Land Acquisition

 

The National Park Service's ability to purchase additional monument land was hindered since 1941 because of section one of the enabling legislation which states, in part, "that the Secretary of the Interior is authorized and directed to acquire land on behalf of the United States, by gift." [1] (Emphasis added) As a result, ten years of development plans--construction of a museum, employee residence, utility building, and water facilities--remained useless without the land on which to build. In 1951, failed attempts to secure the land north of the mission by local donation resulted in the first suggestion, by Sanford Hill, Assistant Regional Director, to "secure new legislation to permit acquisition by the United States." [2] Nevertheless, Walla Walla citizens, such as former Whitman Centennial president Herbert West and ranger-historian Willard Whitman, canvassed for local purchase and donation of additional land throughout 1951 and 1952. [3] By September 1952, it was evident that these and other local efforts to secure land had failed and that legislation was necessary. Superintendent Robert Weldon wrote on September 13, 1952:

As far as this office knows all proposals for local purchase of needed development lands have failed . . . It therefore seems desirable and indeed imperative that the basic law establishing this area be changed to enable the government to purchase or condemn lands for development so long delayed. [4]

Curtis K. Skinner, Acting Superintendent, Mount Rainier National Park, to who Weldon reported, noted that, "many supporters and former supporters of the Monument are seriously concerned regarding the inability of the National Park Service to proceed with proper development of this area." [5] Therefore, he also recommended congressional legislation.

In 1953, Lawrence C. Merriam, Regional Director, Region IV, suggested that Preston P. Macy, Superintendent of Mount Rainier, encourage Walla Wallans to introduce the legislation. [6] Herbert West and Alfred McVay were duly contacted and agreed to take up the issue with the Walla Walla Chamber of Commerce. [7] That same year, Enos B. Miller, owner of the desired land, sold it to Glen Frazier. [8] While the National Park Service determined its acreage needs, local canvassing for the legislation slowed.

Prospects brightened in March 1956 when, according to E. T. Scoyen, Associate Director of the National Park Service, the Director's office prepared a draft of the legislation. [9] Shortly thereafter, Senator Warren G. Magnuson indicated that he was contacted by "members of the Whitman's Monument Committee" and was prepared to sponsor legislation "to permit the Park Service to do whatever is necessary to acquire a site of adequate proportions." [10] No doubt the "Whitman's Monument Committee" referred to Herbert West, Al McVay and other members of the Whitman Centennial, Inc., who had been asked to support this legislation.

In April of that year, the Whitman Centennial, Inc., merged with the Marcus Whitman Foundation, a Walla Walla group formed in 1950 to "commemorate the fame and historic service of Dr. Marcus Whitman and Narcissa Whitman." [11] Under the leadership of Allen Reynolds, Herbert West, Mrs. Goldie Rehberg, Cameron Sherwood, and Ralph Gohlman, the reorganized Marcus Whitman Foundation actively supported legislation to expand the monument boundaries. Yet, legislation was held in abeyance due to the National Park Service's inability to determine its acreage needs and negotiate a deal with Frazier.

 

Finally, in June, after Regional Director Merriam recommended purchasing approximately 46 acres, [12] legislation was introduced both in the House (H. R. 11867) and Senate (S. 4062) authorizing the procurement of "not to exceed fifty acres of land adjacent to the existing monument and a right-of-way thereto from U. S. Highway 410." [13] The legislation did not pass before the 84th Congress ended so action was, once again, stymied until 1957.

Upon reconvening, Congressman Hal Holmes reintroduced the legislation (H. R. 2549) on January 10, 1957, while Senators Magnuson and Henry M. Jackson introduced S. 1118 on February 7. In a report to the Senate Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, Roger Ernst, Assistant Secretary of the Interior, explained that the 50 acres was necessary for proper development of the monument:

Authority to acquire land by . . . the proposed legislation, is therefore essential if the Mission 66 program for protection, development, and interpretation of the monument is to be facilitated. [14]

Senate bill 1118 passed the Senate on August 6. Senator Magnuson said the measure was "saved" from the last-minute legislative log-jam in the Senate "when Senator Jackson insisted the Interior Committee give the matter priority." [15] Unfortunately, the bill did not receive the same prompt attention in the House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, despite requests that Mrs. Gracie Pfost, chairman of the Public Lands Subcommittee, "move the legislation along." [16] Marcus Whitman Foundation member Cameron Sherwood encouraged Mrs. Pfost to support the bill: "This is not a Walla Walla project but is a national project." [17] Joel E. Ferris, president of the Eastern Washington State Historical Society, emphatically concluded, "There is no historical spot in the entire West more important in our history than the Whitman Mission site." [18]

The bill was finally approved by the House of Representatives Public Lands Subcommittee on March 20, 1958, and was reported out by the full House Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs on March 26. [19] However, the House delayed passage until the bill conformed with S. 1118 which provided for the use of "any land acquisition funds available for the purposes of the National Park System." [20] H. R. 2949 was duly amended and passed Congress April 22, 1958. Public Law 85-388 (72 Stat. 101) was signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on May 1, 1958.

With passage of Public Law 85-388 a major obstacle to the long-planned and long-deferred mission development was eliminated. Prospects for improved administration, maintenance, and interpretive programs appeared brighter than they had for many years. Though passage of the law did not result in the immediate acquisition of 50 additional acres, the law did give immediate credence to the National Park Service negotiations for the Frazier property, which was finally purchased in 1960. Not only did this legislation culminate 11 years of development planning, but, more importantly for the mission's future, it facilitated years of new plans, change, and growth.

 

Last updated: March 1, 2015

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Walla Walla, WA 99362

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