College Place votes for incorporation on December 18, 1945.

  • By Patrick Marshall
  • Posted 11/06/2013
  • Essay 10658
On December 18, 1945, residents of College Place, located immediately southwest of Walla Walla, vote 193 to 145 to become an incorporated city. Walter Bunch attracts the votes of all but five of those casting ballots for mayor. At the time of incorporation, a survey finds the city to have a population of 1,851. By 2013, the population will grow to 8,875, with the town's economy centered primarily, as it was at the turn of the century, on the presence of Walla Walla University.  

Becoming a Town  

Shortly after a major fire threatened an entire city block in August 1945, a small group of citizens led by Russell Emerson, a graduate of Walla Walla College and a local builder, met in the home of Austin Morgan to revive the periodically proposed idea of incorporating College Place.  

At a follow-up meeting on September 19, 1945, Emerson chaired a meeting of a growing group of citizens in favor of incorporation. Emerson cited a list of reasons for incorporation: "Fire protection, better water supply, police protection, street lights, controlled traffic, garbage and sewage disposal, sidewalks, lowered insurance rates, a curb on dog infestations through licensing, a curb on vandalism not presently available and a possible curfew on small children" (Bunch, p. 15).

The concerns of opponents to incorporation had to do primarily with the water supply and water districts. Residents of the Blalock section of the town were concerned that their access to water would be reduced. The promise that existing water contracts would not be changed, nor would Blalock residents be taxed to provide water to others, reduced opposition to incorporation. 

A petition to the county commissioners calling for incorporation was then signed by 215 residents.

The increasing momentum for incorporation energized the remaining opposition.  A meeting was held on December 15, during which Dr. John Reith, a physician, and his brother George, a dentist, argued that the advantages of incorporation could be achieved without incorporating and incurring the new taxes that would go, they feared, with incorporation (Bunch, p. 17).

The vote was held three days later, on December 18. Residents voted in favor of incorporation 193 to 145.  Wilton H. Bunch writes that snowfall the day before the election likely held down the vote. In any case, Bunch's father, Walter Bunch, received all but five of the votes for mayor. 

Walla Walla County commissioners official declared College Place a city on January 7, 1946. 

Dr. Reith led one last attempt to undo the incorporation via a petition drive, but he failed to gather enough support to have an impact.

Sources: Wilton H. Bunch, Herding Cats: College Place Becomes a City, 1945-1950 (Vestavia Hills: Wilton H. Bunch, 2011); Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "College Place -- Thumbnail History" (by Patrick Marshall), (accessed November 3, 2013).

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