Whitman Mission
Administrative History

Chapter Four:


Administrative Structure

Even before the U. S. Government accepted title to the monument property in 1940, National Park Service representatives were planning its development. As early as 1939, engineering surveys and historical studies were under preparation for the monument's master plan. An archeological investigation was an important early step in this plan so Thomas R. Garth, a historical archeologist, was hired in December 1940 and entered on duty January 7, 1941.

Since the Whitman National Monument was coordinated with Mount Rainier National Park, Tom Garth was supervised by Maj. Owen A. Tomlinson, who was both superintendent of Mount Rainier National Park and coordinating superintendent of Whitman National Monument. Tomlinson, in turn, reported to the Region IV office, then located in San Francisco. After July 1941, Major Tomlinson was promoted to the regional director's position and John C. Preston became the new superintendent of Mount Rainier and coordinating superintendent of the monument. This was the basic administrative structure until Tom Garth transferred to the Smithsonian Institution in 1950.

Good communication existed between the three areas. Most decisions concerning the monument were made by regional personnel in consultation with the coordinating superintendent and Garth. On matters concerning future development and the master plan, regional personnel such as Olaf T. Hagen, Regional Supervisor of Historic Sites, and Landscape Architect C. E. Drysdale conducted on-site investigations. However, when it came to the actual excavating, according to Garth, "They left me pretty much on my own." [1]

Generally Garth was alone at the mission grounds except when temporary laborers helped excavate or when Marvin M. Richardson or Elmer R. Alexander, local historians and avid monument supporters, guided tours on weekends. Although Garth was employed primarily as an archeologist and only "incidentally as a custodian," [2] as the only employee on the site, he was required to do odd jobs out of necessity. When not excavating, Garth maintained the lawn around the Great Grave, checked the Monument Shaft for vandalism, and guided tours and gave lectures to visitors. In fact, visitors absorbed much of his time: "[High visitation was] maybe one of the problems. I'd get started digging and would have to stop and try to conduct the visitors around." [3]

Though varied duties were sometimes a problem for Custodian Garth, the park was not sufficiently developed nor large enough to warrant another full-time employee. In fact, almost as soon as excavations began, the Whitman National Monument essentially closed from 1942-1946 due to World War II. Garth transferred to the Permanente Metals Corporation while neighbor Ray Shelden was employed as the mission's temporary caretaker. Even after park operations resumed in September 1946, funds were scarce, even for the excavations. Thus, limited staff had to suffice. In spite of the mission's primitive stage of development from 1941-1950, due to the management skill of the regional staff and the archeological skill of Tom Garth, satisfactory progress occurred.

Principal Accomplishments: 1941-1950

At first glance the excavations appear to be the only issue that demanded management's time from 1941-1950. Although completion of the archeological work was the main accomplishment of the 1940s, several important decisions concerning the park's future were made at this time. The issues included the archeological and historical research, the Work Projects Administration, grounds development, and finally the adobe workshop/museum. An examination of each follows.

Archeological-Historical Research

While the impact of Garth's archeological work on the park's future will be discussed in the following chapter, a brief review of its progress is in order. The long-awaited archeological research recommended in 1936 by Regional Supervisor of Historic Sites Olaf T. Hagen, in 1937 by Russell C. Ewing, and in the 1940 master plan was finally realized in 1941. The April 1941 dig was the first visible sign of the National Park Service's management and development of the Whitman Mission, a moment long anticipated by local citizens such as Herbert West: "We are gratified to see work actually getting underway on restoration of the famous mission . . . . This culminates efforts of several years on the part of the Centennial group and others interested in the project." [4]

Unfortunately, little was accomplished before World War II due to lack of funds and manpower. A search for Alice Clarissa's [5] grave was conducted along the western boundary, a soil profile was taken to determine the best area for making adobe bricks, and corners of the Whitmans' First House were discovered.

The reason for the sudden shift away from archeology in 1942 was best described by Tom Garth at the time:

There is little prospect that archeological work can be resumed before the end of the war. Thus, if I am to continue work at the Monument it must be primarily historical research that I do . . . . In many ways it is fortunate to have this historical work far along before the excavations really begin. [6]

Until his transfer to the War Department, then, Garth spent the majority of 1942 researching at the University of California at Berkeley. The impact of Garth's research will be discussed in the following chapter but, in short, his research was of great help when excavations resumed.

Excavations began again in September 1946, but because of the approaching winter, only preliminary work on the First House and Mission House was accomplished.

The goal in 1947 was to locate all five major building sites before funds were exhausted. Therefore, the walls of the Mission House, Emigrant House and First House cellar walls were discovered along with the Grist Mill location and what Garth believed to be the Blacksmith Shop.

By 1948 the Mission House and the First House were excavated and recovered with soil.

Garth changed pace in 1949 when Regional Director Tomlinson recommended that he supervise the excavation of old Fort Walla Walla, soon to be engulfed by the flood waters of McNary Dam. [7] For two months in 1949, Garth excavated at Fort Walla Walla during the weekdays and Whitman Mission on weekends: "It wasn't necessary, except on weekends, to have anybody stationed at the Whitman Mission" [8] so Garth did not feel it was difficult to split his time between the two areas. When the Fort Walla Walla funds were exhausted for the year, work continued for a short time on the First House and Blacksmith Shop. The last half of the year Garth cleaned and catalogued the Fort Walla Walla specimens.

Custodian Garth completed the last archeological work in 1950 when he spent six weeks at Fort Walla Walla and a few months excavating the Mission's Emigrant House.

Except when Garth was assisted at Fort Walla Walla by Fort Vancouver Archeologist Louis Caywood and by Dr. Aubrey Neasham, Regional Historian, the excavations were conducted with minimal assistance. Three was the average number of assistants, though twelve people helped in 1947. Most assistants were untrained, often Walla Walla College or University of Washington students, and, since these students rarely worked more than one season, constant retraining was necessary each season. Since these helpers required close supervision, Garth believed that too few were better than too many.

Money was never readily available for the excavations, though lack of funds never severely hampered operations. Money flowed in spurts, at times slowing the archeological process. Usually funds were sufficient, especially during the summer when conditions were their best. Work was accomplished in spite of a tight budget.

The archeological excavations mark one of the most successful ventures undertaken at the mission during the 1940s. In contrast, one of the least successful projects at the mission was that of the Works Projects Administration (WPA).

The Works Projects Administration

Briefly, the WPA was "one of the five principal New Deal emergency relief and public works agencies [established] during the 1930s . . . ." [9] Called the Works Progress Administration until 1939, the WPA provided jobs for the unemployed; oftentimes they assisted the National Park Service. The highpoint of the WPA and other government relief programs was the 1930s; as World War II loomed closer, relief funds declined sharply. In 1941 the WPA program was reduced approximately 30 percent in funds and workers and 43 percent in operating projects from the previous year. [10] It was during this time of cutbacks that the WPA worked at Whitman National Monument.

Planning for this WPA project began in January 1940, when Herbert West inquired of Ronald F. Lee, Supervisor of the Historic Sites Branch, Washington, D. C., about the possibilities for establishing such a project at the Whitman Mission. [11] Lee's response to West was encouraging: "On examination of the Master Plan, it appears to me that the W. P. A. will probably be able to carry out certain portions of the work for the monument if proper supervision can be secured." [12]

In February, West received a letter from Arno B. Cammerer, Director of the National Park Service, supporting Whitman's WPA project. [13]

On February 23, Carl W. Smith, Acting State WPA Administrator; Regional Historian Hagen; Associate Engineer C. E. Drysdale; and Regional Inspector Primm attended a conference in Seattle to determine the feasibility of a WPA project at the monument. Results were positive:

Smith assured the group that a WPA project could be initiated during the current fiscal year provided that the sponsors could contribute 25 percent of the cost of the project in money, equipment, plans, or general supervision. [14]

Eventually a program was developed whereby all interested parties shared some responsibility for the project. The labor, the salaries and miscellaneous supplies, tools and equipment were provided by the WPA, the National Park service provided gasoline, engineering plans, and an archeologist to supervise the labor; the Walla Walla County Commissioners donated 2000 cubic feet of land-fill and a truck; while the Whitman Centennial, Inc. provided the truck drivers' salaries. Given this elaborate plan, it is not surprising that even the supervisors were confused about who was responsible for the salaries and supplies.

WPA supervisors spent from February 1940 until April 1941 determining laborers' duties. Based on the suggestions of West, WPA Engineer Hill, and WPA Project Supervisor Morrison, the project included these ambitious goals: constructing the new entrance road and parking area, fencing the mission and monument tracts, removing the barbed wire boundary fences, obliterating the existing entrance road, cleaning, and re-sodding. [15] A later addition to the proposal included "labor and equipment for archeological work." [16]

Unfortunately, the WPA accomplished only a fraction of this work since the project lasted only three months--from April 8 to June 27--before funds were terminated. Six men were employed the first month, 10 the second, and 4 the third. They accomplished small projects such as brush clearing, smoothing roads, and demolishing a fence but they had neither the equipment nor the manpower for the larger projects. As Tom Garth said, they were "kind of marking time" [17] so he took advantage of the labor and made 2000 adobe bricks for construction of a shed for tools and specimens. The adobe structure was almost complete when the project terminated, leaving Garth to finish the roof with the help of Walla Walla College students. The WPA also did some minor exploratory excavations before the project ended:

They dug one big long trench clear across the site and found the old irrigation ditch . . . also found the mill stone that probably came from the Whitman mill . . . it was actually found by one of the workmen who didn't let me know about it. He spirited it off! We later got wind of what had happened and were able to get it back. So we don't actually know exactly where it came from. [18]

Perhaps more development progress could have been made during these early years had not the monument's WPA project begun at a time when the organization was "forced to make a reduction of 40%" [19] to conform with the Emergency Relief budget cuts. As it was, WPA labor only worked three months, their contributions were negligible, and Tom Garth ended up doing the majority of work, anyway. The WPA's dubious accomplishments foreshadowed delays in the monument's grounds development that lasted for approximately 20 years.


The decision to build on historic ground is a sensitive issue that requires careful consideration of the historic scene, aesthetics, and practicality. Numerous studies and plans were rejected before a development plan for the Whitman National Monument was finally deemed acceptable.

In order to understand the development proposals for the monument, it is necessary to visualize its boundaries. C. E. Drysdale, Associate Engineer, described the site in 1939:

Along the north base of the hill are graves, . . . a well and pump and hydrants for sprinkling, and two latrines. A one-way road leads from the county road along the west base of the hill to the graves where it divides, one branch ascending the hill . . . while the other branch provides access to the county road for the farmer living to the north . . . [20]

By 1940, the site included 45 acres divided by a county road; the hill, grave, and shaft were north of the road, the mission site, south. Visitors entered the grounds from the east end of the road and could drive either to the grave or to the shaft. They parked along the road and walked to the mission grounds. Farms existed to the north and south while the old Swegle house foundations stood on the mission house site. Early development plans were based on these dimensions. (see map, Appendix D)

The first preliminary master plan was approved by Acting Director Arthur E. Demaray in January 1940. [21] It included designs for a museum, custodian's residence, utility building, new road, parking area, and new fences. [22] The plan located all the buildings and the parking area on the 8-acre "Monument tract" at the base of Shaft Hill (see map, Appendix E). The design was crowded because the National Park Service had very small acreage on which to build visitor and management facilities. Evidently regional personnel believed the plan was acceptable because, according to Regional Landscape Architect E. A. Davidson, "Considerable thought has been given to this layout in preliminary form by the Regional Historian, Landscape Architect, Architect, and Engineers." [23] However, one year later, Frank E. Mattson, the new Regional Landscape Architect, voiced reservations about the limited development space: "As is usual in so many park areas, we find that the boundaries of the area do not include suitable land for development." [24] Late that year, John Preston, the mission's coordinating superintendent, inspected the site and, after conferring with Custodian Garth and "several prominent citizens of Walla Walla," [25] echoed Mattson's concerns:

I was pleased to find that the only development the Service has undertaken was paper development. All of us who visited the area recently firmly believe that considerably more study should be given to the Master Plan for Whitman National Monument. [26]

Two months later, Senior Archeologist Jesse L. Nusbaum suggested the obvious and perhaps inevitable solution--widen the park boundaries to provide for development. Nusbaum's suggestion was discussed at a conference of regional personnel:

There was general agreement to Mr. Nusbaum's suggestion regarding the advantages of a revised development plan if the boundaries of the Monument could be modestly extended by the enlargement of the monument tract to include the area across the county road from the mission site. The extension would be especially valuable in precluding the establishment of undesirable developments immediately adjacent to the mission site itself. The acquisition of additional land would also make possible improvements in the plans for the location of the residential quarters and utility buildings contemplated. [27]

While regional personnel agreed that construction and development required additional land, they did not agree about which land to develop. Archeologist Nusbaum favored the parcel directly north of the mission site. Regional engineers preferred the land west of the mission site, landscape architects preferred the land south of the mission site, while those concerned with visitor facilities favored the county road. (see map, Appendix F) [28] While Superintendent Preston recognized that "there is . . . no area that is entirely satisfactory from all standpoints for the location of the museum and administration building," [29] he realized that any of the proposals were better than crowding development on the eight-acre "monument tract." All agreed that additional property would facilitate construction of Park Service facilities and preclude private development incompatible with the historic scene.

In 1947, after World War II, Thomas Vint, Regional Chief of Development, and the other regional technicians revised the master plan and extended the monument boundaries west and east from Shaft Hill. The revised plan also closed the county road, returning it to "the old immigrant trail," [30] and proposed a new road north of the hill (see map, Appendix G). If approved, Regional Historian Neasham predicted that "administrative, protective, and interpretive problems at Whitman should be handled with greater ease and efficiency." [31]

Despite their original support for additional acreage, by 1947 some administrators felt pressured to begin construction. They feared development would progress too slowly if dependent upon additional land. Superintendent Preston stated this view in a memorandum to the regional director:

It is no secret that the people of Walla Walla and others interested in the Monument have become impatient with the National Park Service. These good people feel that Whitman has been neglected. They want to see some action, some progress made. [32]

Regional Director Tomlinson agreed with Preston: "If [the 10-acre addition] is not acquired by the time we secure funds for the Museum-Administration building, we shall have to locate it in the next best remaining position in the Monument." [33] Custodian Garth shared his supervisor's views: "It might be feasible to consider locating the buildings elsewhere, say south of the Mission site . . . . In any event I feel that we should make building construction one of our prime objectives at the present time. [34]

While Custodian Garth, Superintendent Preston, and even Regional Director Tomlinson impatiently advocated construction, Regional Historian Aubrey Neasham refused to sacrifice the mission's historic scene for expediency:

I am still in favor of taking steps to acquire the land north of the mission building area to provide for museum and administration facilities. This is a number one priority. To put these facilities elsewhere to take care of an immediate problem is not conducive to the best interests of the long range development of the area. [35]

Thanks to Dr. Neasham's commitment, premature development was stymied and additional land became the prerequisite for development.

By the end of 1947 development progress was at a standstill since neither money from Congress nor the land on which to build was available. However, development planning made great strides. The museum and administration building, residence and utility building would be located near the "monument tract," the county road would no longer divide the monument but rather pass north of the site and the old county road would return to the Oregon Trail. These plans reflect the planning, study, and ideas of Historian Aubrey Neasham, Archeologist Jesse L. Nusbaum, Engineer Thomas Vint and others contributing to the first in a long series of decisions that affected the future of Whitman National Monument. A discussion of 1940s development is not complete, however, without mentioning a "temporary" development project that lasted 20 years.

The Temporary Museum

The adobe museum (top) at it appeared in 1951.

As aforementioned, the building known as "the temporary museum" was built by WPA labor in 1941 as a storage shed for tools and archeological specimens. As he explained to Superintendent Tomlinson, Tom Garth wanted to build the shed and use adobe bricks for construction:

In the first place, it would be much cheaper . . . . Secondly, it would give visitors an idea of what the Whitman Mission buildings looked like . . . . Lastly we will be making adobe bricks anyway to test the soil . . . we might just as well make a large number of them and use them in constructing the shed. [36]

Tomlinson supported Garth's idea but warned, "This shed can be justified only on a temporary basis." [37] Regional Supervisor of Historic Sites Hagen and Regional Inspector Primm disliked its proposed location (on the mission site, near the mill pond) and suggested moving it south of the mission site, "sufficiently away from . . . the mission area not to encroach on any historic features," [38] or building a permanent utilities building north of the county road.

Given these instructions, Hagen was understandably surprised after receiving a memorandum from Garth that stated, "We have begun to build where we had previously prepared a foundation of cement blocks and have the walls about half up." [39] Garth assured Hagen that the building "will only be in its present location a month or so" [40] and therefore would not infringe on the historic scene. Although Hagen was upset about what he considered a misuse of WPA labor and lack of consideration to historical values, he did not insist on tearing down the shed. Instead, the WPA worked on the project until their termination. While Hagen's objections were well-founded, Garth's actions were based on real needs:

Some of the Monument tools and material are stored at my home; others are stored at the office; and the remainder are temporarily stored in the shed belonging to Mr. Shelden, a nearby farmer. The adobe building is badly needed as a storage place. [41]

The shed was built because it was "badly needed" and because labor and supplies were in unusually good supply due to the Mission's WPA project. The building remained a storage shed until 1947 when Regional Historian Neasham and Superintendent Preston suggested that it also serve as a temporary museum. Thus, the building that was only supposed to exist "a month or so" existed nearly 20 years as the only building and evidence of National Park Service development, other than the excavations, on the Whitman Mission site.

Though Tom Garth was not a superintendent, major accomplishments occurred during his administration. The archeological excavations provided further information about the mission, the adobe museum was the site's first interpretive device, and preliminary development plans began. The 1940s were unique in that a war interrupted operations but did not deter planning. In fact, Regional Historian Neasham and Senior Archeologist Nusbaum made crucial decisions that protected and preserved the mission's historic scene. Plans devised during the 1940s laid important groundwork for the future.


Last Updated: 02-Feb-2000