The settlement grew after it was one of the original railway stations on the Great Southern Railway when the railway opened in 1889, and was gazetted a townsite in 1899. The name is taken from the town of Cranbrook in Kent, England, about 65 kilometres south east of London. It is believed to have been named by Mr J A Wright, who was manager of the Western Australian Land Company which built the railway.
The first European to sight the majestic Stirling Ranges was Ensign Dale who, in 1832, passed through the area and climbed Mount Toolbrunup. He was followed three year later by the Surveyor General John Septimus Roe, who named the range after Captain Stirling, the Governor of the Swan River Colony. Roe has left us with impressions of the Range which remain unchanged today. In his journal he was lyrical in his praise of this beautiful range. ‘The Stirling Range burst on our view in great magnificence as we rounded the crest…The whole extent of the conical summits were spread before us.’
The Colonial botanist, James Drummond, made a number of visits to the Ranges in the 1840s and began the process of scientific exploration which has revealed that there are over 1000 types of flora in the Park of which 60 are unique to the area. Driving through the area, or better still, exploring the park along the many trails and bushwalks, reveals a richness of flora and fauna set against the breathtaking beauty of the ranges which rise sharply from the surrounding plains.
The area was first settled in the 1860s when pastoralists started grazing sheep near Round Swamp. With its mild temperatures and good rainfall (annual average of 510 mm) it was ideal sheep country.
Cranbrook came into existence in the 1880s when the railway line connected the area to Albany. The railway siding was named Cranbrook by the Hon. J. A. Wright who was in charge of construction of the railway station. He was honouring his birthplace, Cranbrook in England.