The Port of Pasco is the seat of Franklin County in southeastern Washington State. Located where the Columbia and Snake Rivers meet, the Port of Pasco is part of the Columbia River Waterway System. The Port of Pasco is just 1.6 nautical miles downriver (three kilometers or 1.86 miles east-southeast) from the Port of Kennewick. The Port of Pasco is also about 30 nautical miles upriver (36 kilometers or 22 miles northeast) from the Port of Umatilla.
The Port of Pasco is a busy river port and rail center and the biggest city in the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project. The 2010 US Census reported a population of almost 59.8 thousand people in the Port of Pasco and more than 253.3 thousand in the Kennewick-Pasco-Richland metropolitan area.
Before Europeans arrived in the area that would contain the Port of Pasco, the Wanapum people lived along the Columbia River from the mouth of the Snake River to above the Priest Rapids. Some 60 Wanapum still live near the Priest Rapids Dam.
The Wanapum left more than 300 petroglyphs in the basalt cliffs in what is now the Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park some 106 kilometers (65 miles) northwest of the Port of Pasco. In 1805, Wanapum Chief Cutssahnem and followers met the Lewis & Clark Expedition, greeting them warmly.
Smohalla, a spiritual leader, created a new religion for the Wanapum people. Washane ("Dreamer Religion") promised that the white men would go away if they followed the needed rituals and traditions. Rather than fighting the settlers coming to the Port of Pasco, the Wanapum prayed. As a result, they never signed treaties, nor were they able to retain tribal lands.
In 1953, much of their traditional tribal land was flooded with the construction of the Priest Rapids Dam some 60 nautical miles upriver from the Port of Pasco. Today, the Wanapum Heritage Center Museum retains artifacts from pre-Dam days, and the Wanapum River Patrol watches over the people's ancestral lands.
The Lewis & Clark Expedition camped at the site of the future Port of Pasco in 1805 where the Sacagawea State Park is located today. After their visit, fur traders and gold prospectors came to the Port of Pasco area.
In the 1880s, the Northern Pacific Railway brought many white settlers to the Port of Pasco. Officially incorporated in 1891, the Port of Pasco was named for Cerro de Pasco (Spanish), a Peruvian city. For many years, the Port of Pasco was a tiny railroad town.
In 1941, the Grand Coulee Dam's completion brought agriculture to the Port of Pasco area. During World War II, the Manhattan Project located the Hanford Nuclear Reservation (Hanford Works) some 48 kilometers (30 miles) northwest of the Port of Pasco where the United States government created the world's first full-scale plutonium production reactor. The Hanford Works made the plutonium that was used in the first nuclear bombs, including the bomb that was used on Nagasaki, Japan. The Hanford Works attracted many people to the Kennewick-Pasco-Richland area, although the Port of Pasco continued to be primarily a farming-based community.
Anticipating regional growth in the late 1990s, developers acquired farm lands around the Port of Pasco for commercial and residential development. Since then, the Port of Pasco has grown dramatically, and its tourism and retail industries have benefited. Many residents of Kennewick and Richland have moved to the "West Pasco" area of the Port of Pasco to take advantage of its brand new housing and businesses.