canoe Camp (1805), and Long Camp (1806).

The 3,300 acre Columbia Hills State Park, on the southern border, was formerly the site of the largest Indian burial ground in the area and contains some of the oldest pictographs in the Northwest. It also includes Horsethief Lake, where Lewis and Clark arrived on October 24, 1805. The entire park offers camping facilities and 7,500 feet of freshwater shoreline along the Columbia River.

Following the Columbia River to Kalama, visitors can find four totem poles featuring mythical forms, symbols and creatures of Pacific Northwest Native American culture. The tallest pole, carved from Western Red Cedar (native to the Northwest), is recorded as the world's tallest at 140 feet.

On the tip of the Olympic Peninsula, the fishing village of Neah Bay has been the hub and heartbeat of the Makah community for thousands of years and provides some of the best bottom fish and salmon fishing in the nation. It also possesses remarkable views of Canada and the Pacific Ocean.

As settlers moved west in increasing numbers during the overland migrations of the mid-1800s, many migrated into the north part of Oregon Territory into what would become Washington state, settling the Puget Sound area.

Washington's pioneer history comes alive at beautifully restored Fort Nisqually, a former bustling center of trade during the mid 1800's. Experience how people lived over a hundred years ago as the staff, dressed in period clothing, take you back in time through stories and crafts demonstrations.

Fort Simcoe, a former military installation established in the 1850's to keep peace between the European settlers and Indians, is now a day park situated throughout an old oak grove. It paints a picture of mid-19th century army life with original buildings, including the Commander's house, and an interpretive center. Take in the surroundings by strolling the 200-acre greens.

At Fort Vancouver, a former fur trading post, the northwest's early political, cultural and commercial future began to unfold. A popular pit stop for trappers, missionaries, explorers and mountain men traveling within Oregon country, the fort's reconstructed buildings tell the tale of this historical trading hub.

Rich in history, Dayton is home to117 buildings listed on the National Register, offering an impressive and memorable historical experience for all. Settled in the 1850s, successful businessmen and farmers built impressive residential, commercial, and public buildings here during the town's economic boom in the 1880s.

Seattle's Museum of History and Industry shares the city's story from 1850 to the present with exhibits and photographs in its home near Lake Washington. The museum's vast collection exemplifies the area's diverse social, cultural and economic history.

Washington is also home to many vibrant ethnic communities. The International District in Seattle is perhaps the only place in the United States where Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese, Samoan, Cambodian, Laotian, and Native Hawaiian inhabitants settled together building a single neighborhood. Visit the I.D., as it is known, and enjoy Asian restaurants, specialty shops, markets, as well as the Wing Luke Asian Museum where residents celebrate their culture and art.

Nestled in the foothills of the Cascades, the Bavarian village of Leavenworth beckons visitors year round with its Bavarian eats, specialty shops and cozy accommodation. Festivals are a part of life here, the most popular being the Autumn Leaf Festival, Oktoberfest, Christmas Lighting Festival and Ice Fest.

The Ballard community, an eclectic and artsy district of Seattle, is steeped in Scandinavian heritage. It is brimming with boutique shops, restaurants, pubs, and waterfront parks and is the site of the Nordic Heritage Museum.

The Vancouver National Historic Reserve in Vancouver, Washington offers an immense open history book that includes Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, Vancouver Barracks, Officers Row, Pearson Field and portions of the Columbia River waterfront. Programs at the reserve include interpretive walks and ranger-led talks as well as living history programs and multi-media presentations.

Get the latest Travel & Culture stories in your inbox.