The small town of Ellensburg is located almost exactly in the geographic center of Washington State. 100 miles to our northwest on Interstate 90, it is almost exactly halfway between the Tri-Cities and Seattle. This drive takes around an hour and forty minutes by car and makes Ellensburg an ideal candidate for a day trip or stopover on your westward travels. The historical buildings, University campus, and small-town charm shouldn’t be missed by any Northwesterner.


The city of Ellensburg was founded in 1871 by John Alden Shoudy, an Illinois-born businessman, entrepreneur, and politician. He originally purchased a small trading post known as “Robber’s Roost,” which had been established only a year prior. The post had largely been used to trade with local Native American tribes, an important lifeline for many of the traders and settlers at the time. We have covered many of the local native tribes in greater detail in previous articles on this site. You can read more about them >here.<

The Seattle Connection

Shoudy hoped to capitalize on a wave of businessmen who sought to build a road that would connect Seattle to the Kittitas Valley. This turned out to be a very savvy and lucrative idea that would pay off in dividends. He purchased a cabin for his family on some 80 acres of land, moved into the Kittitas Valley, and began construction work in the area. He named the city Ellensburg in honor of his wife, Mary Ellen Stuart, and began naming the streets of what would become a bustling town. Over the next thirty years, the city saw massive growth with the completion of a road system linking it to Seattle, as well as the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railway.


Today, Ellensburg is a quaint town that is home to numerous family-owned restaurants, antique shops, historical museums, and the northwest-favorite Iron Horse Brewing Company. But it is perhaps best known as the home of Central Washington University (CWU), one of the state’s most popular universities. Founded in 1891, the school was originally known as the Washington State Normal School (Pretty catchy, am I right?). Luckily, throughout the years, the school has undergone several name changes, eventually landing on CWU in 1977. This name seems to be sticking, as the region is extremely proud of their CWU Wildcats.


The town of Ellensburg has changed a lot throughout the years. Starting as a trade post dealing with the local Native tribes of the region and blossoming into a University town today, there is perhaps no better example of the change that time brings on. Whether you have the time to make a day trip to the town, or simply stop by on your way to Seattle, it is well worth your time to visit. If you have a day to spend traveling, be sure to stop by the CWU Wildcat Store, the antique shops on Main Street, and Iron Horse Brewery. You will not leave disappointed!

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