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Kent History

Learn how Kent came to be, and what sets our city apart from the rest!

Agricultural roots

Originally called Titusville, the Kent area was first settled in the early 1860s along the banks of what was then known as the White River. At that time, the city was primarily an agricultural community known for its hops until aphids destroyed the crops in the early 1890s. The city was renamed for Kent County, England, a large hops producer, in 1889. Kent officially incorporated the next year, the first city after Seattle to incorporate in King County.

In the early 1900s, dairy farming became popular and the Carnation Milk Company built a plant which would soon become successful. Along with the building of an interurban rail service, the small farming community grew, adding banks, schools, churches and stores. In 1906, a major flood merged the White River with the Green River near Auburn. The White River changed course, while the Green River remained in Kent.

As the town grew, so did its agricultural roots. In addition to being known for egg and dairy farming, Kent was known as the "Lettuce Capital of the World" in the 1920s. Businesses including Smith Brothers Dairy, which still exists in Kent today, got their start. First-generation Japanese farmers, known as the Issei, leased farmland in Kent, providing half the area’s fresh milk and 70 percent of the fruit and vegetables produced in Western Washington. In the 1930s, the Great Depression struck, but the town persevered, hosting a lettuce festival in 1934 that drew more than 25,000 people to Kent.

Post World War II Growth

When World War II started, it would forever change the community. Japanese Americans were forced into internment camps, so the farming community suffered a shortage of labor. While men went off to war, women worked in the defense industry and children were sometimes enlisted to work on the farms. Following the war, very few Japanese Americans returned to the Kent Valley. Coupled with flooding issues from the Green River, the farming landscape in the area changed.

In 1962, the Howard A. Hanson dam was competed to help prevent the Kent Valley from flooding. Developers and other industries moved in to transform the Kent Valley into an industrial area of manufacturing and distribution. The first major industry to move to Kent was the aerospace industry, with the building of the Boeing Aerospace Center in 1965. The Apollo Moon Buggie was built there in 1970, on land previously used for farming. Soon other manufacturers and warehousing companies moved to Kent, followed by high-tech companies in the 1980s.

Kent Today – A City Connected

Now 124 years old, Kent is the sixth largest city in the state of Washington. It has a population of approximately 120,000 people in a geographic area of about 34 square miles. Kent is known for its global diversity, with 138 languages being spoken in homes, businesses and schools throughout the city, bringing together people and cultures from all over the world. Kent was even named one of the Best Places to Live by Seattle Metropolitan Magazine.

Located between Seattle and Tacoma, Kent features lush farmland, beautiful parks, the Green River and views of Mount Rainier and the Cascade and Olympic Mountains, making it a beautiful place to live, work and visit. Just seven miles from Seattle-Tacoma (Sea-Tac) International Airport, Kent is easily accessible from Interstate 5, State Route 167 and other major highways.

Kent is the second largest manufacturing and distribution center on the West Coast and the fourth largest in the nation. More than 4,500 businesses are located in Kent, including Boeing, REI, Oberto Sausage Company, Flow International Corporation, Omax Corporation, Puget Sound Steel, Pacific Metal Company, TMX Aerospace, Sysco and Alaska Airlines.

In addition to its strong business presence, Kent is known for its award-winning schools and quality of life. In 2003, Kent was named Sports Illustrated’s "Sportstown of the Year" for the state of Washington. In 2012, Skate America held one of its international skating competitions at the renowned ShoWare Center. In the summer, Kent features Kent Cornucopia Days, Kent International Festival, a weekly Farmer's Market run by the Lions Club, dragon boat racing on Lake Meridian, and free concert series hosted by the Kent Arts Commission and Kent Station. Year round, the city has an art gallery, several museums, concerts, arts and entertainment, public art, outdoor recreation, shopping, dining, sporting events and nightlife.

Kent – A City with Aspirations

As the city of Kent grows, it has evolved into a city of aspirations for a vibrant future. Kent’s Historic District is in the process of a transformation that includes residential development and and façade updates, bridging the gap between the old and the new. Kent is also attracting big businesses to the area, including Amazon who is building an 800,000-square-foot fulfillment center in the Kent Valley, bringing new jobs to the area.

Kent – Bringing the World Home

Sources: Greater Kent Historical Society and City of Kent



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