Envisioning a New Northwest
"It is the same everywhere, from the Mississippi to the Pacific. Men seem to live in the future rather than in the present: not that they fail to work while it is called to-day, but that they see the country not merely as it is, but as it will be, twenty, fifty, a hundred years hence, when the seedlings shall have grown to forest trees."-- James Bryce, The American Commonwealth ( 1893)
During the years bracketed by the completion of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1883 and U.S. entry in the First World War in 1917, the Pacific Northwest moved inexorably into a postfrontier world. That transition was not always smooth or peaceable. The generation of men and women who came to the West in covered wagons and sailing ships passed from the scene. They had been committed to building a new society in the wilderness; those who followed them were also builders-of cities, transcontinental railroad lines, irrigation works, schools and colleges, and state constitutions.
Economic depression and social dislocation occurred in the mid- 1880s and again from 1893 to 1897 to punctuate these years; but after prosperity returned in the late 1890s, the Pacific Northwest exuded a newfound air of confidence that took concrete form in two world's fairs, new skylines for cities, and an expanding number of prosperous-looking farms and ranches. Especially prominent during those ebullient decades, as observed by the journalist Ray Stannard Baker, was the contest by rival chambers of commerce to gather plums: "a plum, in the Western sense, is a new railroad, a