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January 15, 2022

Discover the History of Lake Chelan

The booming area of Lake Chelan that you see today looks very different from the original settlement of the town. Established in the late 1880s, sustained by logging, mining and agriculture, Chelan, Washington is a city with a rich history and interesting past. Thanks to the draw of the rivers and lake in the area, Chelan has been and continues to be a lovely vacation destination for travelers from all over the world:

History of the Lake

Formed over 10,000 years ago from a valley glacier, Lake Chelan spans for over 50 miles and is the largest, longest and deepest lake in Washington and third deepest in America. The lake twists and turns through the Cascade Mountains all the way to the Columbia River, being fed by various streams and the Stehekin River. Despite being a popular tourist destination, most shores of the lake are too steep for visitors to access. Luckily for both early settlers and today’s travelers, the Southeast side of the lake opens up to rolling hills and beautiful fields. This land is now home to the historic town of Chelan.

The Chelan Natives

indianIt is thought that the first natives set down roots at Lake Chelan shortly after the lake was formed. The group that came to be known as the “Chelan” originated from the Wenatchi Tribe and spoke the Wenatchi dialect of the Interior Salishan language. When Pacific Fur Company explorer, Alexander Ross, traveled the Columbia River in the early 1800s, he came in contact with the natives who told him the river was called Tsill-ane, meaning “deep water.”

The Chelans lived year-round in the village of Yenmusi Tsa, where the city of Chelan now sits. They frequently traveled through the mountains and even to the plains of Montana to hunt, fish and trade with neighboring tribes. They were hunters and gatherers more so than warriors, but the tribe was known to defend their land in times of need. Unfortunately, the tribe numbers decreased drastically due to smallpox, flu and other diseases brought by settlers traveling West.

Early Settlers

In 1886, William Sanders and Henry Domke arrived in the Chelan area after their long trek from the North. Upon arrival, they were met by the Chelan and Entiat natives who were welcoming to the pair. Soon after arrival, Domke erected a sawmill by the lake and worked there until his business failed. After the removal of the mill, Domke moved on from Chelan while Sanders stayed and eventually started a successful dairy farm.

In the same year of 1886, Ignatius A. Navarre and Lewis H. Spader also came to Chelan. Navarre worked as a government surveyor for a time and had previously visited what is now Chelan County. When we filed for a homestead claim near Lake Chelan’s South shore, he brought his wife and family with him. Elizabeth Cooper Navarre was the first white woman to permanently settle at Lake Chelan and her child, Joseph Navarre was the first white child born on the shore of the lake.

Establishment of the Town

chelanWhile today’s people flock to Chelan for recreation and entertainment, early settlers came on a quest for gold, silver and copper. The first industrial center in Chelan was coined Lake Park by the original pioneering families of the area. After the first successful sawmills went up, a town began to form around the lake. Within the next year, a post office, three general stores, a hardware shop, a pharmacy, 2 saloons and a blacksmith’s shop were established. In 1891, Thomas R. Gibson founded the first local paper of Chelan, the Chelan Falls Leader.

Today, the history of exploration and hard work in Lake Chelan is shown through the success of our quaint and beautiful town. We are proud to welcome travelers and visitors from all over who crave adventure and gorgeous natural sights. Are you thinking of visiting Lake Chelan soon and still need a place to stay? Check out all of our vacation rentals that will make your next trip to Chelan unforgettable! We look forward to seeing you!