With countless acres of farmland devoted to producing hops and wine grapes, alcoholic beverages are a part of Yakima Valley’s culture.
Yet four years before the U.S. Constitution was amended to ban the making, shipping and selling of “intoxicating liquors,” Yakima County and the rest of Washington were already dry, thanks to a state law that foreshadowed Prohibition.
From its territorial days, there was tension between advocates of temperance and those who enjoyed making and drinking alcoholic beverages.
No sooner had the territory been organized in 1853, when Washington’s first temperance society was formed by the Rev. George Whitworth, a Presbyterian minister from Indiana who also founded what is today Whitworth University in Spokane.
But the first effort to enact an alcohol prohibition in the territory in 1855 failed in Congress.
In 1879, lawmakers banned liquor sales within a mile of the Northern Pacific Railroad, but only in Whitman, Spokane and Stevens counties, as an effort to protect railroad workers from saloonkeepers who might take advantage of them.
That prohibition did not include Yakima County, where the Northern Pacific’s arrival at what is now Union Gap was heralded with six barrels of whiskey that revelers drained shortly after their arrival. Present-day Yakima, which the railroad created in 1885 as the home of its depot in the Valley, boasted 15 saloons and a single church within four months of its founding.
In 1909, the Legislature gave communities the authority to license local saloons, similar to today’s rules on allowing cities to regulate marijuana operations through zoning ordinances or business- license rules. North Yakima remained wet. But the next year it got a visit from Carrie Nation, the zealous temperance advocate known for smashing saloons with a hatchet.
Nation spoke to 800 people at the Methodist Church in May 1910. Much to the relief of North Front Street’s saloon owners and the disappointment of the local reporters, Nation did not wield her hatchet while in town. She did, however, hand out miniature hatchets as souvenirs.
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