Garth Years Development



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.


Last updated: March 1, 2015

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