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Graphic: What about White Bluffs Townsite

Graphic: Background Information

Photo: Train Depot - 1913 The railroad came to the White Bluffs vicinity in 1913

The White Bluffs townsite, named for the spectacular chalk-like cliffs near the location of the original town, was one of the first European-American settlements along the Columbia River in Washington Territory. The first ferry began operating at White Bluffs in 1860. White Bluffs landing was a well-used pathway in the late 1800s.

Who lived at White Bluffs?
Centuries before Euro-Americans arrived in the lower Columbia Basin, Native American tribes used the White Bluffs area as a river crossing and gathering place for trading and celebrations. In the late 1850s, steamboats began to run from Portland, Oregon, to White Bluffs, and it became a central point from which river shipments were transferred to pack trains that carried supplies to gold miners in British Columbia. Livestock and people also were ferried across the river. In 1860, ferry operator Thomas Howe charged ten cents to ferry sheep or swine across the river, up to $1.00 for animals carrying full packs, and $3.00 for a wagon with two animals attached. By 1863, a trading post and way station had been constructed at White Bluffs.

In the 1850s and 1860s, ranchers were attracted to the lower Columbia Basin because of its vast rangeland. At first, they raised cattle, much of which was shipped to the gold-mining districts in British Columbia. Farmers began to arrive in the 1880s, lured by promises of rich land for apples and alfalfa, and plentiful water to irrigate crops. The original White Bluffs townsite was located on the east (Franklin County) side of the Columbia River, but by the early 1890s, so many settlers had homesteaded the area, the townsite expanded to a site on the west (Benton County) side of the river. When the railroad arrived in 1913, the town moved again to a third site close to the railway.

What happened to the White Bluffs Townsite?
In 1943, the Manhattan Project–the federal government's top-secret atomic bomb project–selected a 625 square-mile area of the Mid-Columbia Basin that included White Bluffs, Hanford, and Richland to site its Hanford Engineer Works. Inhabitants of the small farming communities were sent notices to evacuate their lands and given about 30 days to pack their belongings and leave the area. The government purchased their farms and could tell residents only that their sacrifice was needed for the war effort.

What is left of the White Bluffs Townsite?
You can still visit the original site of the White Bluffs townsite if you visit the Wahluke Slope. All that remains is a log building from the 1890s that may have been a blacksmith's shop. Traders and agents of the Hudson's Bay Company traveled along the Columbia and Snake rivers beginning in 1811. Currently, outdoor enthusiasts use the old White Bluffs landing as a boat launch to fish or explore the Hanford Reach.

Today, all that is left of the two other White Bluffs settlements are foundations and streets. The government razed homesteads and orchards in the mid-1940s. Because many of these areas are located on the U.S. Department of Energy's Hanford Site, they are not open to the public. However, the Department offers a bus tour of the Hanford Site that allows visitors to see a number of these landmarks. Residents of White Bluffs, Hanford, and Richland and their descendants meet in Richland every August to keep the memories of their heritage alive.

Graphic: Shrub Steppe Logo

Graphic: Notes... "Science is constructed of facts as a house is of stones. But a collection of facts is no more a science than a heap of stones is a house." Henri Poincare

Keep in mind this fact sheet is intended to be used only as background information to support your effort to encourage inquiry-based science, which parallels the way scientists uncover knowledge and solve problems.

Graphic: Suggested Activities

1. Visit the East Benton County Historical Society in Kennewick and read about the White Bluffs and Hanford townsites.

2. Visit the original townsite of White Bluffs on the Wahluke Slope. From Othello, take Highway 24 west. Go approximately 16.8 miles to the Wahluke Washington Road. Turn left at the public fishing sign. Go 4 miles to the "Y;" stay to the right. Go another 1.8 miles to the parking area.

3. Take the U.S. Department of Energy bus tour of the Hanford Site, which includes visits to the old Hanford and White Bluffs townsites (call 509-376-0213 for information). The old Hanford townsite also was the site of the Manhattan Project's Hanford Construction Camp. As you drive past the old Hanford High School, try to imagine the businesses and houses that once lined the streets or the tents, trailer camp, or barracks where Manhattan Project workers once lived.

Put yourself in the position of one of the many residents who was asked to leave their farm or business. Create a 30-day simulated journal of your feeling about evacuation from the time your family received the government's notice to evacuate to the day you left home. Use as many facts as you can find.

Graphic: Other Resources

  1. Family Histories for Hanford and White Bluffs, WA, Hanford Science Center, White Bluffs-Hanford Pioneer Association, Richland, Washington (available at the Columbia River Exhibition of Science and Technology).
  2. Goodbye, White Bluffs, M.P. Harris, 1972, Franklin Press, Yakima, Washington.
  3. Hanford Cultural Resource Management Historical Baseline, 1998. M.K. Wright (ed.), D. Bradley, C.A. Brandt, N.A. Cadoret, J.C. Chatters, K. Hull, L.R. Hale, K.A. Hoover, M. Kelly, E. Nilsson, L. Robbins, M. Stenehjem, U.S. Department of Energy, Richland, Washington.
  4. "Old Hanford, White Bluffs Sites Mid-Columbia's Pompeii." Darby Stapp, August 8, 1999, Tri-City Herald, Tri-Cities, Washington.
  5. Tales of Richland, White Bluffs and Hanford 1805-1943, 1986. Martha Berry Parker, Ye Galleon Press, Fairfield, Washington.
  6. White Bluffs/Hanford Townsite (video). Parasol Group Production, 1986. Michael Floyd , Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington.

Graphic: Web Sites...

  1. Hanford Cultural and Historic Resources Program -
  2. White Bluffs -
  3. White Bluffs Townsite -

Graphic: Acknowledgment

Initial development and printing was funded by the Partnership for Arid Land Stewardship (PALS). Project Manager: Karen Wieda. Written by: Rebecca Moak, Christ the King School. Series Editor: Georganne O'Connor; Design: WinSome Design.

Graphic: Shrub Steppe Ecology Series


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