On June 8, 1901, business leaders from all over Washington gather in Yakima to celebrate completion of the Selah-Moxee Canal in the Yakima Valley. George S. Rankin and William Timothy Clark initiated the project to carry irrigation water from the Yakima River near the town of Selah southeast to the Moxee Valley. The Selah-Moxee Canal will provide water to more than 5,000 acres in the East Selah and Moxee valleys.
The Hunt for Investors
Several canals had already been constructed in the 1880s to bring irrigation water to the small farming community of Moxee, located east of the Yakima River in Yakima County. The idea of building a canal from Selah to Moxee originated with William Clark and George Rankin in 1898. Clark was a successful farmer and artesian-well expert in Moxee and Yakima (then known as North Yakima); Rankin was a successful businessman in Yakima. Together they were interested in bringing water to the Moxee Valley above existing ditches of the Moxee Company, which operated an experimental farm in the valley. The area they sought to irrigate contained many thousands of acres. They engaged surveyors and had estimates made of the cost of getting water to an estimated 12,000 acres.
To bring the cost down, they had additional surveys done and a re-estimate for fewer acres made. Clark and Rankin were sure they could find investors to provide the money needed, but raising funds was problematic. Many were interested but none had money to invest in the idea. Finding good investors was the key to success. Finally, the pair located someone who was interested and had money, but challenges remained. Seattle real-estate developer James W. Clise (1855-1939) thought the plan was a good one, but he wanted to know what the people of Yakima thought about it.
Starting to Build
Clise sent word to some business owners in Yakima to see if they had enough faith in the tracts of land in Moxee that would be irrigated by the proposed canal. He said that if they would buy a few thousand dollars' worth of the tracts in case nobody else wanted them after the canal was built, he would finance the project. Within hours after conditional contracts were prepared, 18 businessmen and financiers had signed, agreeing to take that many 20-acre tracts if they were not sold by the canal company by the middle of March 1901, two months before the canal was estimated to be completed. That satisfied Clise that the local leaders could undertake the project and carry it out successfully. He gave the word to Clark and Rankin to go ahead.
Bids for construction of the Selah-Moxee Canal were opened and the contract was awarded to Edward C. Burlingame (1858-1958), a well-known local farmer and engineer. Burlingame projected completing the canal and having water running through it within 100 days from starting work. The contract price for construction was $50,000. Work began on December 17, 1900, with 200 men employed. Pay for the workers was $1.75 to $2 per day, and $3.75 for men and teams of horses. The canal was completed and ready for water on May 15, 1901. Water ran through 26 miles at a total estimated cost of $75,000.
The land irrigated by the canal was sold for $60 an acre. Settlers from Minnesota and other areas in the East had the lands carefully inspected by trusted agents before making investments. The settlers came prepared to purchase the land, lumber for building, and all other necessities without relying on credit.
A dedication ceremony on Saturday, June 8, 1901, celebrated the opening of the Selah-Moxee Canal, bringing water to more than 5,000 acres of land. The event was important to people throughout the Yakima Valley and beyond, since in a few years the new canal would considerably increase the volume of business done in the community. The festivities included business leaders from Tacoma, Seattle, Spokane, and the local area. Among the honored guests were James Clise, who had funded the canal; S. P. Weston of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer; Joseph Blethen of The Seattle Times; Will H. Parry of the Moran Brothers shipbuilding company in Seattle; and J. A. Nadeau, Thomas Cooper, and F. W. Gilbert, all from the Northern Pacific.
The out-of-town guests were met at the train depot by William Clark and George Rankin and escorted to the Hotel Yakima. "After a short rest, the party were given carriages and driven about the city to witness the heavily laden fruit trees, ripe strawberry fields and the evidences of prosperity in agriculture on every hand" ("Selah-Moxee Canal Official Dedication ..."). Unfortunately, while on the carriage ride, Will Parry of the Moran Brothers Company was thrown out and injured. One of the bones in his shoulder was fractured.
The Yakima Commercial Club of Moxee hosted the event to pay tribute to these men for their assistance in the completion of the new canal. In the afternoon, a party consisting of the visitors and several local businessmen visited the canal at various points. The construction was inspected "and the water turned in at full force ("Selah-Moxee Canal Official Dedication ..."). The land to be brought under cultivation was reviewed and the results considered. The journey was full of interest to the visitors and gave them an idea of the possibility of developing barren areas by irrigation. An article in The Seattle Times praised the project:
"A canal extending for twenty-six miles through a sandy desert, carrying the life-giving water to orchards, vineyards and gardens was something not witnessed in any section but the arid district of Washington. An immense flume extending for four miles and carrying the water over cliffs and precipices, around almost impenetrable crags, and across deep ravines, attracted attention ... [T]he evidences of peace and prosperity are rapidly coming to the front" ("Selah-Moxee Canal Official Dedication ...").
A banquet was held at the Hotel Yakima in the evening for Clise, Clark, Rankin, and all the honored visitors and local attendees. Mrs. N. S. Johnson of Yakima provided a fine array of fruit and other products from the Moxee Valley to the delight of the guests. Yakima cherries and vegetables, turkey, roast beef, and more local delicacies were served. A decorative table was surrounded with beautiful magnificent Yakima flowers and shrubbery. The Seattle Times reported:
"Some of the local celebrities were invited to participate in the speech-making and the visitors told of the beauties of the country they had witnessed. The following program was arranged for the evening:
Toastmaster, Edward Whitson. 'Our Guests,' Edward B. Preble, response, James W. Clise; 'The First Inhabitants,' Dr. W. H. Hare; 'Yakima,' S. P. Weston; 'Water and Its Uses,' Vestal Snyder; 'The Press,' Allen Joseph Blethen Jr.; 'Making New Countries,' I. A. Nadeau; 'The Farmer,' H. J. Snively; 'The Easterner and the Westerner,' Dr. Robert C. Ogilvie; 'Westward the Star of Empire,' W. L. Jones; 'Northern Pacific Railroad,' F. W. Gilbert; 'Puget Sound and the Orient,' Will H. Parry; 'Sagebrush Reminiscences,' Miles Cannon; 'Let There Be Light,' C. R. Collins; 'Arid Lands,' Thomas Cooper; 'Irrigation,' W. T. Clark; 'Twenty Years Hence,' E. C. Burlingame; 'The Ladies,' Ira P. Englehart" ("Selah-Moxee Canal Official Dedication ...").
Seattle newspapers were well-represented at the event. Members of the local press were invited, but the invitations came with the condition that attendance would cost $3 each. This was such a radical departure from the usual courtesies exchanged on such occasions that it resulted in a shut-out, and Yakima newspapers were not represented.
For many in the Yakima Valley, irrigation meant life. The leadership of George S. Rankin and William Timothy Clark brought reality to dreams and ideas in the Moxee Valley. The Selah-Moxee Canal and other irrigation projects made the land productive and they continue serving the community in the twenty-first century.