Native American cultures in the area included the Interior Salish, Wenatchi, Okanagan. The first white settlers began to arrive in the mid-to-late-19th century, primarily with the goal of raising livestock. One government official described the area in 1879 as, "…a desolation where even the most hopeful can find nothing in its future prospects to cheer...".
Railroads & the Change in Industry
When railroads arrived they also brought new settlers, and the economy began a shift from ranching to dryland farming. This transition required the people to have ready access to water, and irrigation became a necessity. The first large-scale irrigation attempts began in 1898, but it would be years before real success.
With the influx of dryland farming, the county soon boasted access to three major railway systems; the Great Northern Railway, Northern Pacific Railroad and the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad. In addition, the Columbia River in this area was navigable. This allowed crops to be transported out of the area easily. Towns like Wilson's Creek, Quincy and Ephrata began to thrive.
The Washington State Legislature officially created Grant County February 24, 1909, and named after President Ulysses S. Grant. The county seat was located in Ephrata. The population in the county at the time was only about 8700 people.
Columbia Basin Reclamation Project
The Columbia Basin Reclamation Project, which began as a group of businessmen from Ephrata began looking for ways to make the area more viable. One idea was to dam the Columbia River at Grand Coulee. Although the idea of the Grand Coulee Dam would not be approved until 1933 and still not implemented until 1939, the project would fundamentally change the region forever.