The first white man in the area that is now Colville was David Thompson, who came in 1811 to explore the Columbia River for the Northwest Fur Company. A few months later a water route was opened from Astoria up the Columbia through Canadian waters, and overland to the Great Lakes or Hudson Bay. During that first year, nearly 11,000 pounds of furs were reported shipped to the fur markets of London from the Colville area.
In 1825, Fort Colville, named for Lord Andrew Colville, a London governor of Hudson's Bay Company, was built at Kettle Falls, a few miles west of Colville. The fort functioned as the center of trade in the Northwest. A large farm supplied wheat, oats, barley, corn and potatoes to sustain the personnel at the fort. (Today, both the fort and farm sites are under water, covered by Lake Roosevelt, a part of the Coulee Dam National Recreation Area.)
By 1840, the Hudson's Bay trading post was processing 18,000 furs a year. When the boundary of the northwest was drawn at the 49th parallel in 1846 and the territory of Washington was established in 1853, Hudson's Bay Company, being a British company, withdrew from Fort Colville and moved to Canada. The War Department in 1859 ordered a military post built just northeast of the present townsite. The post was called Harney's Depot at first, then Fort Colville. Four companies of the United States Infantry were stationed there. (This second Fort Colville, located at different places at different times, sometimes confuses visitors.)
The town of Colville was founded in 1882 when Fort Colville was abandoned. The first school, a hand-hewn log building, built shortly after the founding of the town is presently located at the Keller Historical Center within the city limits.