As with many towns in the Pacific Northwest, Leavenworth began as a railroad town. The land that is now downtown Leavenworth was originally purchased and built upon by Captain Charles Leavenworth of the Okanogan Investment Company. Leavenworth was a bustling trade town, and the railroad was a major source of livelihood for the town. In fact, for the longest time the town’s streets were parallel with the railroad tracks.
Known for its timber and fur trade, in the late 1800s Leavenworth became the headquarters of the Great North Railroad. Unfortunately, the railroad relocated in the late 1920s, and Leavenworth fell into a slump. After the incredible burst of prosperity, Leavenworth struggled for more than 30 years. That is, until 1962, when the town found salvation in change.
Project LIFE (Leavenworth Improvement for Everyone) was a committee formed to revitalize the community and rebuild Leavenworth, not as a lumber town, but a tourist hotspot. In the early 1960s, Owen and Pauline Wilson visited Solvang, California, a booming tourist town designed in the Danish style. They then convinced the leaders of Leavenworth to begin a transformation to the European body and spirit. The buildings downtown were redesigned to classic Bavarian standards, and the town began to hold festivals and events that brought to mind German reveling.
Situated in Tumwater Canyon, Leavenworth is known for its alpine-like feel, which makes it the perfect spot for a Bavarian Village. Colorful mountains and winding rivers surround the town, providing a natural playground for outdoor sports such as swimming, rafting, hiking, rock climbing and skiing.
And like any good Bavarian village, Leavenworth is home to a plethora of music, dancing, and food. Dressed in traditional lederhosen, the town band, or Musikkapelle, performs throughout the year. Beer gardens, ice cream parlors, and fine restaurants will sate any appetite. And of course, Leavenworth has many festivals, including Icefest, Maifest, Oktoberfest, Chirstkindlmarkt, and Christmas Tree Lighting.
Since the decision to turn Leavenworth into a Bavarian village, the town has become well known across the United States and beyond. In 2009, Leavenworth was named the Ultimate HolidayTown USA by A&E, and the town has appeared on multiple travel shows as a premier destination.
Leavenworth is home to many organizations that help keep the Bavarian spirit alive. The Musikkapelle was established to give the town a traditional band. The Marlin Handbell Ringers are a unique addition to the town's musical appeal. Leavenworth Summer Theater plays to huge audiences. And, of course, Leavenworth is home to the premier community choir, the Village Voices.