Prior to the arrival of white settlers, the land was inhabited by the Wanapum Indians, a tribe closely related to the Palouse, Yakama, and Nez Perce tribes. The first white settlement at White Bluffs was in 1861. The original townsite was located on the east bank of the Columbia River in Franklin County, near present-day Area 100H of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. A ferry was built to accommodate traffic across the Columbia headed for the gold rush in British Columbia. By the early 1890s the population had grown and the town expanded to the west bank of the Columbia in Benton County.
When U.S. government seizures of homes of White Bluffs residents occurred beginning in March 1943, some homes were seized immediately for government office buildings. Residents were given from three days to two months to abandon their homes. Homes and orchards were burned by the government to clear the site. The remains of some 177 persons buried at the White Bluffs Cemetery were moved on May 6, 1943, to the West Prosser Cemetery, some 30 miles away.
At the time of the government confiscation of the town of White Bluffs, production of pears, apples, vegetables, and grapes for wine production were primary sources of livelihood. Today, almost nothing remains of the town.A U.S. Department of Energy photo gallery containing various White Bluffs pictures was released on June 15, 2008.
Named for the chalky white bluffs nearby, White Bluffs is one of Washington's oldest towns. In the early 1860's, the original town was established on the east bank of the Columbia River near the present day Hanford Nuclear Reservation's 100H area. One of the main reasons for the town's existence was as a ferry and riverboat landing en route to the mines in British Columbia.
After the British Columbia gold rush, things settled down a bit. In 1888, a Northern Pacific Railroad bridge was built across the Columbia River. Growth began in earnest again, resulting in people settling on the west bank of the river as space became scarce at the original town site. In 1908, the second town site on the west bank of the river was platted. Eventually, the western side of the river became the larger of the two halves of the town.
During the first two decades of the 20th century, irrigation projects caused an economic boom in the area. In May of 1913, the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad (a.k.a. the Priest Rapids Line) to the neighboring town of Hanford was completed allowing easier shipment of agricultural products.
In 1943, the government moved in and condemned the area and bought all the property to form the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. All the people in the town were forced to move out in a short amount of time, and the entire town was razed except for a pump house and the First Bank of White Bluffs.
The area is off-limits to unauthorized visitors. The best way to see the town site is to take the infrequent Hanford site tours given by the government.