Maintaining the Monument, 1900 - 1936

 

Care of the Whitman grave and memorial shaft fell to various local groups from 1900-1936. Unfortunately, this eight-acre site was neglected during the early 1900s in spite of an attempt by the Washington State Legislature to establish a Whitman Park Commission and purchase the mission property for a state park. [32] However, some development occurred. Marion Swegle donated one more acre of his property for the Whitman-Eells Memorial Church, built south of the Great Grave at the base of Shaft Hill. [33] (see map, Appendix A and B) The church remained at this location until approximately 1923 when it was moved to Milton-Freewater. [34] Another change occurred in 1914 when the bodies of William and Mary Gray were moved from Astoria and placed beside the Great Grave. [35]

With the exception of the Whitman-Eells Church and the additional grave marker, the site's appearance did not change greatly until a series of title transfers facilitated some noticeable grounds improvements. In 1923 the Walla Walla Trust Foundation, owners of the eight acres, and the Whitman-Eells Memorial Church (now defunct) transferred their holdings to the Union Trust Company as a perpetual trust to the public. [36] This company became the trustee for the Walla Walla Trust Foundation. Eventually, the Union Trust Company went through a series of mergers and became part of the First National Bank of Walla Walla and later the Seattle First National Bank, Walla Walla Branch. [37] About this time, the Walla Walla Kiwanis Club became interested in the mission after John Langdon, a local businessman and Kiwanian, suggested beautifying the monument grounds. Predictably, a committee formed to manage the project. Phillip Winans, Henry Marshall, and Chase Lambert organized the "Whitman Monument Committee," and in 1923 the Kiwanis Club assumed responsibility for maintaining the grounds. Since their ability to improve the grounds depended upon an unclouded land claim, Winans and Herbert Ringhoffer took the necessary legal action to clear title to the entire mission claim which totaled 646.89 acres. Representative John Summers introduced the bill into the U. S. Congress and on June 21, 1926 Congress issued a patent for Donation Claim No. 37 and No. 38--the Whitman Mission--to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, the group which had sponsored the Whitmans in their missionary efforts. The A.B.C.F.M. deeded the land to the then owners (the Swegles), clearing the title. In this action, approximately eight acres composing the land held as a public trust by the Union Trust Company was held out as a public park. [38]

The legal issues settled, the Kiwanis established an endowment fund for grounds improvement: "[the Kiwanis] believe pioneers of the valley and the state will be glad to contribute to an endowment fund so the [monument] grounds may be kept beautiful for all time." [39] True to their plans, the Kiwanis designated the area "Whitman Memorial Park," built an entrance sign, and improved the road to the grave and monument. They are also credited with building four pit privies that were located on the mission grounds from the mid-1930s until 1963. Mr. Howard Kaseberg, a Kiwanis member in the 1930s, remembers spending his weekends cleaning the grounds and planting shrubbery. To him it seemed "a natural project." [40] The Kiwanis were joined in their landscaping efforts by the Daughters of the American Revolution who, in 1931, designated the Whitman Monument grounds as the most historic spot in the Pacific Northwest." [41] After 1935, when the Whitman Centennial, Incorporated, formed, in part, "to assist in the care of the Whitman Monument," [42] Kiwanis involvement faded, although they continued to care for the grounds until 1939. [43]

The Kiwanis were responsible for maintaining and improving the grounds during the 1920s and 1930s. Their work generated interest in the mission which had otherwise declined since the semicentennial years. After 1935, it became the responsibility of the Whitman Centennial, Inc., and the National Park Service to improve upon their efforts.

 

Last updated: March 1, 2015

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Mailing Address:

328 Whitman Mission Road
Walla Walla, WA 99362

Phone:

(509) 522-6360

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