Bavarian Village in the Cascade Mountains
December 21, 2021
This time of year it’s easy to find ‘lists’ of the best holiday and Christmas towns in the U.S. For those who live in Washington State, it’s no surprise to find Leavenworth always on those lists.
It was named, a few years ago, as the ultimate holiday town by the A&E TV network. No wonder, then, that the place has been overrun in recent years with tourists – especially during November and December.
The Leavenworth story began in 1892 when lumber was king. A sawmill was located on the Wenatchee River and the Great Northern Railway established its terminal there; the last stop before the climb up and over Steven’s Pass to Seattle.
The town thrived for several decades until the railway moved the terminal to Wenatchee in 1925. Over the course of the next 25 years the lumber mills closed and residents – with no hope of employment – moved away, leaving much of the town boarded up and abandoned.
Leavenworth could have followed the fate of other small towns, withering away into historical obscurity. But thanks to the vision of two Seattle businessmen, a plan was hatched. The Infallible Wikipedia tells us:
“The city looked to tourism and recreation as a major economy as early as 1929, when they opened a ski jump. In 1962, the Project LIFE (Leavenworth Improvement For Everyone) Committee was formed in partnership with the University of Washington to investigate strategies to revitalize the struggling logging town. The theme town idea was created by two Seattle businessmen, Ted Price and Bob Rodgers, who had bought a failing cafe on Highway 2 in 1960. Price was chair of the Project LIFE tourism subcommittee, and in 1965 the pair led a trip to a Danish-themed town, Solvang, California, to build support for the idea. The first building to be remodeled in the Bavarian style was the Chikamin Hotel, which owner LaVerne Peterson renamed the Edelweiss after the state flower of Bavaria.”
Perhaps the thing which was most compelling for the Bavarian theme is Leavenworth’s incredible natural scenery. At an elevation of 1,170 feet, Leavenworth is noted for its Continental Mediterranean climate. Summer days are primarily sunny and hot but with cool, crisp nights. Winters are typically cold and snowy.
The snowiest winter on record in Leavenworth occurred in 1968-69 when over 18 feet of snow accumulated. The most snow in a single month was December 1996 with 92.3 inches – yes, that’s nearly 8 feet of snow! A typical YEAR is 90 inches.
The mountains to the west rise precipitously, becoming the perfect backdrop for an Alps-like village. In the winter, the picturesque slopes and snow covered trees and hills causes one to stop and ponder.
Leavenworth has, in many ways, become a victim of its success. So popular is the destination that hotel rooms are sold out – often a year or more in advance – for the big festivals and finding a place to park becomes impossible. Seattleites (a generic description of anyone from the Westside of the Cascade mountains) have in recent decades discovered the Bavarian village and cars stream across the mountains in search of a magical experience.
As a girl growing up in the 1960’s and 70’s in Yakima, visiting Leavenworth was NOT a thing. The first time I stayed in Leavenworth was when my sister and I hatched a plan to celebrate New Year’s eve there on December 31, 1999 – to ring in the year 2000 (I wrote about that here.)
In the ensuing years, we made the occasional trip to Leavenworth but never again in December. Until this past weekend.
My daughter – having survived the Y2K scare during that 1999 trip – and her fiancé decided they wanted to get married someplace in Washington where there would (they hoped!) be snow. Thus Leavenworth was chosen as the perfect spot. Waaaaaay back in March 2019 right after getting engaged, they visited Leavenworth and reserved their venue at the Icicle Village Resort for December 19th… 2020.
The planning commenced. Save the Date postcards were mailed. A wedding dress was purchased. Attendants secured. All was coming together right up until March 2020 when the world shut down.
There’s nothing quite like a global pandemic to change plans. The ‘wedding’ did happen on December 19, 2020 but with a total of five people present besides the bride and groom: the officiant, the maid of honor, the best man, a photographer, and a videographer.
As the bride’s mother I was not happy with this but also being a realist did not lament over it but resolved to make the best of the situation. As did my daughter and new son in law.
Determination took over and no way were they going to let a little thing like the world being shut down (eat your heart out Y2K – 2020 said ‘hold my beer.’) to stop them from having the wedding event of their dreams.
Fast forward to December 2021. The Pandemic still raged and yet people had finally figured out that the world continued on despite it all.
Thus it was we found ourselves in Leavenworth on Friday, December 17th, preparing for a party. We rehearsed and then picked our way down icy streets to downtown to eat German style sausages and raise glasses of beer (except me – I don’t do beer). The younger folks continued on to a couple other locations while the hubby and I walked back to the resort.
Within a short time of our arrival back, I looked out our window – which had that perfect view of the mountains to the west – and noted that snow had started to fall.
The next morning, the snow continued. Both Stevens and Snoqualmie passes were closed for a time and about a dozen guests opted out.
Even so, just before 4 p.m., those who had made the trek, arrived for the OUTDOOR wedding. Worried about the comfort of the guests, my niece’s husband had graciously – at my behest – gone and purchased white garbage bags so everyone would have dry chairs to sit on. I stood, in my formal dress and snow boots, at where they entered and handed bags to every single person!
And then it was time… first the groom’s mother was escorted down the aisle and then me. The snow fell as if in snow globe, everything blanketed in glittery white.
Next came the officiant and our son-in-law. Then the train of groomsmen followed by the bridesmaids bedecked in shades of blue.
Then, at last, we all stood, turned and watched as my daughter – looking every bit a Bavarian fairytale princess – swept down the aisle on her father’s arm. And I was so very glad she had persisted in her desire to have not one – but two – weddings. It was a magical moment which I will carry with me the rest of my days.
It occurred to me that along the way, Leavenworth would forever hold a special place in our family’s history; an exclamation point for a few important events. I have a suspicion that there’s a whole bunch of Washingtonians who feel the same way.
The three other Washington State ‘theme’ towns pictured on Facebook are: Winthrop, Lynden, and La Conner