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O#42: Winthrop, Washington
OMarch 6, 2010

 

Washington may not be the state that springs to mind when one thinks of the Old West, but the tiny town of Winthrop in the Cascade mountains has an interesting Western story.

The town was founded in the 1890's by Harvard-educated Easterner Guy Waring. He opened a general store that catered to local ranchers and miners. He also operated a saloon, and was hailed nationally by temperance activists for his policy ejecting from his establishment anyone who appeared drunk.

 

 

Marjorie Walters

 

Perhaps due to this novel business model, Waring went bankrupt and returned to the East in 1916. However, before that time, his friend writer Owen Wister stayed with him on several occasions, and used parts of the locale in "The Virginian", one of the earliest novels in the Western genre.

 

In 1972, with the expected extension of Washington Highway 20 through Winthrop, a local business owner named Kathryn Wagner decided that Winthrop should become an old Western town, for the benefit of tourists and local businesses. Most of the local merchants were persuaded to support this effort, and an architect was commissioned to design western facades for all the buildings.

 

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Marjorie Walters

 

The strategy worked, more or less, and today Winthrop and the Methow Valley area are a popular destination for tourists and outdoor enthusiasts. After nearly forty years, the olde timey signs are legitimately weatherworn, and purists who have trouble with the old Western town idea can at least enjoy it as vintage tourist kitsch.

 

Marjorie Walters

 

Whatever you think of it, the story is very Western, in a broader way, or maybe just American -- people finding the freedom to engage in various odd notions, to reinvent themselves and to fail or succeed.

 

Marjorie Walters

 

 

In 2010, I was invited to fly at the Winthrop Balloon Roundup. Kurt and Melinda Oakley, operators of the local hot-air balloon company, Morning Glory Balloons, organize this event every year, and the spectacular mountain setting makes it a favorite with balloonists from Washington and Oregon.

 

The event takes place at the Morning Glory Balloonport at the Winthrop Inn. Volunteers from the local Kiwanis club came out to assist with the inflation, as did some of the hot-air balloonists and crew. It was dark and below freezing when we began the inflation.

 

Greg Winker
Greg Winker

Greg Winker

 

Continued....