Washington Territorial Legislature creates Adams County on November 28, 1883.

  • By Paula Becker
  • Posted 7/02/2006
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7832

On November 28, 1883, the Washington Territorial Legislature creates Adams County. It does so by partitioning the large Whitman County into Whitman, Franklin, and Adams counties.

Whitman County was organized on November 29, 1871, and included the present (2006) Whitman, Adams, and Franklin counties. Colfax was the county seat. Settlers in the future Adams County found it inconvenient to travel to Colfax in order to conduct legal business.

At the time Adams County was formed there were about 150 people living in the area, most in or near Ritzville. In 1883 a number of these settlers paid for settler Samuel A. Wells to travel to Olympia and lobby for the creation of one or two new counties to be subdivided out of Whitman County. An Illustrated History of the Big Bend Country, published in 1904, quotes Wells's memories of the moment it occurred to him to try to organize a more convenient county division:

"In looking over a map of the period when Whitman County embraced both Adams and Franklin, it one day occurred to me that Ritzville might be converted into a county capital. Impressed with this idea I went to the railroad station and broached the subject. The people with whom I conversed pronounced the scheme impracticable. They said, 'It can't be done.' I replied, 'Can't is a word I do not recognize in my vocabulary.' On this line I proceeded and against great obstacles and numerous discouragements succeeded in securing the formation of the two counties and the location of the county seat of Adams at Ritzville" (p. 762).

An Illustrated History... states that in Olympia Wells "worked assiduously in the interest of the bill. There was, in fact, but little opposition ..." (p. 761).

Adams County's boundaries were defined as follows:

"Beginning at the northwest corner of township 14 north, range 28 east of the Willamette meridian; running thence north to the 4th standard parallel; thence east to the Columbia guide meridian; thence north to the 5th standard parallel; thence east on said parallel to the line between the ranges 38 and 39; thence south on said line to where it intersects the Palouse River in township 16; thence down said river to where the line between townships 14 and 15 crosses said river; thence west on said line to the place of beginning" (An Illustrated History, p.762).

The county was named in honor of John Adams (1735-1826), the nation's first vice-president and second president.

James G. Bennett, George Sinclair, Sr., and J. L. Johnson were appointed county commissioners. Adams County was attached to Spokane for judicial purposes and to Whitman for legislative purposes.

On December 9, 1883, the newly appointed Adams County commissioners met for the first time and officially organized the county.


Newton Carl Abbott and Fred E. Carver, compiled by J. W. Helm, The Evolution of Washington Counties (Yakima: Yakima Valley Genealogical Society and Klickitat County Historical Society, 1978), p. 142; The History of Adams County, Washington (Ritzville: Adams County Historical Society, 1986), p. 3; An Illustrated History of the Big Bend Country Embracing Lincoln, Douglas, Adams, and Franklin Counties State of Washington (Spokane: Western Historical Publishers, 1904), p. 761-762.

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