Christmas Lights: Leavenworth, WA (Bavarian Village)

Christmas Lights in Leavenworth, WA December 2020
Mark Taylor

I spent many summers and a few Christmas’ in Leavenworth, Washington or better known today as the Bavarian Village. In a different time, it was a bustling area with a sawmill, mining, agriculture(mainly apples) and an active railroad line. My grandfather came over to work in the local bank and would stay there for the rest of his life. My grandmother was helping out her brother, a mining engineer, and she met my grandfather either at a social event or at the bank. They got married and raised two kids in the bustling town.

The rail line had a major problem though: snow. Snow made it impossible to keep trains running during the winter. In  February 1910, a major storm hit so hard that two trains were stuck on Stevens Pass for a week and then swept off the tracks later by an avalanche. It would become known as the Wellington Disaster. It resulted in major changes for the railway and the construction of a new 7.8 mile tunnel that was completed in 1929. Then to avoid further avalanche danger, the railroad relocated the route from Tumwater Canyon to Chumstick thus moving the railroad out of Leavenworth. This was a crippling blow to Leavenworth as the sawmill closed, business and people relocated elsewhere.

Leavenworth faded into obscurity, a town you passed by on Highway 2 on the way to Wenatchee or parts east. The Great Depression hit it hard as well as stores closed. By the 1950’s, the future looked bleak for this small town,   During the 1960’s, city leaders worked with the Bureau of Community Development, at University of Washington, to see what options they had to revitalize the town. A study noted the town was situated in an area, surrounded by mountains, that resembled Bavaria. A decision was made to convert the town into a Bavarian themed village that would attract tourists. The other choice was slow oblivion.

So from that start in the 1960’s, Leavenworth began its transformation. I was lucky enough to see it at its start and see its changes over time. It has, despite some naysayers, become a major tourist destination especially during the Christmas season. A rating of winter tourist destinations on the Travel Channel had Leavenworth as one of the top ten to visit. And the railroad is back! The Empire Builder now stops in Leavenworth bringing tourists with them to this town year round.

Of course this year it is not quite the same. Covid-19 has shut down a lot of tourism but the city is still there-and open for those wanting to visit. Restrictions exist (right now you have to eat food outdoors, retail stores have to limit people, masks required etc). Since many cannot see the Christmas lights, they have set up a webcam that will run through the season (and possibly beyond). I read somewhere they plan to keep the lights up, perhaps as both a beacon and hopeful sign, until Valentine’s Day. You can visit the live stream on YouTube here.

Sadly the snow that was there a few days ago is gone (there were kids tobogganing in the park when there was lots of snow). But the Christmas lights really look nice and worth a look.