Grain Elevators & Railroads: The Building of the Frontier

Primary author: Elisha Madison
Co-author(s): David Bolingbroke
Faculty sponsor: Dr. Jeff Sanders

Primary college/unit: Arts and Sciences
Campus: Pullman


Grain is a foundational resource for the world, in this past year alone, 2,121 million metric tons of grain were produced and used. Whitman County is one of the top producers . . . To produce this amount of grain, grain elevators and silos are vital in storing and sorting. But these elevators are bereft without the trains to transport the grain to various states, or ports to be shipped around the globe. The local economy and settlement patterns were shaped in part by the rapid growth of the railroads from 1860 to 1897, which changed the landscape of the western frontier. This rapid industrial progression would eventually fail as the railroad dissipated.

This mapping project, focusing solely in Washington, specific in Whitman County, pinpoints the areas historical grain silos, flour mills, and railroads, in order to present a microhistory on how these sites became central to nation building, as towns were developed to meet the needs of a grain heavy economy. Using ArcGIS and photographs from the Dillman Collection, this project explores change over time through the mapping of original flat houses, to grain elevators/silos created in 1842, to their evolution; we see how people settled as they moved across the United States, and how the railroad and agriculture are tied irrevocably together.

Each signifier on the map, provides locations and history of these sites, allowing this to be an interactive map for everyone to increase understandings of the Pacific Northwest’s journey from frontier to advanced metropolis.