Reconstruction 2


Dr. Neasham's arguments remained persuasive for years, gaining more credibility when Garth's excavations did not reveal enough information to completely verify the mission's appearance. Accordingly, then, the building sites were outlined with timbers in 1952 and a museum planned to include models of the mission buildings.

While Dr. Neasham's argument quieted the reconstruction controversy somewhat during the early 1950s, the issue never entirely disappeared due, in part, to the park's long drawn-out development plans. During the 1950s the National Park Service sought land and money for development of a superintendent's residence, museum-administration building, and utilities. This obvious emphasis on modern facilities struck many Walla Wallans, already upset about the monument's slow development, as an inappropriate priority. This widely-held view is reflected in a 1952 letter from Walla Wallan Betty Richardson to Assistant Regional Director Sanford Hill, in which she disagrees with plans "to erect an ordinary building at the mission site instead of making 'copies' of the buildings that were burned during the massacre." [53] Hill's response is one of the best indicators of the National Park Service's attitude in the early 1950s regarding Whitman Mission's reconstruction:

Should we place the handiwork of our own generation on [the mission site] we will have created an illusion which, though interesting, is not of the Mission period. Through the preservation and presentation . . . of the authentic building foundations where possible, we have felt that the visitor would grasp the spiritual significance of the area, and perhaps would be able to create in his own mind a sense of historical reality which would not be possible in a full restoration . . .

[The Whitman National Monument] is in the main a memorial dedicated to the memory of the courageous missionaries who founded the Mission. Being hallowed ground, therefore, it should not be disturbed by the buildings of this generation, regardless of how far they might go to recreate the original picture. [54]

Essentially, Hill reworded Dr. Neasham's earlier argument that reconstruction would only intrude on the historic scene.

The reconstruction issue continued to be closely tied with the mission development plans throughout the late 1950s. With the legislative authority to acquire additional land secured in 1958, the park's master plan required revisions in order to reflect the latest construction proposals. Therefore, arguments against reconstruction fell under fresh scrutiny. After Regional Chief of Interpretation Bennett T. Gale raised the issue in Washington, D. C., "The consensus was that the question of restoration be considered for Whitman National Monument . . . . " [55] Therefore, upon the request of Regional Director Merriam, Superintendent Kennedy presented his recommendations in favor of reconstruction. Thus, the debate started all over again in 1958.

Superintendent Kennedy cited several reasons for supporting reconstruction, the most important of which was the need for proper interpretation: The "present bare site [outlined with concrete blocks] does not provide a framework to guide the imaginations of people . . . ." [56] Kennedy also cited the great demand for restoration and finally concluded that sufficient evidence existed on which to base reconstructions. [57] He criticized the arguments against reconstruction, stating that monument employees had "carefully tried to discourage it in order to avoid embarrassment to the staffs of the Director and Regional Director." [58] However, Kennedy acknowledged the need for complete historical evidence and concluded: "If a restoration were to be carried out, it would be advisable to assign to an historian the project of bringing together all the significant material on each of the features to be restored." [59]


After reviewing Kennedy's recommendations, Regional Director Merriam agreed that further historical research should precede reconstruction; therefore, he recommended that action be deferred until after Mission 66 developments were completed. He concluded:

We should like to have the experience of interpreting the monument through the use of a model of the site and other exhibit devices in the proposed visitor center before a decision is reached on the question of restoration. The visitor center displays and the restoration of the grounds so as to be more in keeping with the appearance at the time of occupancy would, in our opinion, form the basis of an easily understandable story and present a significant and attractive scene to the visitor. If later restoration of structures appears desirable, we will have lost nothing, for the visitor center would, of course, be continued as an introduction to the site. [60]

Acting National Park Service Director Eivind T. Scoyen concurred by stating that reconstruction would be reconsidered after full analysis of the historical sources by a historian. [61] Thus, the Mission 66 development projects progressed as scheduled with the museum as the primary interpretive device. However, from 1958 onward, currents ran more strongly in favor of reconstruction than in previous years. The predominant argument shifted away from a concern for the historic scene to a concern about historically accurate reproductions.

This new open-mindedness regarding reconstruction was reflected in several park documents. For example, the 1960 master plan cautioned:

Do not close the door on restoration of the mission and of its various features. Continue to pursue research to reveal the details of the construction or appearance of the mission buildings and other facilities. [62]

Superintendent Kennedy also wrote a "Prospectus for Restoration of the Whitman Mission" in October 1960, in which he stated that he believed research would produce reconstructions that were 95 percent accurate. [63] However, research that same month revealed that such accuracy was highly improbable.

Excavations conducted by Regional Archeologist Paul Schumacher in October 1960 failed to reveal any evidence of the blacksmith shop. Superintendent Kennedy reported in the October "Monthly Narrative Report" that the building's exact location was apparently not determined. [64] Additional research central to the reconstruction issue was conducted by Historian Erwin Thompson. His study on the appearance of the Mission House Kitchen (1961) and "Report of the Appearance of Waiilatpu Mission in 1847" (1962) revealed that gaps existed in the available information about the appearance of the mission. The fervor for reconstruction slowly dissipated because of Thompson's report and the inconclusive blacksmith shop excavations. Thus, the concrete outlines of the building sites were supplemented with individual room outlines in May 1961, [65] and audio stations were installed at the mission sites in August 1963. [66] After September 1963, the visitor center and museum oriented visitors to the Whitman story and the mission site. Finally, in 1965, Regional Director Edward Hummel suggested deleting reconstruction from the park's master plan. [67]

When it appeared that Whitman Mission administrators had heard the last of the reconstruction issue, it surfaced one more time in 1970, when:

Mrs. Julia Butler Hansen, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Appropriations, during the course of the Hearings of the National Park Service 1971 fiscal year budget, on March 18-19, asked Director George B. Hartzog if the National Park Service had considered reconstructing the buildings at Whitman Mission . . . . Director Hartzog said that the Service had not recently considered the question, but that he would have it studied. [68]


Last updated: March 1, 2015

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