In some ways, Ole Washington’s story isn’t much different from those of the other pioneers who settled the Yakima Valley.
He came from the east looking for a better life, and found it in the Pacific Northwest.
But Washington has the distinction of being the earliest known Black settler in the Yakima Valley, and his legacy includes providing educational opportunities for people in the Lower Valley.
Washington was born in January 1856 in Nelson County, Va., roughly 110 miles southwest of Washington, D.C.
An 1880 U.S. Census record shows he was living in Illinois working as a coal miner. He eventually made his way to the coal country of Roslyn, where he worked as a fireman and an engineer.
On Oct. 3, 1890, Washington acquired a 160-acre homestead in the Grandview area, where he moved his family and began growing corn, hay and potatoes, and ran a dairy operation.
He and his wife, Lucy Wiles Washington, had seven children, but only their daughter, Vivien, survived to adulthood.
The Washingtons were active in the Baptist Church, and Washington threw his political support to the Republican Party.
Washington and his family were known for their hospitality, opening their home to family, friends and people who were new to the area.
Another passion for his family was education. Washington donated a portion of his property for the Waneta School, which was one of at least two schools founded in Central Washington by Black pioneers. The Waneta School also had a board of directors comprised of Black people.
Washington died in 1931 at age 75 and is buried in the Old Sunnyside Cemetery. His daughter, Vivien, would marry Philip Sears and go on to operate the first gas and grocery store between Yakima and Prosser, the earliest of several businesses. She also made it a point not to do business with any company whose employees disparaged Blacks. She died in 1990.