Grant County is established on February 24, 1909.

  • By Eric L. Flom
  • Posted 10/18/2006
  • Essay 7962
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On February 24, 1909, Lieutenant Governor Marion E. Hay (1865-1933) -- acting on behalf of Washington State Governor Samuel G. Cosgrove (1841-1909), then ill -- signs legislation splitting Douglas County in half to create a smaller Douglas County and the new Grant County, which is located in the Columbia Basin region of Central Washington. Introduced as House Bill 661, the measure passed the Washington state House of Representatives on February 9th, and won Senate approval six days later. Ephrata is named as the county seat.

Covering 2,660 square miles of what used to be the southeastern portion of Douglas County, the new area was originally to be called Big Bend County. Protests from the towns of Wilbur and Davenport, however, forced a compromise. It was instead decided to name the new county after President Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885).

The measure signed by Lt. Governor Hay appointed three individuals to serve as the first Board of Commissioners for Grant County, holding office until the second Monday in January 1911 or until successors were elected. The first meeting of this Board -- made up of John Erickson (Ephrata), M. F. McAnelly (Wilson Creek), and R. A. Heathman (Hartline) -- took place in Ephrata on February 26, 1911. Their first official business was to make several appointments to fill out local government, including (Hawley, pp. 1-2):

  • M. F. McAnelly -- Chair, Board of Commissioners
  • D. J. Peters (Quincy) -- Assessor
  • J. H. Hill (Hartline) -- Auditor
  • C. T. Sanders (Wilson Creek) -- Treasurer
  • E. O. Whitney (Hartline) -- Sheriff
  • George M. Ryker (Coulee City) -- Prosecuting Attorney
  • Charles E. Smith (Stratford) -- Superintendent of Schools
  • M. C. Christensen (Waterville) -- Surveyor/Engineer
  • Dr. P. C. Mikkelsen (Ephrata) -- Physician
  • Dr. H. D. Vail (Quincy) -- Coroner
W. G. Matthews of Ephrata was the first appointee by the Board, serving as the county's temporary clerk. After a few weeks Matthews was replaced by George W. Wolfe, a farmer from the Frenchman Hills area. Starting a county from scratch was no small task, but Charles E. Smith -- the newly appointed Superintendent of Schools -- may have had one of the harder tasks.  According to C. A. Hawley, in 1909 there were more than 100 separate school districts within the boundaries of Grant County, most of which were one- or two-room schoolhouses.

After appointing county officials, the first major act by the Grant County Board of Commissioners was to review proposals for a courthouse. This contract was awarded to J. O. Cunningham of Wilson Creek on May 7, 1909, whose winning bid totaled $4,975. (This first courthouse was replaced by the current Grant County Courthouse in 1917. The original courthouse building was later converted into the Community Methodist Church.)

McAnelly, Heathman, and Erickson continued to serve on the Grant County Board of Commissioners until January 7, 1911, when they stepped aside. The minutes of that last meeting conclude with the following:

"Having completed the many duties which were naturally incumbent upon the Board of County Commissioners, and especially with the varied conditions under which they have been subjected by being the first commissioners of the baby county (Grant County), the residents of which should congratulate themselves for having a Board that has endeavored to serve their cause without fear or prejudice, with an eye ever to the best interests of the county, we transfer our obligations to the incoming Board with full confidence in those who have been chosen to assume the responsibilities of which we have been relieved" (Hawley, p. 2).

Sources: C. A. Hawley, "A History of Grant County," 1953 typescript, Grant County Historical Society, Ephrata, Washington; Al Smith, "County Marks 50th Anniversary Today," Columbia Basin Daily Herald, February 24, 1959, pp. 1-2; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History "William Howard Taft and Republicans win general elections in Washington on November 3, 1908" (by David Wilma) (accessed September 3, 2006).
Note: This essay was corrected on February 24, 2016.

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