Nestled in the Cascade mountains of Washington State is a bit of Bavaria called Leavenworth. The land is about as idyllic as it gets: a vibrant autumn palette spilling out onto the leaves and bushes, babbling creeks and thick forests all surrounded by jagged peaks waiting to be dusted with snow.
The present-day town is small, but inviting—main street makes you feel like you’ve been transported to a German town in the Alps rather than Washington State. Beer halls and German eateries are full of tourists visiting on weekend trips. Boutiques are making sale after sale. It’s only October, but once the town turns on its impressive Christmas lights at the start of December, the town is standing room only—nearly impossible to maneuver through without waiting in a line of some sort for your currywurst and Hefeweizen.
However, Leavenworth wasn’t always so busy—or so German. Historically, the town was on the land of the Yakama, Chinook and Wenatchi tribes, where they were said to have co-existed peacefully. Later, pioneers came to settle what is now Leavenworth in search of gold, bringing in even more settlers, and by the end of the 1800’s a rail line.
With the arrival of the rail line, job opportunities popped up and the local economy flourished. Leavenworth became a hub of logging and the town was thriving…until the Great Northern Railway Company decided to re-route and pulled the rail line out of Leavenworth. This caused the local logging and sawmill industries to collapse, and Leavenworth was dangerously close to becoming a ghost town for many years after.
The great thing about small towns is that there is often a tight-knit community at its backbone. Thankfully, Leavenworth was no exception, and the townspeople rallied together to think of inventive ways to keep their secluded, mountain village from falling by the way-side.
In the 1960’s, more than 30 years after Leavenworth saw its darkest times, the town leaders proposed a unique idea to revive their beloved home: they wanted to give Leavenworth an extreme makeover. With the surrounding mountains as inspiration, the townspeople decided they’d model Leavenworth after a Bavarian village.
The entire downtown area was remodeled in a Bavarian-style, and several festivals were implemented into the town’s calendar. Soon after, tourists began showing up in search of this odd village, and now Leavenworth boasts more than 1 million visitors annually.
Though the main attraction of Leavenworth is its very Bavarian downtown area, I was equally impressed by the natural beauty of the area. Autumn has never looked so good.
Gorgeous, isn’t it?