Ear: Ainsworth

From The Daily Astorian, Wednesday, Aug. 15, 1883: "Ainsworth is reported to be the liveliest town in Washington Territory just now, being filled up with bridge builders who will be there till New Year's. … All the iron is now in place. After the bridge is completed Ainsworth will be a small (depot) station."

If the name Ainsworth doesn't sound at all familiar, there's a good reason for that: Despite once being deemed as lively, even by Astoria standards, now it's a ghost town.

The town was named after the president of the Oregon Steam Navigation Company, John C. Ainsworth. Located just north of the confluence of the Snake and Columbia rivers, it was built in 1879 by the Northern Pacific Railroad to complete a link from the Montana rail line to the Pacific Coast.

Consequently, by the early 1880s, the population in Ainsworth boomed at 8,000, many of whom were laborers. A string of railroad cars was needed to use as bunkhouses to accommodate them.

The town was made livelier when the NPR built two sawmills — even though the area itself was a desert, and totally treeless — to produce the railroad ties that would be needed to complete the mission. Ainsworth is pictured, courtesy of the Washington State Historical Society.

Soon there were the saloons, gunfights, opium dens and bordellos — common corollaries of a growing frontier town in the middle of nowhere in the Wild West — which more genteel folks found quite offensive.

Consequently, in 1885, Capt. William Polk Gray (who ran a successful steamboat business towing log booms and transporting lumber to Ainsworth), along with his partners, led several townsfolk in a move to leave Ainsworth and establish a new town nearby, which became Pasco.

Many more citizens soon jumped onto the exodus bandwagon, some even dismantling entire buildings in Ainsworth and moving them to Pasco. The school and railroad operations soon followed and, as a final blow, Ainsworth's coveted title of county seat was given to Pasco.

Abandoned, Ainsworth gradually disintegrated into the dust; all that's left of it are some foundations. The town's demise was probably just as well, however, considering the opinion of Thomas Symons, a U.S. Army engineer: "Ainsworth is one of the most uncomfortable, abominable places in America to live in." Rest in pieces. (bit.ly/ains101, bit.ly/ains102, bit.ly/ains103)

Elleda Wilson is an editorial assistant for The Astorian and author of the award-winning In One Ear community column. Contact her at 971-704-1718 or ewilson@dailyastorian.com.

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