Some 130 years ago, an effort began to move the Okanogan County seat from Conconully to Chelan.
Okanogan County was formed in 1888, when Washington was still a territory, and initially included a larger area than it does now – even though it’s still geographically the largest in the state.
The census roll of 1892 showed a county population of more than 2,500. Two attempts were made, in 1894 and 1898, to move the capital to Chelan, according to “History of North Washington,” an illustrated history of Stevens, Ferry, Okanogan and Chelan counties published in 1904.
“At these periods the greater portion of the present Chelan County was in Okanogan County, and therefore the town of Chelan, on the lake of that name, was eligible to county seat honors, and with sufficient support from the voters in the territory affected might secure it,” according to the history.
A petition was presented Oct. 2, 1894, to the Okanogan County commissioners asking for an election to decide on moving the seat of government.
“Whereas the present location of the county seat at Conconully is so far removed from the center of population and so nearly inaccessible to a majority of the inhabitants of said county,” read the petition.
The petition named a specific Chelan lot on which county government would relocate, if an election were held and voters went for the proposal.
But Commissioner J.I. Pogue immediately moved to reject the petition, citing “insufficiency,” according to the history. He argued that the lot listed was not a town or city.
The other two commissioners, L.H. Spader and D.J. McGillivery, concurred.
The Chelan contingent objected, but commissioners stood firm.
Four years later, in the summer of 1898, the question of moving the county seat “was again sprung upon the citizens of Okanogan County,” said the history.
Commissioners were presented with a petition signed by 529 voters seeking removal of the county seat to Chelan and that “the proposition for such removal be submitted to the voters of the county, the question to be decided at the succeeding general election,” according to the history.
This time, commissioners found the petition in order and decided to put it on the general election ballot that November.
“Meanwhile, the question of a division of the county had been injected into the discussion, and this fact, of course, militated against the success of the new county seat ‘boomers,’” according to the book. “It was proposed to form a new county, partly from the territory of Okanogan, to be called Chelan.”
On election day, Conconully won at the polls “mainly through the apathy of voters who were convinced that a division of the county was imminent,” according to the history. “The people in the southern portion of the county were on the eve of division and they did not support the proposition for removal of the county seat.”
The vote was 253 for removal and 550 against. Squaw Creek, Chelan, Lakeside, Stehekin, Wenatchee and Entiat precincts favored moving the county seat. Voting no – some with nary a favorable vote – were Okanogan, Golden, Similkameen, Toats Coulee, Johnson Creek, Salmon, Ruby, Spring Coulee, Columbia, Brewster, Lower Methow, Silver, Winthrop, Wenatchee Lake, Meyers Creek and Toroda precincts.
In July 1899, the county contained more than 4,000 people and by November, the question of county division was paramount. Okanogan County Judge C.H. Neal, holding court in Davenport, Lincoln County, decided a new Chelan County could be formed, according to the history.
Many people in Okanogan County objected to division, including the county commissioners, who wrote, “it is the sense of a large majority of the people of this county, as we believe, that such division as contemplated by said act would be a detriment and unjust.”
They directed the county prosecutor to take “all proper and lawful means” to prevent division of the county. They later employed a special counsel and hired an enumerator to take a census of the Methow to ensure at least 4,000 people be left in Okanogan County following division, according to the history.
Chelan County was formed in 1899 from parts of Okanogan and Kittitas counties – but with Wenatchee as the county seat.
In January 1900, Okanogan County commissioners revoked their order opposing formation of the new county. In August of that year, a settlement was reached, with Chelan County agreeing to pay Okanogan County $77,000 in county warrants.
Part of an ongoing series of Chronicle historical features.