Although preceded by prospectors and Hudson’s Bay fur traders, the first Eastern settlers in the Leavenworth  area didn’t arrive until the late 1880s, with the news that the Great Northern Railway planned to lay tracks through the valley. The resulting population “boom” brought Leavenworth (originally called Icicle) about 300 people by the early 1900s.
They were mostly railroad men or lumberjacks employed by the Lamb-Davis Lumber Co., operators of one of the state’s largest sawmills. The after-hours rowdiness of these laborers gave little Leavenworth a rather unrefined reputation that took years to live down. Even so, by the early 1920s a wave of families bought tracts of land to grow “Wenatchee Big Red” apples.
When the railroad moved its switching yard from Leavenworth  to Wenatchee , and the sawmill closed its doors after logging all its waterfront land, these family-based fruit farms provided much of the town’s income. But by the 1960s, it was clear that Leavenworth needed more than apples to survive. With help from the University of Washington , a committee on tourism was formed to brainstorm, and it suggested a fall festival and a major remodeling job.
Suggestions for the town’s new motif ranged from a Gay ’90s theme to a Western town, but with the impressive mountain backdrop, an alpine village seemed the best answer. One of the first proponents was Ted Price, owner of a Swiss Bavarian–style café in Coles Corner. (The building, now Squirrel Tree Inn, still stands 14 miles northwest of Leavenworth.) The town’s renovation was financed with private funds and backed by local bankers. It quickly earned national recognition for the attention to detail, aggressive promotion, and bootstrap efforts.
Many of the buildings were designed by Karl Heinz Ulbricht, who had fled East Germany in the 1950s and who insisted upon authenticity and quality construction. By the late 1960s, the Bavarian theme had taken hold; it now covers almost every commercial building in town. Tourism has transformed a going-nowhere place into a premier success story in community improvement.