The history of Winthrop Washington in the Methow Valley began when Native Americans lived along the banks of the Methow, Twisp, and Chewuch Rivers. The Native Americans lived off camas root, picking berries, fishing, and hunting. The first white men to visit the valley were trappers in the 1800s.
But it was in 1883 when the lure of gold brought the first white settlers. The three most prominent of these settlers were James Ramsey, Ben Pearrygin, and Guy Waring, the last of whom settled at the forks of the Chewuch and Methow rivers in 1891. He and his family settled in a home they called the “Castle.” The castle is now the Shafer Museum.
Although Waring is the acclaimed founding father and named the town after Theodore Winthrop, a Yale graduate, adventurer/traveler, and gifted 19th-century author, after a devastating fire in 1893, Winthrop had to be rebuilt. Waring hated alcohol. He built his original Duck Brand Saloon (considered the best-run saloon in the country by numerous church publications) in 1891. There were no chairs so drinkers had to stand up and it closed at 9 pm.
It survived the fire and is now Winthrop’s Town Hall. Waring’s “Methow Trading Company” operated for 49 years in 1897.
Owen Wister, Waring’s Harvard roommate, wrote The Virginian, America’s first Western novel, after honeymooning in Winthrop.
During World War II, Winthrop saw an influx of soldiers who were stationed at nearby military bases. After the war, the town experienced a period of decline as many residents moved away in search of better opportunities.
Western Restoration History
In 1972, when State Highway 20 was nearing completion over the North Cascades, several business people began planning for travelers passing through the town. Mrs. Kathryn Wagner and her husband Otto came up with the idea of a Western restoration. All the local merchants pitched in financially, and Mrs. Wagner paid the balance for the reconstruction, painting, and new signs. Westernization codes regulate the look of new construction even today.
The architect and designer was Robert Jorgenson of Leavenworth, Washington. He wanted “to make the design as authentic as possible to preserve the spirit of the valley.” Chet Endrezzi created the original signs.
Cattle drives, medicine shows, pack trains, and the mystique of the old west are still part of the Methow Valley experience. Almost surrounded by National Forest, State Game Range, and Wilderness areas, Winthrop and the upper Methow Valley beckon adventurers of all kinds. We celebrate the heritage of Winthrop on Mother’s Day weekend during our annual 49er Days event.
Whether you’re interested in history, outdoor adventures, or simply enjoying the small-town charm of Winthrop, there’s something for everyone in this picturesque Washington town.