The Columbia River holds many stories of the past. If it could talk it would have a lot to say. This particular story is about the demise of an entire city. Ainsworth is it’s name, and it’s located outside of Burbank along the river edge. The abandoned townsite lay hidden to the highway by over-grown trees. The site sits in the fish and wildlife reserve off of Highway 12. You can get to it by taking the road that heads toward the river at the intersection just before the Boise Cascade paper plant.
You will have to cross an unmarked train crossing. BE CAREFUL! This is still in use. If you see a train on the track do not try to beat it to the crossing because it’s moving faster than you think and it’s not going to stop for you. Trains can take up to a mile to completely stop and can weigh thousands of tons. It’s just best to wait for the train to go by rather than risking getting hit because you don’t know just how fast it’s moving.
Once you’re across the tracks you will come to an intersection. Take that left and you will end up at the beginning of the townsite. Once there you will find a few foundations and an abandoned building. Most of the roads you will be on are the original roads from the town. If you look closely you can see the pavement and even the curb of the old street.
Be careful where you drive because the river is right there and without knowing it, you could walk right into the river. Also there is a spot that looks like you could drive out into the river in a truck a little ways. Don’t try it. You will only get stuck. That is very thick mud.
Ainsworth sits forgotten by changing times in a picturesque landscape along the river and offers some incredible views of the river. Sunsets happen to make this place look even more beautiful. Various forms of wildlife can be found there. Everything ranging from deer to geese, to all of the other river-side creatures that roam the columbia. Of course with wildlife comes a danger of having an unpleasant encounter with an unfriendly animal, so be aware. Being next to the river there will be beavers, otters, skunks, porcupines, and other critters.
But the wildlife isn’t the only thing to see there. Once you get to the townsite you are taken back to a time when this was a thriving city. The foundations belong to the former post office and stores that were there. The abandoned building is the old school house. It was originally 2 stories, but all that remains is the basement. The rest of the school was taken down. What’s left are the walls that were there at one point without any form of roof other than the trees growing above it.
The story of Ainsworth is one of unlikely success and untimely demise. The original town was a rough place. It was founded in the late nineteenth century by settlers to the area around the same time as Kennewick. You wouldn’t know by looking at it, but Ainsworth was a thriving town back in the day. It was also a lawless town. As so many town were back in the 1870′s, this one was very poor. Not only was it very poor, it had no high income family, or entity to pay for any form of law and order. It was without law for many years. It was just as bad as some of the worst outlaw towns from the old west that you read about in books and see in movies. All of the most despicable people lived there and ran the town.
Finally the railroad came to Ainsworth, and Ainsworth was named the county seat of Franklin County…. and nothing changed. One might think that a place named the county seat would be at least have some form of law, but that was not the case. The town was owned by the Northern Pacific Railroad, which many years later would merge with several others to form the railroad giant, Burlington Northern (and later Burlington Northern Sante Fe as it’s known as now).
When the railroad ran things, they were completely unregulated. I could go into the history of railroads in the US, but there have been entire volumes written on the subject. In short, it was ugly. Not only did they not care about their employees, who were basically forced labor, they were usually run by criminals. On top of that, the competition with other railroads was a glorified mob war. So this was what was in charge of Ainsworth. The town ended up being the place where all of the Asian workers went. Asian immigrants at the time were seen as lower than black people. So this should all paint a picture of the type of place Ainsworth was.
But through all of the shady actions of the town came great prosperity. At the time it was set to be what Pasco is today to the railroads. It was booming and growing unbelievably fast. Bust came in the form of a bridge. A railroad bridge was built down stream and connected to Pasco instead of Ainsworth. This bridge held the main line to the rest of the system. The turned Pasco into the main hub of BNSF that it is today and left Ainsworth to ruin from a lack of industry. The railroad could not justify having the railroad in Ainsworth any more and pulled out completely.
With the railroad went all of the people who made the railroad run. They all ended up in Pasco. This left Ainsworth with only a few people to live in the massive city. Ainsworth was a dying town by the turn of the century, which also brought the end to the chaos. Order was finally set in Ainsworth as it began to rebuild. The town would grow to be steady again, but never to the state that it was. It lasted until the construction of the dams along the Columbia began in the 1930s and 40s. By this time the town was pretty much a ghost town.
The final nail in the coffin came in the form of a government mandate to move the entire city out of the way of the rising waters caused by the dams. This was the fate of several cities along the Columbia. An operation this big even included moving out the buildings from the river. This was done by a man by the name of Lloyd Sanders (the late grandfather of the admin of this site). He moved all of the buildings along the river to different places. They usually ended up in a different town all together. So the water line got higher and the town was forced into abandonment.
Sixty years later, this is all that stands of this once wild and ruthless town. The buildings and foundations that remain are the ones that weren’t sunk by the waters of the Columbia. Most of the town is actually underwater. I don’t know if there is anything to see under water. It might be a fun adventure for a diver to find out if there is actually a town sunken in the river.