Benton CountyA History of Benton County and Prosser
The Foisy Family
This information was provided courtesy of Opal Martin, Curator of the Benton County Historical Museum, Lenore Donaldson, a member of the museum’s Board of Directors.
A History of Benton County and Prosser
The first covered wagons arrived in the Yakima Valley in 1853. A band of friendly Indians, intrigued by the sound of wagon wheels, followed the wagon train into the area. Unfortunately trouble soon began between the Indians and the new arrivals. It became so serious that Eastern Washington was closed to white settlement. However after a series of uprisings and battles, the ban was lifted.
It wasn’t until 1882 when the greatest influx of homesteaders entered the Yakima Valley in search of land. Colonel Prosser staked a homestead on the banks of the Yakima River in 1882; this site later became the foundation of the future city of Prosser. Prosser was a prominent citizen in the development of Yakima County, serving as County Auditor in 1886. He also attended the Constitutional Convention held in Olympia on July 4th as one of the 75 delegates charged with writing a Constitution for the new state of Washington.
Prosser, the future county seat of Benton County, was platted in 1884. Two separate settlements, Colonel Prosser’s site known as Prosser Falls and Kinneyville, formed the foundation of Prosser’s creation. James Kinney, an early pioneer who lived in a dug out, built a hotel on silts on the bank of the Yakima River. This town was known as Kinneyville until 1884 when twenty-four pioneers voted to call the town Prosser Falls when the two settlements merged. James Kinney was unsuccessful in naming the town but he is credited with naming the Horseheaven Hills because of his fascination with the lush wild grasses and wild horses.
Once the town was platted, the establishment of a post office and a school soon followed. The first school was called Lone Tree School, being near the banks of the Yakima River at the Lone Tree Landing. Mrs. Emma Cobb Warneke was the first school teacher in 1884, and Mrs. Flora Prosser was the first Post Office worker.
Prosser also allotted free land for churches. First to take advantage was the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1894. The building still stands and for many years housed the local funeral home.
In 1884 the Northern Pacific Railroad arrived in Prosser and played an important role in developing the Prosser community. Prosser became a railway town on the line of the Northern Pacific and an average of twenty trains passed through the city daily.
Notable settlers arrived in the Prosser area lured by the growth brought by the railroad.
Willis Mercer arrived with his family in 1886. He farmed and raised sheep and cattle in the Rattlesnake Hills and later on the Horse Heaven Hills. The Mercer Farm Ranches still operate today.
The first flour mill in the state that used the natural falls to generate power was built by Lewis Heinzerling. He arrived in Prosser in 1887 with five families traveling from the Midwest. Flour from this mill was sent to the victims of the great earthquake in San Francisco. Unfortunately lightning struck and destroyed the mill in 1945. In the 1880s Heinzerling also built the first wooden bridge across the Yakima River. The current concrete bridge replaced his in 1932.
The Anderson brothers, Henry and Elmer, arrived in Prosser in 1905 with their parents and homesteaded on Rattlesnake Hills north and west of Prosser. They became well-known citizens in the community. In 1924 they formed a partnership known as Anderson Brothers Ranches and became one of the largest farms in Washington State, raising sheep, cattle, wheat and other grains. The farms are still owned and operated by the Anderson family.
The L.C. Foisy and his family were also a prominent early pioneer family who arrived in 1924. L.C. (Nick) Foisy, the entrepreneur of the family, started with a candy store in downtown Prosser on Meade Ave. He also sold pianos and radios and then ventured into the restaurant business. He later acquired recreation halls and expanded his business to included juke boxes and pinball machines in a number of valley towns and on the Hanford Project during WWII.
Most of the industry around Prosser is linked to farming. Rich wheat fields, depending on rainfall, cover the plateaus of Horse Heaven Hills on the south and the Ratlesnake Hills on the north. The farms which are irrigated by the Sunnyside Irrigation Project were expanded by the Roza Irrigation District after World War II. A huge agricultural research and extension center, operated by scientists from Washington State University and the federal government, is situated ten miles north of Prosser.
Growing in abundance are applies, soft fruits, grapes, hops, alfalfa, and potatoes. A wine industry has developed in the Yakima Valley with many wineries located in the Yakima Valley and Prosser. Since irrigation is available on the Horse Heaven Hills, many successful farms produce many kinds of vegetables in addition to the produce mentioned earlier.
Kinneyville — named after James Kinney who settled the site in 1881. In 1884 the town’s name changed to Prosser Falls.
The Foisy Family
The Foisy parents and their nine children grew up in Prosser and were among those who helped build the town in early days. They owned and operated businesses and taught school in Prosser for many years. The present Whitstran School is situated on the acreage owned by Joe Foisy and the Foisy Road was named for him.
Among the stories about the Foisy family was one told by the late Henry Anderson. He recalled coming to Prosser with his parents, Mr. & Mrs. Gustaf Anderson and two brothers and one sister via the train. When the family could not find a place to stay, Gustaf stuck his head in the Foisy Barbershop and asked if he knew of a place to stay. “Don’t worry you can come home with me,” answered Mr. Foisy. Mr. Anderson recalled the family of six stayed several days with the Foisy family of eleven before moving on.