All Over The Map: How Ferry, Franklin and Garfield counties were named

Dec 11, 2020, 10:27 AM

It’s time for the fourth installment of County Countdown, KIRO Radio’s 13-part series about the origins of county names in Washington state. Our three counties for this episode are Ferry, Franklin, and Garfield.

Follow along with your special commemorative map – available at your nearest Ernst Hardware (if you can still find an Ernst, let me know!) – but please pull over if you’re driving, of course.

Ferry County

Ferry County, in North Central Washington, was created from Stevens County on Feb. 19, 1899. One of the main reasons that residents of what became Ferry County sought their own separate jurisdiction was because Stevens County was bisected by the Columbia River and the county seat – Colville – was on the other side of mighty waterway.

The new county was actually first known as “Eureka” for about a month, which came from Eureka Creek and the community of Eureka, where an early gold mining claim had been filed. A member of the legislature from King County helpfully suggested the name change to honor Elisha P. Ferry, who had passed away a few years earlier in 1895.

Elisha Peyre Ferry, as all school children in the Evergreen State should know, was the only person to serve as both Governor of Washington Territory and Governor of Washington State, and Ferry was the first governor of the state, too – elected just prior to Washington’s admission to the Union on Nov. 11, 1889.

The county seat is the sometime-controversial community of Republic, which was named for the Grand Republic Mine.

Much of what became Ferry County was once Colville Indian Reservation land for use only by members of a confederation of tribes, per controversial treaties signed between Indigenous people and the federal government in the 1850s. When it became apparent in the 1890s that the reservation land had valuable minerals, the federal government opened up the area to settlement and mineral claims by non-Indigenous miners and prospectors.

Franklin County

Franklin County, in South Central Washington, was created from Whitman County in November 1883, and named for Ben Franklin.

The community of Ainsworth – named for Oregon Steam Navigation Company official John C. Ainsworth — was the original provisional county seat when created by the Territorial Legislature. Selection of a permanent county seat was supposed to take place via vote at the next general election; that never happened, but the county seat was eventually moved by the Territorial Legislature a few miles west to Pasco, in December 1885. A new railroad bridge had diminished Ainsworth’s role as the landing for a barge that carried railroad cars back and forth across the Snake River before the bridge was built.

Depending on which historian has the story straight, hot and dusty Pasco was named by a railroad surveyor either for an unpleasant place of the same name in Mexico, or for the Franklin County seat’s opposite in Peru — a mountainous and cool place called Cerro de Pasco.

The towns of Connell and Mesa (née Judson, née Lake – communities changed their names a lot in the 19th century) tried to take the county seat away from Pasco in the early 1900s, but were not successful.

Garfield County

Garfield County, in Southeast Washington, was created from Columbia County in November 1881. It was named for President James A. Garfield, who had died in September 1881, several months after being mortally wounded by an assassin.

The county seat is Pomeroy, named for an early settler, but other nearby communities had also vied for the honor, of course. Most of these other seat-suitors were legitimate, but one was probably more likely a scam. A bogus townsite at a desolate place called Rafferty’s Ranch was laid out and called Belfast. To boost its appeal as a potential county seat for Garfield County, Belfast was cleverly renamed Mentor, in honor of President Garfield’s Ohio hometown.

But, Pomeroy ultimately prevailed, and in February 1882, a snarky reporter wrote dismissively of Mentor, née Belfast, née Rafferty’s Ranch in the Columbia Chronicle:

“The lumber pile, which constituted the town of Mentor, has been purchased … and will be brought to Pomeroy. Like Mahomet and the mountain, if the county seat would not go to Mentor, Mentor will go to the county seat.”

Check out the first three episodes of KIRO Radio’s All Over The Map: County Countdown!

County Countdown Episode One

County Countdown Episode Two

County Countdown Episode Three

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News and read more from him here. If you have a story idea, please email Feliks here.

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All Over The Map: How Ferry, Franklin and Garfield counties were named