Visiting the Scenic, Bavarian-Style Town of Leavenworth in Washington
On the Road to Leavenworth
One day while visiting the Seattle area, my mother, niece, and I decided to take a scenic drive through the Cascades and head towards the Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth, Washington. Driving east on U.S. Highway 2 going over Stevens Pass, the scenery that we got to see from this route would have been reason enough for the sojourn.
Rolling hills with mountain views and verdant hillsides covered with vegetation in all shades of green rewarded us as we traveled through this gorgeous part of the country. Wild grasses and flowers sprinkled the landscape with occasional splashes of color. The day was cloudy enough to obscure views of the tops of the mountains.
We stopped at a covered wayside along a river near Startup, Washington and picked some wild raspberries. The raspberry bushes seem to grow wild in a number of places. We stole some berries from the birds and other animals who undoubtedly find their succulence both delicious and nutritious.
Lovely moss covered trees lined the bank of the river. Our destination was to see the town of Leavenworth, otherwise, we might have lingered a bit longer in this beautiful natural setting. But we were intrigued by what we had read of this German-styled town, so we got in the rental car and continued with our journey.
Pit Stop in Startup, Washington
This cute Post Office pictured below in Startup, Washington drew our attention. Stopping just long enough to take some photos, we were once again on our way to Leavenworth.
History of Leavenworth, Washington
Indians were the first inhabitants of this beautiful valley.
Tribes from the Yakima, Chinook and Wenatchi tribes made this area home when the weather was hospitable. These migrating Indians would set up camp and the lush valley and clean water originating from high in the Cascades provided their horses with excellent water and grazing and in addition provided food for themselves.
Berry bushes flourished then as now and the salmon ran freely in the waterways. The Indians could eat their fill but also they would dry the berries and the salmon for easy transporting and eating later in the year.
Gold mining first brought white settlers to that area. In 1869 the Blewett mining camp was established and continued to exist into the early 1900's. It slowly developed into a small town with some amenities such as a post office, hotel, and store. That town's name was "Icicle."
The Wenatchee River flowed through this valley and most of the early settlement was on the south side of the river.
The early settlers were hardy souls. All of their supplies had to be packed in by animals through the mountainous terrain as the nearest railroad was 75 miles away at Ellensburg. Wagons finally made it using a difficult route called the Blewett trail.
In the late summer months when the Wenatchee River was lower, it could be crossed by canoe or by fording. Eventually, a cable ferry was installed by Howell Ralston. Mary Ralston, Howell Ralston's sister, was the valley's first school teacher.
The new town that was evolving was called Leavenworth, and in 1892 the Great Northern Railway started progress towards bringing tracks closer to this location.
Lots began to be sold. What was the town of Icicle was absorbed into the new and emerging Leavenworth as it continued to grow.
As was typical with many growing towns in the west, saloons and houses of ill repute sprang up and many of the crews that were working on the railroad came into town to use the facilities. At this time the area developed a reputation for lawlessness.
In 1904 the Lamb-Davis Lumber Company built a large sawmill in Leavenworth. Many camps along the river developed and this provided numerous jobs for people in the area. The river was utilized to float logs and local inhabitants prospered.
Brick buildings were constructed in that same year due to some fires that burned down the old wooden ones. Larger and more elegant homes began to be constructed. Life was good! A golf course was even constructed in 1927 for those with leisure time to enjoy that pastime.
But the 1920's brought ill winds. The Lamb-Davis Lumber Company closed it's doors as it could no longer use the river for floating lumber. Then, as if that was not bad enough, the Great Northern Railroad moved to Wenatchee abandoning Leavenworth.
How Leavenworth Got Its Bavarian Style
The 1929 Stock Market Crash and subsequent Depression practically killed the town of Leavenworth and it could have become one of the many ghost towns that were left in the wake of settlement in the west.
Giving the town a Bavarian makeover is what saved it from extinction.
The remaining people living there had a bright idea in the 1960s to remake their town into a place that people would be attracted to come and visit. Creating and making Leavenworth into a Bavarian Village was their idea and they proceeded to make it a reality.
The setting was perfect! They already had the mountainous terrain and the town sat in a beautiful valley much like many of the villages in Bavaria.
Lots of hard work ensued and most everyone that visits there today can get a flavor of Bavaria by visiting this town in the State of Washington.
One can hear oompah-pah music, eat German sausage, see buildings that are reminiscent of those in the old country and enjoy the antiques and crafts offered by the many stores in Leavenworth.
Our Day Spent in Leavenworth
We were there in the summertime and the weather cooperated and had become sunny and bright while we enjoyed our visit.
As with many Bavarian villages, the shops and restaurants, as well as other buildings in Leavenworth, were festooned with flowers in the ground, in flower boxes and in hanging baskets.All those flowers along with the unique buildings presented a postcard-pretty sight.
After looking at several menus we decided to eat lunch at Reiner's Gasthaus Restaurant.
We were seated at a large wooden communal table and got to visit with other diners as we compared notes of our visit to this area. We picked up some other travel tips which is always fun when one is in an area of the country that one has not previously seen or experienced.
On the menu and sampled by the three of us was goulash soup, pork roast with bread dumplings and red cabbage. Of course, there were the usual bratwursts, knackwursts, and other typical types of Germanic fare, and we heard good things about what everyone else chose to eat at our table that day. My mother and I both ordered Paulaner draft beer from Munich to accompany our food.
All in all, it was a most enjoyable day from the time we left Seattle to going back there for the night. The drive was enjoyable and the scenery lovely. For people who wish to spend more time in Leavenworth there are plenty of accommodations available.
Getting to experience a bit of Bavarian architecture, food, music and ambiance in Leavenworth situated in the Cascade Mountains in the State of Washington was fun and totally different from anything my mother, niece and I had previously seen. I had not yet been to Germany.
A big "thumbs up" to what the inhabitants of Leavenworth, Washington accomplished in making their scenic town into the attractive and interesting Bavarian village type of place that now draws visiting tourists from near and far. It is picture perfect!
Each season of the year would be special as some of the videos added to this post show.
Have you ever visited Leavenworth, Washington?
© 2009 Peggy Woods