The Port of Kennewick is located across the Columbia River from Pasco, Washington. Lying on the south banks of the Columbia, the Port of Kennewick is 32 nautical miles upriver (35 kilometers or 22 miles northeast) of the Port of Umatilla. The Port of Kennewick is over 290 kilometers (181 miles) southeast of the Port of Seattle. The Port of Kennewick is part of the Kennewick-Pasco-Richland metropolitan area. The 2010 US Census reported a population of over 73.9 thousand people living in the Port of Kennewick and 253.3 thousand people in the metropolitan area.
The Port of Kennewick is at the heart of an agricultural area with crops like corn, alfalfa, beans, sugar beets, cherries, and grapes. The hydroelectric dams located northwest of the metropolitan area on the Columbia River are important to the local Port of Kennewick economy, as is the US Government's Hanford Works, where plutonium was made for the first nuclear bombs. There are also several processing plants for chemicals and agricultural products located near the Port of Kennewick where the Columbia meets both the snake and Yakima Rivers. In 2009, the Port of Kennewick was recognized by Forbes as one of the top ten small cities in the United States for job growth based on the rich farmland in the area and hiring by the nearby Pacific Northwest National Laboratory run by the Department of Energy.
In 1996, human remains that were found to be some 9400 years old were found in the Port of Kennewick's Columbia Park. Because some features suggested European descent, controversy has surrounded the find. Native American claims on the remains as ancestral were rejected by the Courts. Analysis has shown a genetic link to modern Polynesians. Called Kennewick Man, the remains are one of the most complete pre-historic skeletons that have ever been discovered.
Before Europeans came to the area, the Walla Walla, Umatilla, and Cayuse people lived along the Columbia River and its tributaries. Traveling the river by canoe, the indigenous people of the area fished and traded.
Both the Umatilla and Walla Walla people were part of the Shahaptian-speaking people that populated southeast Washington, northeast Oregon, and western Idaho. The Cayuse fished the tributaries of the Columbia and adopted horses and guns to protect their lands. The tribes were tied together by familial, social, and economic activities.
When the US Government took tribal lands in 1855, the three tribes created the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. In 1949, they formed a unified tribal government. Today, there are more than 2800 tribal members.
Steamboats and railroads brought white settlers to the future Port of Kennewick area in the 1880s when the Northern Pacific Railroad built a temporary bridge between Pasco and the Port of Kennewick. The Northern Pacific Irrigation Company established pumps and ditches in the Port of Kennewick Highlands to provide water for agriculture. With a source of water, farmers created orchards and vineyards throughout the Port of Kennewick area.
The Port of Kennewick was incorporated in early 1904. In 1914, the Dalles-Celilo Canal opened, linking the Port of Kennewick to the Pacific Ocean. Mild winters produced abundant spring crops, and cherry and apple orchards dotted the Port of Kennewick area. Within a decade, Port of Kennewick farmers were producing Concord grapes, and the annual Grape Festival they established continues today.
By 1950, more than ten thousand people lived in the Port of Kennewick. In the 1970s, three nuclear power plants fed the local economy, bringing new jobs and workers to the area.