Whitman Mission
Administrative History


Chapter Two:
EVENTS LEADING TO THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE WHITMAN MISSION NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE


THE WHITMAN CENTENNIAL, INCORPORATED

In February 1935, the Walla Walla Chamber of Commerce appointed a committee to "inquire into the desirability of having a Centennial Celebration to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the coming of Dr. Marcus Whitman and his party to Waiilatpu." [44] In reaction to the favorable response, the Whitman Centennial, Inc., "a charitable and benevolent corporation," [45] was formed under the leadership of Herbert G. West, Harold Davis, and Alfred McVay. In addition to celebrating the centennial, the corporation's major goal was to "acquire, maintain, and operate a park at the place of the Whitman Mission." [46] West believed that the best way to maintain the mission and to recognize Whitman's role in preserving Old Oregon for the United States was to restore the buildings and establish a national monument. West asked U. S. Representative Knute Hill and U. S. Senator Homer T. Bone to introduce bills in the respective houses of Congress to provide for the establishment of the Whitman National Monument and restoration of buildings and grounds. [47] As a result, H. R. 7736 was introduced on April 25, 1935.

The Centennial Corporation's action occurred shortly before the passage of the 1935 Historic Sites Act which declared it national policy "to preserve for public use historic sites, buildings, and objects of national significance." [48] Administration of this act fell to Verne E. Chatelain, Acting Assistant Director, National Park Service. Dr. Chatelain advised the Whitman Centennial, Inc., to purchase the mission property and donate it to the government, and to prepare a brief requesting a national monument. [49] Accordingly, C. Ken Weidner prepared the brief while the Whitman Centennial, Inc., sold $1.00 and $10.00 corporation memberships to raise funds to purchase the mission property. [50]

In the meantime, Dr. Chatelain requested Olaf T. Hagen, Acting Chief of the Western Division, Branch of Historic Sites and Buildings, to investigate the proposed national monument site, which he did on April 17 and 18, 1936. Hagen favored the idea of a national monument and recommended that the eight acres belonging to the Walla Walla Trust Foundation "should be incorporated as part of the Monument." [51] In addition, he recommended expanding the western, eastern, and southern boundaries and securing easements on all adjacent property to protect the historic scene.

While the Whitman Centennial, Inc., prepared for the Centennial Celebration and the National Park Service surveyed the mission property, H. R. 7736 was presented to Congress. The bill provoked little debate until May 21, when the House refused to accept an amendment submitted by the Senate Committee on Public Lands and Surveys. The committee's amendment deleted section four of the bill which stated, "There are authorized to be appropriated such sums as may be necessary to carry out the provisions of this Act." [52] House members Rene L. De Rouen of Louisiana, Knute Hill of Washington, Harry L. Englebright of California and Senate members James E. Murray of Montana, Elmer A. Benson of Minnesota, and Gerald P. Nye of North Dakota were appointed to a conference committee to end the debate. On June 3 they recommended "that the Senate recede from its amendment." [53] Thus, the bill passed with appropriations, and was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, June 29, 1936.

Two months later, in time for the August 13-16 centennial celebration, the Whitman Centennial, Inc., raised the $10,000 with which to purchase the mission property. On September 29, 1936, J. C. and Della Fentress deeded the 37.21 acres to the corporation. Thus, in 1936 the 37-acre "mission tract" belonged to the Whitman Centennial, Inc., while the eight-acre "monument tract" (comprising the grave and shaft) still belonged to the Walla Walla Trust Foundation (see map, Appendix C). Walla Walla citizens' generous contributions not only enabled the Whitman Centennial, Inc., to purchase the mission property but to raise an additional $822.46. [54] The achievement did not belong to the Whitman Centennial, Inc., alone, but to the entire city.

Overall, the Whitman Centennial, Inc., enjoyed great support. From the beginning, members of the National Park Service favored the Whitman National Monument project and cooperated with Herbert West and the Whitman Centennial, Inc. Yet, why was the National Park Service interested in the Whitman Mission? Hagen of the Historic Sites and Buildings Branch believed Waiilatpu had advantages that made it a good prospect for a national monument:

If the assumption that historic sites possess educational and historic values derived partly through the stimulative or inspirational power of their physical features and their historical associations is correct, then the possibilities of this site would have to be ranked among the best of those in the region . . . . It combines the features of a historic site, a shrine and a memorial. Furthermore, the controversy over the "Whitman Legend" and the connection of the site with the Oregon Trail have given it a widespread publicity that will invite both historian and laymen to the national monument. [55]

From a historical, social and political standpoint, Russell C. Ewing, Regional Historian, Region IV, considered this project to be of national importance. [56] Clearly, the National Park Service was interested in the mission for both its historic and memorial qualities. Yet, the National Park Service's ability to act on that interest was due, in part, to the 1933 reorganization of its system.

Prior to 1933, the government placed relatively little priority on the acquisition of historic sites. Of about 77 national monuments established between 1906-1933, only 17 were historical and 16 were prehistoric significance. [57] An important reorganization occurred in 1933 when the National Park Service became responsible for nearly all Federally-owned parks and monuments. Labor and funds from President Roosevelt's newly-organized Civilian Conservation Corps and Works Project Administration enabled the Service to carry out a program of preservation, restoration, planning, and interpretation of historical areas. [58] Historical technicians, such as Hagen, were hired to "analyze the historical qualities" [59] of areas, the Branch of Historic Sites was established and the Historic Sites Act passed in 1935. The reorganization had a tremendous impact on the scope of the National Park System. Of the permanent additions to the National Park System between 1933-1963, 14 were natural, 13 were recreational, and 66 were historical. [60] Five historical areas joined the System in 1936, none of which were then "national historic sites". Thus, when members of the Whitman Centennial, Inc., were ready to establish a monument, a new national policy enabled the National Park Service to meet their needs.

On November 27, 1936, Herbert West informed Arthur E. Demaray, Acting Director of the National Park Service, that the Whitman Centennial, Inc., was prepared to convey the Whitman Mission property to the U. S. Government. In response, Mr. Demaray outlined the following procedure:

We desire to have a representative make an investigation of the area and submit recommendations as to what the boundaries should be. When these boundaries are determined . . . you may prepare the necessary deeds and abstracts of title with a view to conveying the lands to the United States. [61]

Accordingly, on January 28, 1937, Russell C. Ewing, Regional Historian, Region IV, investigated the mission grounds and agreed with Hagen's earlier conclusions that the monument boundaries should be widened to include the grave site and memorial shaft owned by the Walla Walla Trust Foundation. [62] Inclusion of this property combined with additional expansion of the mission boundary westward and northward "would provide a somewhat more appropriate setting for the mission site and . . . would lend itself admirably to the historic development of the area." [63] said Ewing. However, neither the National Park Service nor the Whitman Centennial, Inc., was in a position to purchase additional property and legal obstacles hindered their efforts to secure the eight acres held in trust by the Walla Walla Trust Foundation. This property was established as a perpetual trust with the public as beneficiary. According to West, "It appears that it is impossible to secure a title to the monument ground, for no one has a legal right to petition the superior court to dissolve the trust." [64] When Branch Spalding, Acting Assistant Director of the National Park Service, notified Regional Historian Ewing that boundary extensions were doubtful, Ewing reluctantly submitted two alternative boundary proposals, neither of which mentioned the Trust Foundation's eight acres. [65] Despite the boundary difficulties, Assistant Director Spalding was not yet prepared to exclude this property from the national monument. He rejected West's request that the monument embrace only those holdings of the Whitman Centennial, Inc., and insisted on incorporating the additional eight acres:

[The Walla Walla Trust Foundation property] is a vital element in the entire project and we do not see how the monument can be established unless the Foundation is willing to relinquish their title to the Federal Government . . . . It is suggested that you proceed with negotiations for that property. [66]

Upon Spalding's insistence, the Whitman Centennial, Inc., began the lengthy and difficult process of clearing title to this property. Cameron Sherwood took responsibility for the project which took three years to complete.

During the intervening three years, the National Park Service continued to plan for the monument's master plan, historical and archeological research, and new entrance road. In contrast, the Whitman Centennial's contribution was limited, as West's 1938 letter to Marvin M. Richardson indicates:

It would have been practically useless to have said anything more back at the National Park Service, in view of the fact that Cameron Sherwood has not quieted the title on the balance of the land to be embraced within the boundaries of the National Park. Until this is done, there is nothing further that we can do. [67]

On May 22, 1939, the Whitman Centennial, Inc., finally secured title to the desired property. [68] Richardson explained that several suits of law had been instituted to quiet the title on the land such as the suit brought against the Oregon Pioneer and Historical Society:

Since the originators of this Society had all died, it was necessary to bring in every one of the many descendants . . . as defendants. By securing quit claim deeds and waivers of right to partial ownership, the title was cleared. [69]

On August 8, 1939, the Assistant Secretary of the Interior accepted the entire 45 acres, subject to final payment of taxes, a possessory rights report, and issuance of a title certificate and insurance policy. [70] Finally, on February 10, 1940, West received notice from A. J. Knox, Acting Chief Counsel, National Park Service, that "conditions have now been satisfactorily met and title to the land is now vested in the United States." [71] The Whitman National Monument was officially established with 45.84 acres under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service.

Both the National Park Service and the Whitman Centennial, Incorporated deserve credit for establishing the Whitman National Monument. Those members particularly committed to this project were Cameron Sherwood, who settled the legal issues, Marvin Richardson, who introduced Park Service personnel to the mission story, and Herbert West, who coordinated the celebration. Without their interest and dedication it is doubtful whether the mission would have received national recognition. In fact, National Park Service Director Newton B. Drury said upon the occasion of the Monument's dedication that "the Whitman Centennial Association deserves full credit for its tireless efforts in the creation of this national monument . . . ." [72] In 1940 the Whitman Centennial, Inc., entrusted their "pet project" to the National Park Service. In return, Park Service representatives Olaf T. Hagen and Russell C. Ewing respected local citizens' ideas and, although they did not promise to implement each suggestion, they regularly informed the public of development plans. By working closely with local experts in this manner, the National Park Service gained valuable information and ensured cooperative and friendly relations with Walla Walla citizens. Established in this climate of goodwill, the Whitman National Monument represented not only five years of Whitman Centennial and National Park Service interest, but nearly a century of community involvement at the Whitman Mission.

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Last Updated: 02-Feb-2000