Once the Umatilla County seat, Umatilla has a long history in the state. Lewis and Clark first visited the site on April 27, 1806, as they surveyed the Pacific Northwest for the U.S. government.
In 1861, Umatilla Landing was established and, on Oct. 24, 1864, the little town along the Columbia River was incorporated, only to have its incorporation repealed a year later. In 1906, Umatilla was reincorporated. Between 1928 and 1931, a study was done for the McNary Dam site. Construction on the dam began in 1947 and was dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on Sept. 23, 1954. In 1955, workers built a bridge over the Columbia River, replacing the ferry that had operated since 1864.
The John Day Dam project, completed in 1968, raised the water level in the Columbia River, which meant the original town site had to move where it is today. In 1973, the city annexed the town site of McNary.
Today, Umatilla is the fourth-largest city in Umatilla County, with a population of 6,440, more than double the population from the 1990 U.S. Census. Milton-Freewater is slightly larger in population - 110 more citizens. However, Umatilla has increased its population steadily during the past 18 years, while Milton-Freewater has lost population during the past two years.
Plans are under way to build a new $2 million, 9,700 square foot city hall and library with a community room for council meetings and other events. Larry Clucas, city manager, said the plans are expected to be back from the architect this month.
"We are hoping to do the ground-breaking this fall," Clucas said.
Talks are being held to do something with the old town site as well. Clucas and other city officials have met with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to figure out what to do with the property. Clucas says there is nothing definite yet, but the parties are working on an agreement. The land the old town site occupies once was a gathering place for many tribes along the river and there are burial sites on the property.
"We want to make it more attractive to the city," Clucas said. "Maybe with a cultural center. We want to do what we need to do to protect the culture of the Native Americans."
Two Rivers Correctional Institution, east of Umatilla, broke ground on April 5, 1997, and was completed in March 2000. The prison brought many jobs to the area, said Clucas.
The city completed major improvements on its water system in 1994 and completed a new wastewater treatment plant in 2000. The old Umatilla High School was demolished in 1999 to make room for a new high school. The city built a new soccer field near the Umatilla Marina.
The Port of Umatilla owns four parcels of industrial land, the largest just east of McNary Dam. The Port sells or leases land to expanding businesses that create jobs and increase capital investment in Umatilla County. The McNary Industrial Park has a new modern, full-service maritime facility with a crane to move containers to and from barges that dock at the facility. Tenants include Boise Cascade, Hagerman Trucking, Tidewater Barge Lines, Pendleton Grain Growers, and Columbia River Logistics Inc.
There are several new businesses in Umatilla, including restaurants like Divine Dining, Xcess Bar and Lounge, Keep It Simple Suppers. Specks Printing has moved to Umatilla into the old Selectric building. A few businesses have either changed their names or moved to new building - Columbia Red Apple is now Columbia Harvest Foods, the Zip Trip has new owners and is called Abel's Market and Umatilla Golf Course has new owners and has transformed the links now known as Big River Golf Course. Bill Kik has taken over the Eagle View Golf Center and Driving Range and has made major improvements to it, said Clucas.
Selectric moved from its building on Third Street and has taken over the old Mor Theater building on Sixth Street to include Karlington Electric.
Miss Sally's Gentlemen's Club has opened for the 18-20 year old crowd.
The Umatilla Chamber of Commerce has become increasingly more active during the past few years, bringing in topical speakers to their chamber luncheons, working on building business in the area and taking on such projects as Umatilla Landing Days, which happens every June at the Umatilla Marina. A day to celebrate Umatilla's heritage, Landing Days brings fun, food and music to town. A run-walk - It's Just a Dam Run - starts the day off early in the morning, a parade through town to the marina where vendors ply their wares and groups entertain culminates with a dance and a fireworks show.
And let's not forget the main attraction of Umatilla - the Columbia River.
McNary Dam and Locks offers an opportunity for tourists to see how a dam operates and watch the fish swim by in the fish ladder. The Pacific Salmon Information Center is housed in the juvenile salmon bypass and transportation facility at McNary Dam. People can learn about the life cycle of the salmon with computer exhibits and videos. There are fish-viewing windows, tours of the powerhouse and nature trails where hikers can see a variety of wildlife. Folks might even see the Oregon state animal, the beaver, swimming in one of the many ponds while wandering the trails.
The Umatilla Marina Park has a marina and RV park for those traveling either by recreational vehicle or boat. Fishing for walleye - the unofficial city fish - and other aquatic vertebrates like bass, steelhead, sturgeon and salmon in the Columbia River brings fishermen - and women - from all over the country. Every Labor Day weekend, fishermen from all over come to the Oregon Governor's Cup Walleye Tournament, conducted on the river near the marina. Fishermen participating in this two-day, two-person, catch-and-release tournament have reeled in Oregon and Washington record-sized fish. Eighty percent of the entry fees for the tournament are paid back in prize money to the top 10 teams.
Visit www.umatilla.org for more information.