The Kennedy Years (1956-1964): New Approach Road

 

New Approach Road

From 1947-1956, park personnel agreed that the monument's proposed entrance road should run in an east-west direction, north of the Great Grave (see map, Appendix G). Then, in April 1956, Walla Walla County Engineer B. Loyal Smith proposed a new access road aligned south from Highway 410 (later Highway 12) through the Frazier's Tract 11 [84] (see map, Appendix J). Smith assured Superintendent Macy that the County Commissioners "would be very willing and agreeable to the construction and acquisition of this necessary right-of-way if the Park Service could find some way to finance the necessary new bridge over the creek." [85] On June 7, 1956, Superintendent Kennedy, Augden, and Acting Mount Rainier Superintendent Curtis K. Skinner examined Smith's proposal and suggested a slight road realignment through Frazier's Tract 10 [86] (see map, Appendix K).

The next month, from August 1-9, Regional Landscape Architect Thomas C. Carpenter and Landscape Architect Alfred C. Kuehl from Washington, D. C., inspected the monument grounds and proposed the alignment that exists today:

We met with County Engineer B. Loyal Smith and reviewed County road problems relating to access to the Monument. Mr. Smith indicated his concurrence in our suggestion for a road route to extend southerly from Highway 410 along the west boarder of Tract 10 of the Frazier lands. [87] (see map, Appendix L)

Interestingly, this alignment was first suggested twenty years earlier by Walla Walla Trust Foundation's T. C. Elliott. According to Regional Historian Russell C. Ewing, Elliott proposed two road locations, one of which was the same route selected in 1956 [88] (see map, Appendix C).

The location confirmed, National Park Service Director Conrad L. Wirth advised Regional Director Merriam of the National Park Service position regarding the proposed road:

We would prefer to place the entire right-of-way under Federal ownership and, by means of an agreement, the County would construct the approach ramp and we would be responsible for the cost of the construction of the bridge over Mill Creek . . . .

It is hoped that our design requirements for this road--with regard to such factors as width of right-of-way, control of access, elimination of roadside advertising and commercial development, and adequate insulation on U. S. Highway 410 to provide an attractive access road entrance to the Monument--will not be too high for the County to consider. It would be well, too, to try to obtain the agreement of the County to assume responsibility for the maintenance of the full length of the proposed road after construction. [89]

The Walla Walla County Commissioners agreed to these stipulations so the National Park Service signed a 20-year agreement with the Board of County Commissioners on August 28, 1961. [90] Although this formal document expired in 1981, both the park and the county still recognize this agreement which gives road ownership to the Federal government and maintenance responsibility to the county.

In spite of the agreement, development funds were allocated for archeological excavations that year to ensure that Alice Clarissa's grave did not lie in the location of the proposed road. While road construction awaited the excavation results, controversy arose over its impending construction. Property owners near the mission objected to the rezoned "Parkway" status which prevented all commercial activity for 100 feet on each side of the proposed road. Historian Erwin Thompson remembers one heated public hearing in which one man

attacked the Park Service, in general and Superintendent Joe Kennedy, in particular. I got so angry that I jumped up out of my seat and tried to defend Joe Kennedy, and the man said, "We can't hear you. Come on down front and speak in the microphone." By that time I was cooling off but I had to go down and say it all over again. [91]

The protests of the neighbors and others were in vain because the County Commissioners agreed to the "no commercial development" provision in their August 1961 agreement with the National Park Service. The County finally dropped the road's "Parkway" zoning prior to 1980 as part of a county-wide zoning consolidation effort; the historic scene is not threatened because the Federal government will not allow commercial activity along the road. In a related issue, College Place residents protested closing the old county road and converting it to the Oregon Trail because "a dead-end road, stopping near the Monument, would virtually shut off the area to Walla Walla College students and residents of the community." [92] Rather than a dead end road, they suggested a turnaround and parking area, and a walkway through that section of the park. [93] A February 20, 1962 Union-Bulletin article reported that Superintendent Kennedy "promised there would be a turnstile through the fence . . . ." [94] By May 1963, a "walk-through" stile was built. [95]

After the road controversies subsided and funds materialized, a contract for the Mill Creek bridge was awarded to Hans M. Skov Construction Company of Yakima on May 21, 1962. [96] The bridge, designed by B. Loyal Smith and constructed under his supervision, was completed October 8, 1962. [97] By June 1963, the new park approach road was paved [98] and by May 8 the old county road permanently closed. [99]

After 22 years of deliberation, the new access road was completed. Proposed locations for the road varied over the years--from the Church Tract in 1941 to the Great Grave in 1950. Several people deserve credit for finally determining the best location for the road and completing the project. In 1936, Regional Historian Ewing concurred with T. C. Elliott's suggestion to build the road from Highway 410 along the Frazier Tract 10. The enthusiastic and cooperative B. Loyal Smith not only reminded National Park Service employees of this option, but designed and built the road and bridge. Finally, Regional Landscape Architect Carpenter and Washington, D.C., Landscape Architect Kuehl deserve credit for making the final decision in 1956. Thus, by 1963 the Whitman National Monument had more land, a new road, new archeological excavations, and, by January of that year, a new name: The Whitman Mission National Historic Site. Building construction, by far the most visible change, occurred that same year, as well.

 

Last updated: March 1, 2015

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