Online exhibits / Homesteaders and Pioneers
In the 1850s settlers began moving to the Olympic Peninsula and claiming land. Though beautiful, this northwest corner of America was isolated and difficult to homestead due to inhospitable weather and overwhelming forests. Under the Homestead Act of 1862, an individual could claim 160 acres of public land for a small fee. The homesteader received a title to the land if they lived on the land continuously and made certain improvements within 5 years, known as "proving up." The Homestead Act required that applicants farm the land - a way of life which was better suited to the American plains than to the Olympic Peninsula, due to its soil conditions, rainy climate, and topography. Yet the fact that homesteaders came and often succeeded in proving up is a testament to the hope and determination of early emigrants.
Newspapers, the government, and other groups such as railroad companies and land speculators were interested in encouraging emigration. They lauded the far west as a land of vast natural resources and opportunities. With its mild temperatures and plentiful rainfall, Washington was showcased in World's Fairs as a farmer's paradise. What early arrivals from the east actually found, however, was unsurveyed lands filled with immense trees and rugged mountains which lacked in roads, urban centers, and critical development in the form of schools, post offices, hospitals, or stores. The climate was indeed temperate, but obstacles to farming were many: clearing land of immense timber, poor soil drainage, rivers prone to flooding, difficulty in ripening of grain crops, and no marketplace to sell the crops which would grow.