Believe it or not, we were not always a Bavarian style village. Instead, the towering mountain peaks and bountiful land was known amongst Native Americans as some of the most plentiful land anyone had laid eyes on. The Yakama, Chinook and Wenatchi tribes all hunted the same land for deer & elk, and also fished Icicle Creek for salmon.
Settlers hungry for gold, timber, and furs soon settled the area, and by 1890, Icicle Flats was born. The area exploded with the arrival of the rail line near the turn of the century. At that point, Leavenworth was a whole lot less Bavaria and a whole lot more Deadwood! The logging and sawmill business was great…until it wasn’t. When the railroad re-routed its rails and moved out of town, it almost turned Leavenworth into a ghost town. The area scuffled along for more than thirty years, always on the brink of extinction.
In the early 1960’s, town leaders had a bright idea: change Leavenworth’s appearance to draw visitors. If the gorgeous alpine hills had no equal except in German Bavaria, the city planned on completing the experience.
This was no mere facelift. In addition to completely renovating the downtown area, community leaders created a series of festivals, drawing revelers into town. From there, the Autumn Leaf Festival, Maifest, and the immensely popular Christmas Lighting Festivals were born and continue to this day.
To say the change worked is like saying you can taste a hint of cabbage in kraut. For decades, Leavenworth has been a top tourist destination in the Pacific Northwest. More than a million tourists walk our streets every year, finding “Bavarian authenticity and Northwest hospitality.”
To learn more about our history on your next visit, please visit our Greater Leavenworth Museum.