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The name Wasco comes from the native Wasco Indian word “wacqlo,” meaning a cup or small bowl made of horn; reference to a cup shaped rock near the main Wasco Indian village.

The seed for the City of Wasco was planted in 1864, when Jesse and Mary Eaton and their family settled in the area known as Spanish Hollow, located at the intersection of the Oregon Trail and the road south from the Columbia River.  In 1870, Eaton received a post office commission for Spanish Hollow, and a stage stop was established.

The first settler at the current Wasco location was Clark Dunlap in 1879.  Soon after, the Armsworthy, Biggs (1881) and McPherson (1881) families settled nearby.  In 1882, a townsite was formed at the corner where the McPherson, Biggs, Armsworthy and Dunlap homesteads intersected.  In that year, the post office was moved to the southeast comer of Clark Dunlap's land, and the new postmaster, Wilson M. Barnett, changed the name of the town to Wasco.  By 1883, the town had residences, a church, blacksmith and machine shops, and a flour mill.  A drug store was built in 1885.  Levi Armsworthy and his sister, Sarah, built the Oskaloosa Hotel in 1887.  The first school was built in 1888, and Barnett established the first bank in Wasco in 1890.

Sherman County was formed in 1889, and Wasco became the first county seat.  County court meetings and trials were held in the Oskaloosa Hotel until 1892, when a vote moved the county seat to Moro.

In 1897, the Columbia Southern Railway reached Wasco, and the train station was built in 1898.  Wasco was incorporated in 1898 with George N. Crosfield as the first mayor.  The population within the city limits was 300 living in 55 residences.  At that time, the city had a single telephone and electric power provided by a local steam plant. 

Like most cities of its era, Wasco suffered a disastrous fire, in 1903, losing a sizeable store, the Wasco Opera House (later replaced by Aker's Opera House) and residences.  As a result of the fire, Wasco began to build its fire, water and sewer systems.  Wasco had to reincorporate in 1905 after finding out that the original incorporation was incorrectly handled.

The Sherman Hotel was built in 1917, based on speculation that a new state highway to the Columbia River would pass through Wasco.  The Hotel burnt down in 1928 and was rebult, only to burn down again in 1956.

In 1921, a central electric power system was introduced.  By 1939, a farmer-owned co-op was bringing power from the Bonneville Dam.

With the advent of the auto, roads followed, influenced by Samuel Hill, son-in-law of railroad magnate James J. Hill, who also played a key role in Oregon's development.  In 1914 the State of Oregon let a contract for a road to connect Wasco with the main roads and the ferry across the Columbia River.  At the same time, the County built a road to The Dalles by way of Fulton Canyon.  Even into the 1920's, Sherman County citizens found it necessary to use Miller's toll bridge to reach The Dalles.  The Sherman County Highway was completed by 1924 as a result of Wasco and Wasco citizens' efforts in selling city bonds for curbing and grading.  It was also thought that the Columbia River Highway would go through Wasco.  In a wave of optimism, trees were planted and the $50,000 Western Hotel was built.  However, development and growth followed the Columbia River, and Wasco remained primarily an agricultural service center.

The devastating floods of 1964 destroyed many of the railroad trestles and tracks along the Deschutes River and in Sherman County, bringing an end to railroad service in Wasco.  The rails were taken up in 1966.

The present Wasco School was built in 1916 and operated as a high school through 1956, when the high school was consolidated with Sherman High School in Moro.  After that, Wasco School operated as a grade school until 2009.

Businesses in Wasco have included a weekly newspaper, three hotels, an opera house, schools, churches, two banks, two flour mills, warehouses, shops and general stores, implement dealers, a livery, a millinery shop, a lumber yard, brick yard, two hospitals, a dentist, doctors, lawyers, several restaurants, saloons, a bakery, a cigar shop and two barber shops.

Belshe, Bertha. They Paved the Way, 1976
Due, John F. and French, Giles. Rails to the Mid-Columbia Wheatlands: The Columbia Southern and Great Southern Railroads and the Development of Sherman and Wasco Counties, Oregon, University Press of America, 1979
Kaseberg, Sherry. Sherman County Place Names, Third Edition, 2009
Kaseberg, Sherry. Sherman County Milestones, published in the Sherman County eNews, 2010
City of Wasco Comprehensive Land Use Plan, June 2003 revision to incorporate Transportation System Plan

INTERESTED IN WASCO HISTORY AND PEOPLE? Check out this list of articles from Sherman County: For The Record. (Thank you, Sherry Kaseberg!)


AND FOR MORE LOCAL HISTORY ONLINE... Sherman County, Oregon, A Historical Collection, a brand new local history website, was recently introduced by Sherry Kaseberg of Wasco, Oregon. This collection honors the people who lived here, kept the records, preserved the stories and encouraged her interest. It’s truly the work of many, and will appeal to history enthusiasts, the curious and genealogists. http://shermancountyoregon.com/.