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How Tacoma, Washington Got Its Name

Tacoma, Washington, a city nestled in the heart of the Pacific Northwest, is known for its stunning waterfront views, vibrant culture, and a name that carries a story as captivating as the city itself. The origin of Tacoma's name is a tale of Native American influence, railroad rivalries, and the power of civic determination.

The Native American Connection

Before European settlers arrived in the area, the land that would become Tacoma was inhabited by the Puyallup Tribe, a Native American group with deep roots in the region. The name "Tacoma" is believed to have been derived from the Puyallup word "tacobet," meaning "mother of waters." This choice of name reflects the city's close proximity to Puget Sound and the numerous bodies of water that define its geography.

The Grand Railroad Rivalry

The naming of Tacoma was also intertwined with one of the most famous railroad rivalries in American history, the race between the Northern Pacific Railway and the Southern Pacific Railway to establish a western terminus for their transcontinental railroads.

In the late 19th century, the Northern Pacific Railway, led by entrepreneur and railroad magnate Henry Villard, was competing fiercely with the Southern Pacific Railway, backed by the legendary Collis P. Huntington, to secure the economic and logistical advantages of having the western terminus of their respective railroads on the Pacific coast.

Both railways had chosen sites in the Pacific Northwest for their termini. The Northern Pacific had selected Commencement Bay as their destination, while the Southern Pacific had set its sights on a nearby location known as New Tacoma. The rivalry was so intense that both cities, Tacoma and New Tacoma, sprang up in quick succession, each vying to be the terminus of their respective railway.

The Merge and the Name Choice

In the late 19th century, it became apparent that having two competing cities so close to each other was impractical. In 1884, the citizens of both cities voted in favor of merging, and thus, the city we know today as Tacoma was born. The decision to retain the name "Tacoma" was significant as it respected the city's Native American heritage while also acknowledging the historical significance of the railway rivalry.

Legacy of a Name

Today, Tacoma stands as a testament to the spirit of unity and determination. Its name not only pays homage to the indigenous people who first called this land home but also serves as a reminder of the transformative impact of the railroad industry on the development of the American West. The merger of Tacoma and New Tacoma created a stronger, more cohesive community, and it's a reminder that, sometimes, progress and growth require compromise and collaboration.

As you walk the streets of Tacoma and take in its scenic beauty, remember that its name carries a legacy of history, culture, and the pioneering spirit that defines the Pacific Northwest. Tacoma, the "mother of waters," continues to flourish as a city that honors its past while looking towards a bright and promising future.



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