On Jan. 11, 1862, Walla Walla became an incorporated city and held its first elections in April of that year. E.B. Whitman was chosen as mayor and several other positions were filled, including five for city councilmen.
Whitman’s inaugural address, which was printed in the town’s newspaper, the Washington Statesman, mentioned the need for a fire department, permanent bridges and strong education.
The city fathers had some interesting ways to collect revenues. In addition to fines for citizens beating and shooting each other, the main source of income for the city came from heavy levies against the pleasure trade — saloons
At its inception, Walla Walla was little more than a rough-and-tumble frontier camp, but with the influx of gold miners and fortune seekers, along with settlers and a variety of immigrants, it soon became a city with luxurious-for-the-time hotels, social clubs and stores that sold all sorts of goods, both exotic and necessary.
Dr. Marcus Whitman, whose death at the hands of Cayuse Indians in 1847 was a seminal point in Walla Walla’s history, had proven that crops of all sorts flourished in the area’s rich soil. But, until much later, farming did not attract the numbers of immigrants that the promise of gold did.
Early agriculture developed as a result of the presence of Fort Walla Walla and the city’s importance as a supply stop for those going to the gold mines. Later, when the gold mines stopped producing and miners began to leave, the demand for food and supplies for these hordes of men did too. Although much could be grown, it became apparent that farmers needed to ship their produce to markets in more populated areas. Then, as now, transportation was a challenge. Freight had to be moved by wagon to and from boats on the Columbia, an arduous and time-consuming task. A railroad from Walla Walla to Wallula was needed, though construction, which began in 1871, wasn’t completed until 1875.
It’s interesting to note that in the 1860s, Easterners were being advised to homestead in Washington Territory as a remedy for diseases such as tuberculosis. As the city grew, so did infectious disease, including several epidemics of smallpox, proving that there was no escaping the consequences of people living in close proximity to one another.