The first settler in what would become Ritzville was William McKay in 1880. The town would be named after Philip Ritz, who had settled in the area two years earlier. By December of 1880, Ritzville's town-site had been platted by John W. Sprague on behalf of his company, The Northern Pacific Railway. In 1881, McKay built the first house on the townsite. The Northern Pacific grade was under construction in the vicinity and McKay's home was used as a makeshift hotel for the workers and associated transients.
With the railroad came a new wave of settlers to the area. In the summer of 1881, McKay erected the first store and the railroad built a depot nearby, which also served as a hotel, theater and meeting hall. At that time the fledgeling village had a population of around 50 and the school consisted of a lean-to against a house. The town's water supply was the railroad tank because it was not thought that water could be found in the ground. The first religious services were held in Adams County in Ritzville in April of 1882 at the McKay Home and the First Congregational Church was soon organized, a church would be built in 1885. The post office was established in 1883 by J.L. Johnson of Walla Walla who also purchased McKay's store. Soon afterwords, many more businesses would set up shop in town. As the 1880's wore on, the town was beginning to realize its position as a major wheat shipping point in the Big Bend Country and it continued to grow.
When the town's water supply from the railroad tank began to stretch thin, a search for underground water was initiated. At first, no water was found but a well was finally struck 1 mile east of the townsite. Most of land-owners in town agreed moved towards the well with the exception of the large hotel, which couldn't be moved. Water was eventually found at the site and the town stayed pretty much where it was. By 1887, Ritzville had three general merchandise stores, one drug store, one saloon, two blacksmith shops, two lumber yards, two livery stables, one harness shop, two hotels and a large, two-story wooden schoolhouse with an attendance of 100.
On June 6, 1888, a fire caused by a defective flue, wiped out nearly all of the business section of town. Ritzville had no fire department at the time. Rebuilding went underway quickly resulting in the town's first brick building in 1889 built by the town's first mayor, N.H. Greene. It still stands and is currently part of the Ritzville Historic District.
Following the rebuilding from the fire, Ritzville was incorporated as a town in 1888 and was officially re-incorporated as a city on July 17, 1890 after Washington became a state. The first banking institution, The Adams County Bank (later First National Bank) would follow in April of 1891. After another downtown fire in 1894, a waterworks system was installed at a cost of $20,000. The first permanent Adams County courthouse was also built in 1892.
After the panic of 1893 had subsided in 1898, Ritzville was experiencing another boom, with demand for property rising and scores of buildings being built. Telephone service was established in August of 1899. By the turn of the century, the population had exceeded 1,200. The town finally received a volunteer fire department in 1901, with equipment funded by the citizens. Also in 1901, Ritzville received the title of the greatest wheat shipping point in the world. Between August of that year and August of 1902, approximately 1,967,725 bushels of wheat were received in Ritzville warehouses for shipment and 1,990 rail cars of wheat and flour were billed out. These numbers would only be exceeded in 1902. On January 17, 1902, Ritzville was electrified for the first time, run by a Steam powered Dynamo. The Chamber of Commerce was formed in 1903. The city received a Carnegie Library in 1907, the only one in Adams County. It still serves as the town's library today.
By the time of The Great Depression, growth had slowed and Ritzville settled in as a small town. In the 1960's Interstate 90 was constructed around the south-end of town, re-routing US 395 (WA) and its traffic away from downtown. The town's arrested development from then on on helped contribute to its charm, helping form The Ritzville Historic District in 1990.
Several years ago, the first Starbucks Coffee opened in Ritzville next to Interstate 90.
Ritzville is 59 miles (95 km) southwest of Spokane on Interstate 90 and U.S. Route 395. According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 1.3 square miles (3.4 km2), all land.
Ritzville, WA climate is mild during summer when temperatures tend to be in the 60's and very cold during winter when temperatures tend to be in the 30's.
The warmest month of the year is August with an average maximum temperature of 85.40 degrees Fahrenheit, while the coldest month of the year is January with an average minimum temperature of 22.50 degrees Fahrenheit.
Temperature variations between night and day tend to be relatively big during summer with a difference that can reach 33 degrees Fahrenheit, and fairly limited during winter with an average difference of 14 degrees Fahrenheit.
The annual average precipitation at Ritzville is 12.31 Inches. Rainfall in is fairly evenly distributed throughout the year. The wettest month of the year is December with an average rainfall of 1.77 Inches.
Four individual structures in Ritzville are on the National Register of Historic Places. They are the Burroughs (Dr. Frank R.) House on Main Street, the Greene (Nelson H.) House on South Adams Street, the Ritzville Carnegie Library on West Main Street, and the Ritzville High School, also known as Old Ritzville High School, on Seventh Avenue. In addition, the Ritzville Historic District, bounded roughly by Broadway, Division Street, Railroad Avenue, and Washington Street, is on the register. Ritzville is currently home to the biggest annual rodeo in eastern Washington.
- Ritzville Adams County Journal
East Adams Rural Hospital serves the town and surrounding region.
Ritzville has the Ritzville Police Department.
The Adams County Sheriff's Office also patrols the area and has a station in town.
Pru Field is the local airfield. It has about 1,300 local operations annually.