10 Interesting Facts You Didn't Know About Ellensburg

Let us welcome you to Ellensburg, a central destination that draws on its extraordinary past to create traditional small-town charm. While we celebrate our history with pride, there may be a few hidden secrets about our town that you have yet to discover. Expand your local knowledge with these fun facts about Ellensburg and keep your eyes and ears peeled for more as you wander through our small-town streets.

1. The Early Days in Ellensburgh

Ellensburg, originally named Ellensburgh for the wife of town founder John Alden Shoudy, was founded in 1871. The town grew rapidly in the 1880s following the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railway and was officially incorporated on November 26, 1883. In 1894, the final -h was dropped under standardization pressure from the United States Postal Service and Board of Geography Names.

2. Open for Business

Palace Cafe and Fitterer’s Furniture are among the oldest operating businesses in Ellensburg today, Robber’s Roost was the first business in the area, aside from the early trading that occurred among Native Americans, cattle drivers, trappers, and miners. It was located on present-day 3rd Avenue, between N Main Street and N Water Street in Ellensburg. There is a placard on the wall commemorating the location, as well as a small stone monument against the wall on the sidewalk.

3. Race for the Capital

The city launched a bid to become Washington State’s capital in 1889. The ballot included top challengers Olympia, North Yakima, and Ellensburgh’as well as the cities of Centralia, Pasco, and Yakima City (now Union Gap). On July 4 that year, however, a major fire destroyed much of the downtown area and stalled the campaign, which resumed with a series of referendums, in which Washington voters chose Olympia. As a consolation prize for losing the capital bid, the state legislature selected Ellensburg as the location for the Normal School, now Central Washington University.

Photo courtesy of Brightside Vintage Farm

4. Meet in the Middle

Ellensburg is located just east of the Cascade Range on Interstate 90 and is known as the most centrally located city in the state. A short drive from Seattle, Spokane, and the Tri-Cities, Ellensburg makes for the perfect, centrally-located meeting space for guests of conferences, reunions, weddings, and celebrations of all kinds. Host your next group getaway at one of our premium gathering spaces in the heart of the state.

5. Washington's Wild West

Ellensburg cherishes a Wild West tradition and is the site of the state’s major rodeo, occurring each year on Labor Day weekend. The Ellensburg Rodeo has been a town tradition since 1923, is the largest rodeo in Washington State, and is known as one of the best rodeos in North America. Visit the Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame during your visit to explore the history of this beloved tradition and take a peek at rodeo memorabilia through the ages.

6. A Fan of the Blues

The elusive Ellensburg Blue is the third rarest gem in the world and can only be found in the Ellensburg region. Many believe that they got their beautiful blue sky color flowing through lava beds in the Kittitas Valley millions of years ago. Researchers also believe that the blue color comes from refracted light from tiny particles in the stone, which is similar to why the sky is blue itself. Unfortunately, this precious gem is limited in quantity and can only be found in certain locales by lucky rockhounds. This is because, at the first discovery of the gemstones in the early 1940s, the stone beds were depleted. One local property, however, is still known for the discovery of E-blues. The 200 plus acre Rock ‘n’ Tomahawk Ranch allows visitors to hunt for rocks of all kinds, some walking away with the blue agates. If you do leave empty-handed, however, you can still catch a glimpse of the stone at the Kittitas County Historical Museum, featuring a display of Ellensburg Blues, a variety of other rocks, and more historical exhibits.

7. Charm to Spare

Downtown Ellensburg was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. One of Washington State’s first historic districts, Ellensburg’s historic downtown is a place where an eclectic past collides with innovation, and bold, quirky ideas. Within a few blocks, one can experience countless community events and festivals, a variety of performing and visual arts, a farmers market, and a selection of unique locally-owned shops, pubs, and restaurants.

8. Fields of Gold

The surrounding Kittitas Valley is internationally known for being a major producer of timothy hay, which is processed and shipped throughout the world. This type of hay is most often used as cattle and horse feed but is also part of the feed regimen of many other types of livestock, including goats, camels, and sheep.

9. Woven Out of Tradition

On a scenic drive through the Ellensburg countryside, you may notice the barns sprinkled across the rolling fields and the quilt blocks that adorn them. These quilts can be spotted on barns all over Ellensburg and the surrounding county. Together, they create the Kittitas County Barn Quilt Trail, Washington State’s first barn quilt trail, which can be explored via a self-guided driving tour. The first barn quilt on the trail was on the Dominion Barn, which is currently being utilized as a garden shop at Dusty’s Nursery. With its installation, Washington became the 34th state in the country to join the national barn quilt movement. Over the years, more than one hundred quilt blocks have been installed throughout the county as a way to honor the area’s agriculture industry and the families that run it. Download the map to locate and reference the known history of each barn and the significance of its quilt block.

10. Geared Up for Adventure

Ellensburg is recognized as a bike-friendly community by the League of American Bicyclists. Ellensburg received a silver level award, joining the ranks of only 18 other communities in Washington State with the same title. This honor recognizes Ellensburg’s commitment to bicycling through bike promotion, education, infrastructure, and pro-bicycling policies.