40 for 40: Yakima County
Yakima Valley Transportation Company

By Kelsey Doncasterprevious story | next story | all stories

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, people were lured to Washington’s Yakima Valley to grow apples on 5-10 acre orchards which promised to produce wealthy independence in “the home of the prize red apple.” Private and public irrigation projects created hundreds of thousands of acres of fruit and by 1929 Yakima County had the largest number of bearing apple trees in all of Washington’s 39 counties and had become the statewide leader in apple production. Yakima County has ranked first in national apple production since 1930.
In order to get all of those apples to market, the Yakima Valley Transportation Company (YVT)  built a 48-mile-long electric interurban railroad between 1907-1913. The line, started by local Yakima County people, stretched far west of Yakima and north to Selah. In 1908 it was bought out by the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company (today the Union Pacific). Over its lifetime there were 16 streetcars, six interurban passenger/express cars, three electric locomotives and Line Car A used to repair the wires. Passenger service lasted until 1947 and was brought back as a limited tourist operation in 1974. Electric freight operations continued non-stop until 1985 when Union Pacific decided to abandon the YVT. By that time, it was the last authentic turn-of-the-century interurban electric railroad in the United States still operating. I remember the yellow electric locomotives hauling refrigerator cars of apples to market and as a young child I took the tourist trolleys past the mysterious Congdon’s Castle.


The abandonment by the Union Pacific saw a donation of some of the YVT to the city of Yakima, but the following years saw removal/shrinking of the YVT rail lines and involvement of the Washington Trust to sound the clarion call for its preservation before it was all gone. In 1989, the YVT was listed on the Washington Trust’s "10 Most Wanted" list, a precursor to our Most Endangered Historic Properties list. Thankfully, it has been saved, and in 1992 was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1994, the late Les Tonkin, an architect and former president of the Washington Trust, devised a total restoration plan for the YVT.

Today the historic belt-operated shop/carbarn, powerhouse substation, and five of the original 48 miles of track remain connecting the cities of Yakima and Selah. Now more than a century old, the YVT is operated by the passionate non-profit volunteer group, Yakima Valley Trolleys, which is passing on the love of the trolley to younger generations, including my children, with special events such as the Santa Trolley. 

This story is part of a series celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation. This story highlights many of our programs and shows just how much need there is for strong preservation connections across the state. If you would like to support our work and spur more positive outcomes for Washington's historic resources, please consider making a special gift to the Washington Trust to support the advocacy work we do. Continuous stewardship is needed to protect that irreplaceable legacy for future generations – we appreciate and look forward to your ongoing participation and support.

The Washington Trust it current accepting submissions for its 2017 Most Endangered Historic Properties List. Please contact Jennifer Mortensen at jmortensen@preservewa.org with any questions!

Here's to 40 more years of saving places that matter across Washington! Please sign up for our special weekly e-newsletter to recieve stories like this in your inbox all year long.

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