By Luke Ellington

Hand painted sign of fruits and farmland that reads Welcome to Orondo

Timeline of Orondo

1883Douglas County established
1886Waterville voted county seat
1887Dr. J. B. Smith plats original Orondo townsite, J. C. Bonar arrives in Orondo
1889A terrible winter kills herds of cattle and effectively changes the economy
1893Great Northern Railroad runs railway along west side of the Columbia
1958Construction begins for Rocky Reach Dam, Lake Entiat is formed
PresentApproximately 500 area residents

Founding Family Names

Many families and individuals took part in the formation of Douglas County settlements in the late 1800s. Some names appear in many historical accounts and biographical sketches, while others have been lost to time. These are some of the names which have survived in books about Orondo:

Austin, Auvil, Bonar, Cheatham, Fisher, Gehr, Hunt, Kunkle, Lawshe, Mason, McMillan, Meyer, Miles, Ruud, Smith, Sonney, Sparks, Thompson, and Trapp.

A Look Back

In looking at the history of Orondo, its close ties to the Entiat Valley make the two communities appear as one. Unlike today, many early Orondo settlers traveled daily across the mighty Columbia to get supplies, hunt and trap, work, or just to have dinner with friends. The distinction between the two sides of the river was less clear before Rocky Reach Dam and the formation of Lake Entiat. After the dam was built, ferries no longer traveled back and forth. A side had to be chosen. With many of the pioneering names still present in the Orondo community, the riverfront land just miles north of East Wenatchee must have much to offer. It only takes one bite of fruit from an Orondo fruit stand to understand the choice.

The West Calls

“I can hear the call of the great open West, everyday it grows stronger; the mountains, trees, rivers, plains, sagebrush and the clear blue sky are all calling. Even the ugly grease wood has its beauty to a Westerner. The lakes and clear mountain streams, with their trout, are calling for my rod. The mountains with their game and undiscovered treasures call for my exploration. The rugged hills covered with sagebrush and bunch grass call for my sure footed cayuse. And soon I expect to roam the hills and valleys of the west.”

[Written by John H. D. Smith (son of J. B. Smith) while in France during World War I]

The Orondo area has been home to Indian tribes, early explorers, traders, Chinese miners, missionaries, and prospectors, but the present townsite owes much to the founding efforts of John Brown Smith. It was after a failed wheat crop in 1884, several miles east of Waterville in O’kanogan, that J. B. Smith traveled to the Columbia River and claimed his highly-prized Orondo Grove. Much of that land now sits under Lake Entiat, behind the current school.

Finding too much “humbuggery” in the practice of medicine, Dr. J. B. Smith focused on building a town. He made friends with the local Native Americans, ventured to find gold, and focused on crop growing. In 1887, J. B. Smith platted the original townsite of Orondo. In the spring of that year, the Fishers planted peach pits and began what would become the chief industry of the area.

Origin of the Name

According to Meany’s Origin of Washington Geographic Names, Smith named the townsite in honor of Lake Superior Indian of the same name, whose ancestors were thought to be miners of ancient Lake Superior copper mines (referred to today as the Old Copper Complex). At that time, there were many myths circulating about the possible connections between these copper-users and ancient Atlantis.

The town was coined “the town which holds the key,” and hopes were high for the handful of families living in the area. J. B. Smith also stocked his general store with $3,000 in goods and established the Orondo post office, of which he was the postmaster. To boost the community’s growth, Smith donated a second addition of land in 1888 and a third in 1889. He served as a state legislator between 1893 and 1897.

Big Bend Empire Press Advertisement, February 16, 1888

“A glance at the map of Washington Territory will convince the eagle eye of the business man that Orondo holds the key to the future of great magnitude. A history of the Big Bend cannot be written without Orondo unlocking her stores of wealth contained in the rolling water of the mighty Columbia River in her long journey from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. A line drawn eastward from the Puget Sound, near the Sixth Standard Parallel, will pass almost directly through Seattle, Orondo, Davenport and Spokane Falls, the four depots of industry that stand at the gateways of Puget Sound, the Columbia river and the Rocky Mountains that by virtue of their natural positions will control the commerce and manufacturers of Central Washington.”

After the terrible winter of 1889, which killed cattle by the hundreds, Orondo saw a change as the Ruud family opened the town’s first hotel. According to a materials list given to John H. D. Smith by Mr. Ruud, The hotel was constructed with Badger Mountain lumber $400.82. That same year, the Thompson’s opened their drug store and W. S. Gehr opened his mercantile business in Orondo.

A detailed memorandum written by one of Orondo’s pioneering men around this time gives current Orondo residents a unique glance back into their own past. J. C. Bonar’s memorandum keeps record from his first trip to Orondo in 1887 to his death in 1892. In it, he recorded going to Orondo shops and buying windows for $1.70, kerosene oil at $.60 per gallon, and a stove for $35. During the winter of 1889, he recorded building a stable for Adams at $1.50 per day. During Bonar’s life, he named many of the surrounding tributaries, including Roaring Creek, Mad River, Muddy Creek, and Quartz Creek.

The Orondo News

J. B. Smith began publication of the Orondo News weekly in 1889 as a promotional scheme for the area. This predates most newspaper of early central Washington. It boldly declared, “[t]he News is independent in every thing and neutral in nothing, a fearless exponent of the rights of the people.” The operation was moved to Waterville in 1890 and renamed The Douglas County Democrat.

ariel view of a valley with a road cutting through the center. farm land in the foreground mountains in the background.

(Source: Auvil Fruit. Image by Unknown, 1928)

In 1893, to the great dismay of Orondo’s founders, the railroads were built on the Entiat side of the Columbia. Though Orondo lost residents and businesses, many retained their initial hope for the community. W. S. Gehr, along with J. F. Hunt, Henry Lawshe, and H. M. Cheatham organized the Orondo Shipping Company. Several stages a day traveled to and from Waterville, and heavy shipments of grain were sent to Wenatchee by way of steamers that worked the Columbia. However, as construction for the Rocky Reach Hydroelectric Dam began in 1958, steam ferries could no longer traverse that stretch of the Columbia and the business was ruined. Many acres of Orondo were consumed by the waters of Lake Entiat. Orondo, however, could not be sunk.

In the late 1930’s, an influx of Arkansas immigrants escaping the Dust Bowl of the Dirty Thirties took over as the labor force in local orchards. Jerry Sonney, longtime Orondo resident, has witnessed the “cyclical nature” of this agricultural industry’s workforce. Today, many of the orchards in Orondo are owned by residents of Arkansas heritage who are hiring mostly Hispanic laborers. Many of these laborers have worked into leadership and ownership roles.

Cherries being hand picked from a branch

(Source: Orondo RUBY, G&C Farms)

Today, Orondo thrives upon its agriculture and a community effort to provide quality education for its kids. A new elementary school, built in 1990, replaced the 1912 schoolhouse. The graduating 7th graders get their choice between joining the Chelan, Eastmont or Waterville school districts.

low brick building with sign orondo elementary school and a flag pole in front

(Source: North Central Washington Portal)

small post office building with mountains behind and large American flag in front

(Source: Image by Chris Metz)

There is no “downtown” in Orondo, but if you’re in the market for a juicy tree fruit, the roadside stops along Orondo cannot be beat. Travelers heading north along Highway 97 “B” toward Lake Chelan are treated to rich scenery and abundant opportunities to sample the fruit of Orondo’s labors. Today, Auvil Fruit Company’s founder Grady Auvil is remembered as one of the pioneering leaders of the industry.

old billboard reading Gee Whiz with an american flag sticking out the top

Gee Whiz sign along Highway 97 and Grady Auvil with “Grady’s Granny’s”

Since the founding of Auvil Fruit in 1928 with his two brothers, Grady Auvil was a Pacific Northwest leader in fruit production practices. His efforts not only brought fame to the “GEE WHIZ” label but increased the quality of fruit in Orondo and surrounding areas. Grady Auvil is most well known for introducing the Granny Smith apple to Washington, for which he received the Washington Medal of Merit from Governor Gary Locke in 1998. His dedication and spirit hearken back to the founding of the community. The Orondo agricultural community as a whole shares these qualities, from which new fruits and new opportunities are consistently being developed.

lush green farmlands on the waters edge with mountains across the water

(Source:Orondo RUBY, G&C Farms)

For many travelers, Orondo is just another town along the way to somewhere else. It would be a shame, however, to miss out on all that the community has to offer. The fruit is sweet there with the rich history of a community built and maintained by true pioneers.