Yelm, Washington

Yelm is a city located in Thurston County, Washington. As of the 2000 census, the city had a total population of 3,289.  According to the Washington State Office of Financial Management, Yelm ranked 10th of 279 eligible incorporated communities in population growth between 2000 and 2005.


Yelm The word “Yelm” comes from the Coastal Salish word “shelm” which means “shimmering heat waves from the sun.” The Yelm Prairie was originally inhabited by members of the Nisqually Indian Tribe. The first permanent American settlers came in 1853 to join the Hudson’s Bay Company sheep farmers who were already in the area. With the coming of the Northern Pacific Railroad in 1873, Yelm began to prosper having found an outlet for its agricultural and forestry products.

Its economic base was further enhanced in the early 1900s when an irrigation company was formed in 1916, making Yelm a center for commercial production of beans, cucumbers, and berries. Yelm was officially incorporated on December 10, 1924. During the Great Depression, the Yelm Irrigation Company was bankrupted by high maintenance costs and an unstructured water distribution plan.

Ironically, Yelm is now home to the first Class A Water Reclamation Facility and distribution system in Washington state. This system reclaims all of its waste water to irrigate landscaping at churches, parks, a football field and one residence. The water also is added to streams and is used to recharge water underground at a city wetland park that includes a catch-and-release fish pond for rainbow trout.


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