Waterville






























 

THE TOWN OF WATERVILLE

By Luke Ellington

 “Our mission: In a constant partnership with Waterville citizens, we will continue to build our community into a safe, people friendly place we can all proudly call our town.”

 

         

              Downtown Waterville                                Sign in park behind Museum

 

WE BELIEVE IN:

Opportunity - Opportunities for community growth
Unity - Unity with citizens and town officials
Rebuild - Rebuilding our downtown

Together - Togetherness and keeping our town safe, clean and prosperous
Open - Open communication
Work - Working for a better community
Nature - A respect for our environment

  

Timeline of Waterville 

1883     Territorial governor W. A. Newell approves bill creating Douglas County

1886     Waterville voted the county seat for Douglas County

1887     First courthouse built by A. T. Greene

1889     Washington is 42nd state admitted to the union

1892     Between 350 and 500 Waterville area residents

1913     First North Central Washington District Fair held in Waterville

1950     Approximately 1,013 Waterville residents

2004     Approximately 1,170 Waterville residents

 

A Look Back
(Water and Wheat)
 

            “Waterville, the county seat and metropolis of Douglas County,” begins a historical record of the area written in 1904.  At a whopping 2,622 feet above sea level, travelers and residents on Waterville’s plateau have always taken advantage of a panorama of scenery.  Beyond the green, oasis-like community, amber waves of grain roll along hills that were once sage-brush covered cattle country.  Beyond a nearly endless expanse of wheat fields, lie the rugged mountains of the Okanogan Valley in the east.  Just south of Waterville is Badger Mountain with its natural spring water and popular wintertime ski hill.  Westward, past the Columbia River Valley, are the snowcapped mountains of the Cascade range.  Looking to the north, the mountains surrounding beautiful Lake Chelan stand in the distance.  It is not hard to imagine what Albert T. Greene, the “father of Waterville,” saw when he first stood atop the plateau.

 

                               View of Waterville from Badger Mountain

 

            If Albert T. Greene is the “father of Waterville,” then surely Stephen Boise is the grandfather.  In November of 1883, the County of Douglas was approved by the territorial legislature and named in honor of Stephen A. Douglas, a US senator from Illinois.  Its single town and county seat at the time, Okanogan, consisted of no more than Walter Mann, his tent, and a small log courthouse.  A constant concern was the acquisition of water, which was nowhere to be found in Okanogan.  A common sign on the “town hall” read, “Gone for water, will be back in a week.”  Just a few short miles to the west, however, Stephen Boise had already taken a squatter’s claim and dug a productive well¾a well that would provide hope for one man’s dream. 

            In the spring of 1885, A. T. Green traveled west from Davenport and purchased Stephen Boise’s land claim.  It is said that A. T. Greene had always wanted to be the founder of a town, and with his newly acquired land he had his chance.  After his land was surveyed, Mr. Greene donated a 40-acre tract of land for his ambitious townsite.  The abundant water from his hand-dug well made Greene’s land a popular destination for early settlers and provided the name for his town.  It would not be long before Greene could secure Waterville as the county seat. 

            The first attempt to remove Okanogan’s title as county seat was made by the community of Douglas in 1885.  The proposal was voted down by a two-vote majority.  However, it was around this time that Waterville’s friends took to the Democratic convention in Okanogan the infamous “barrel of water.”  The barrel, filled by Waterville’s well, was conclusive proof that the new town had an abundant water supply.  In 1886, an overwhelming vote made Waterville the county seat for Douglas County.  It has been recorded that a sheriff had to be sent in to remove documents from the county auditor, who had refused to move his office from Okanogan to Waterville. 

            E. E. Stowell’s blacksmith shop was the first building erected in Waterville.  It was not the last.  By the spring of 1888, eight buildings lined the streets of the town, including an office for the probate judge and a post office for postmaster A. T. Greene.  In 1889, the first courthouse was built by Greene at a cost of $3,000 and donated to the city for $1.  The second courthouse, built in 1905, remains to this day.  It was recently renovated in 2002.

 

                    

                          Two photos of the renovated county courthouse

 

            It was in the winter of 1889-90 that the fate of Waterville would forever be altered.  It was a terrible winter with temperatures well below zero and snow drifts continuing into April, killing off hundreds of cows.  The cattle-based economy of Waterville was destroyed and a shift towards wheat farming would eventually become permanent.   

            On April 14, 1890, a petition signed by 30 Waterville area residents resulted in an election to determine whether or not Waterville would become incorporated.  On May 3rd 1890, under the laws of the newly-formed state of Washington, a unanimous vote incorporated Waterville as a town.  Two years later the ample well water was pumped through town water mains.  Waterville was beginning to live up to its name.  Always the site of celebration for the county, Waterville started the North Central Washington District Fair, then called the Douglas County Fair, in 1913.  The four-day annual celebration near the end of August is a six-county event that offers a carnival, livestock auctions and exhibits, horse races, food, and fun for the whole family.  The event is a chance for everyone to learn about agriculture and livestock in Douglas County and the surrounding area.

 

 

                        Relics from days gone by on the Waterville plateau

             Access to the railroads helped the sturdy settlers keep the wheat-based agricultural community of Waterville thriving.  In 1917, Fred Fachnie’s combine became entangled with an 82 pound rock from outer space.  Now weighing 73 ¼ pounds, the first meteorite recovered in Washington State can be seen in the Douglas County Historical Museum in Waterville.  The museum offers an extensive rock and petrified wood (WA State gem) exhibit, donated by the museum’s founders, William and Etta Schluenz.  Also in the museum is a vast array of trinkets and gadgets collected and donated by Waterville’s citizens and the ever popular two-headed calf, which lived for 10 days after birth.

 

 

                       Images from the Douglas County Historical Museum

             On hot summer days, the children of Waterville swarm to the Carl Koenig Memorial Pool/Park.  The pool is Waterville’s third since 1928 and has the only high-dive board in the county.  With no lakes or rivers in the surrounding area, the bright blue pool is one of the best ways to stay cool on hot days.  Beginning at 1:30 in the afternoon, the laughs and squeals of children can be heard from far away.  People come and go throughout the day, but the pool does not close until 9:00 at night, when the sun finally reaches the mountains.  Before the lifeguards head home for the night, a thermal insulated pool blanket, bought with grant money from the Electric Utility Rural Economic Development Fund, is placed on the surface of the water to keep it clean and warm for the next day.  For many children, the pool is a part of growing up.  It’s a right of passage.  The chlorinated water is a place to learn to swim, make new friends, and one day earn respect by jumping from the high dive.

 

                                      Carl Koenig Memorial Pool

             This quaint town stands at the highest elevation of any incorporated Washington town, but the residents of Waterville do not have their heads in the clouds.  The town’s history is ever-obvious.  The past can be seen in the old barns, historic buildings, and rustic farm equipment from days gone by.  Waterville’s historic past reminds the townsfolk daily how change and progress have never altered the way of life that has worked there for over a century.  Few residents complain about living in a small town.  The citizens of Waterville walk a little slower, smile a little more, and are usually willing to stop and chat.  If you show an interest in Waterville’s history, you’ll find a lot of folks proud to tell you what they know. 

 

Local Leadership
(Man About Town)
 

            Waterville is not yet a “one horse town,” but that may change if Mayor Royal DeVaney has anything to do with it.  The old horse mannequin in the museum in Waterville has been the focal point for many in creating a town theme.  The horse used to model bridles and saddles in a local outfitter but now occupies a corner of the museum between a bearskin coat and a coat with fur not yet identified.  A town theme is one thing DeVaney feels would help Waterville’s businesses.  “We’ve worked on it several times,” says DeVaney, but the suggested town themes have yet to find community support.  Many businesses, however, have reverted back to their original color schemes from the late 1800s and early 1900s. 

                   

                                           Waterville’s “one horse” 

            Mayor DeVaney, who moved to Waterville in 1986, is currently serving his 14th year as mayor.  He’s got 2 more years to go on his current term, but is unsure if he’ll run again.  “I don’t know.  I’m gonna have to wait and see,” said DeVaney as he sipped on his afternoon cup of coffee.  “It depends if we get everything done I’d like to see done for the town.  If we do, maybe I’ll back off.”

 

Profile:

Name: Royal DeVaney

Age: 74

Occupation/Duties: Mayor of Waterville, Tomato grower, North Central Regional Transportation Planning Organization, STP Regional Council, Solid Waste Advisory Council, North Central Washington Resource Conservation & Development, WA State Law & Justice Council, Waterville Together for a Drug Free Youth, Waterville Community Fund Advisory, WA-CERT

Notable Attributes: Loves to work in his yard

Favorite Saying: “If you stay the same, you’re like Withrow.”

 

           DeVaney admits that the “bedroom community” of Waterville is not without its problems, but he’s doing what he can.  DeVaney says that Waterville has lost a lot of business in recent years, due to the “good road to Wenatchee.”  “You can go to Wenatchee and beat the prices,” he said bluntly, shaking his head.  “They’ve got so many big-box shops, it’s hard to be competitive up here.”  Increasing gas prices are helping though.  DeVaney said happily that people aren’t jumping in their cars to buy a couple items in Wenatchee anymore. 

            Ironically, one of DeVaney’s biggest concerns for Waterville at the moment is its lack of water.  Recent drops in the once-abundant water table have left Waterville without the use of two of its wells.  Signs posted around town request that citizens voluntarily reduce their water usage.  However the problem is dealt with, Mayor DeVaney said he will be paying attention to what the community wants.  After a long sip of coffee, he said, “sometimes I go down the street and I’ll interview 50 or 60 people to see how they feel about something before we take it any further.”  He added, “you can’t do that in Wenatchee or East Wenatchee.” 

            Waterville’s mayor does not know what the future holds for his quiet community that was once the giant of the county.  Waterville is still the county seat, despite increasing talk of moving it to East Wenatchee.  But like DeVaney tells it, “You can’t stay the same.  If you stay the same, you’re like Withrow.”

 

Stories Around Town
(Playing with Matches)

             In Waterville, many people love to share stories of the town’s past.  But very few can throw out dates and names the way Helen Besel can.  That’s because Helen is the curator at the Douglas County Historical Museum, where she has worked for the past 25 years.  Helen is on hand and ready to provide tours, interesting factoids, and to illuminate a fluorescent rock collection¾putting on a blacklight show that even impresses teenagers.  Helen knows the town stories, and has a few of her own she’s willing to share.

 

                   

              Waterville Museum, across the street from Waterville’s historic hotel

             Helen Besel tells the story of one of her first memories.  In 1934, after her father passed away from degenerative tuberculosis, Helen’s mother was forced to sell the family farm and move into town with her four children.  With the money from the farm, Helen’s mother was able to buy 52 lots in Waterville, a house, and a chicken coop. 

             Her mother worked as a house cleaner, and took care of numerous children and elderly townsfolk to make ends meet.  Helen’s memory from 1935, was a traumatic one for her.  At age 4, Helen remembers using a stool to get matches from a high shelf.  She recalls going outside and lighting a small pile of hay on fire.  Unfortunately for Helen, the hay pile was next to her mother’s chicken coop.  Next to that, her older brother’s prized Model T sat nearly restored. 

            Helen doesn’t recall getting in much trouble, besides a kick in the fanny to get her away from the fire.  “Of course when the fire truck goes anywhere, all the townspeople follow,” she said, shaking her head.  Helen remembers hiding until the commotion surrounding the fire she set died down.  And though she recalls having nightmares about Smokey the Bear for a time afterwards, the story is one which Helen Besel can laugh about today.

   

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