The Methow Valley  was originally part of the Moses Reservation, but when members of the Moses-Columbia tribe refused to be placed on land away from their home along the Columbia River, the government opened the valley to homesteaders. The first white settlers reached the site of present-day Winthrop  in the 1880s, lured by gold fever.
The town itself goes back to 1891, when an easterner named Guy Waring opened Methow Trading Company. A devastating fire two years later nearly destroyed the new town and forced Waring to return East to recoup his losses and get East Coast financing. After returning, Waring incorporated the town in 1897 and named it in honor of John Winthrop, the colonial governor of Massachusetts (another version says it was for Theodore Winthrop, an early Washington settler killed in the Civil War). Waring stayed in business for almost half a century, and at one time owned every building on the main street except the town hall.
One of Waring’s Harvard classmates, Owen Wister, came to visit and used some of his friend’s experiences in his famous novel, The Virginian—considered the first Western novel. (This is the Washington version; folks in Medicine Bow, Wyoming, say the book was inspired by their townsfolk, and they seem to have a stronger point. A hero has many fathers.)
After the collapse of mining in the area, Winthrop  headed toward oblivion; even the founder went bankrupt and moved back East. But then, as the North Cascades Highway  was completed in the late 1960s, the citizens of Winthrop began looking for a way to pull themselves out of the doldrums. The successful transformation of nearby Leavenworth  into a Bavarian-theme town inspired locals to do their own makeover into a Hollywoodesque Old West town. A local benefactor, Kathryn Wagner, widow of a sawmill owner, put up matching funds, and Leavenworth architects brought in their design expertise.
By the time the first carloads of tourists crossed Washington Pass in 1972, Winthrop  had covered its concrete buildings with false fronts, laid down wooden sidewalks, and added Old West signs and hitching posts. Today the shops are crowded with trendy gear, trinkets, upscale foods, books, and, of course, espresso.
Warning: gas prices here are some of the highest in the state of Washington. Tank up elsewhere!