The Garth Years: The Temporary Museum


The Temporary Museum

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: March 1, 2015

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