Editor's note: This column was originally published on April 17, 2017.
What do Moxee’s reputation as a major hop-producing area and the telephone have in common?
They both owe their existence in part to Alexander Graham Bell.
Along with inventing the telephone, Bell was an investor in the Moxee Company, which set up farming operations in the Moxee area. Joining Bell in the venture was his father-in-law, Gardiner Greene Hubbard, who was also the first president of the National Geographic Society.
The company was incorporated in 1886, two years after the Northern Pacific Railroad extended its line from Pasco to what is now Union Gap, and opened the region to the markets in the east.
To recruit farmers, the company offered 50 acres of land for $750 — $20,320 in today’s money — and $75 a year for irrigation. Prospective settlers were told that 50 acres of irrigated land would be more productive than 300 acres of dry-farmed land.
Within two years, 1,000 acres of land was under cultivation, irrigated with canals and ditches that are still in use today. Among the crops grown there were barley, hops, wheat, corn, oats, alfalfa, timothy hay and tobacco. It would expand to 6,400 acres by 1893.
Some $20,000 worth of tobacco was grown on 15 acres and was rolled into cigars that were sold under the brands “Flora de Moxee,” “Moxee Belle,” “Blossom” and “Flora de Yakima.”
Unfortunately for Bell and Hubbard, the Kentucky tobacco growers they recruited lacked experience in growing irrigated crops, and the tobacco turned out to be too strong, and a combination of frost and leaf blight killed off the industry. It would be more then a century before King Mountain began growing commercial volumes of tobacco in the Valley.
Sugar beets were also attempted only to also be lost to blight.
But hops, which had been introduced to the area in the 1870s, turned out to be the ticket for the Moxee Company. Bell and Hubbard’s success is credited to their recruiting French-Canadian families from northern Minnesota. Thirteen families arrived in 1897, with another wave of farmers coming in 1902. Many of those families — including the Desmarais, Brulotte, Gamache, Riel, and Perrault families — are still connected to the hop industry to this day.
By the 1930s, Moxee became the “Hop Capital of the World,” and Yakima Valley continues to produce most of the nation’s hops.
The Moxee Company had sold off its holdings by the 1930s, but the investors’ names still live on in Bell Road and the Hubbard Ditch.