Reconstruction 3


The result was "A Feasibility Study on Historic Reconstruction" by Erwin Thompson of the Denver Service Center Historic Preservation Team, formerly from Whitman Mission. This 1973 study determined that reconstructed buildings would not necessarily increase understanding of the Whitman story and they would not necessarily be accurate: "The archeological, historical, and architectural data do not exist for anything but a conjectural reconstruction of the mission house, blacksmith shop, emigrant house, and gristmill." [69]

In addition, the exact location of the blacksmith shop was never found. Therefore, due to lack of historical evidence necessary to comply with "administration policies of the National Park Service affecting reconstruction at historical areas," [70] Thompson recommended the Whitman Mission sites should not be reconstructed. Interestingly, Mr. Thompson, himself, had a change of heart over this issue. During his three years as Whitman Mission's historian, Thompson favored reconstruction. Then, several years later, an important discovery changed his mind:

. . . after the Kane sketch [of the Whitman Mission] was discovered . . . I suddenly realized that reconstruction was not a very good idea. If we had gone ahead with the evidence we had before Kane we would have wasted Federal monies. [71]

As it turned out, Mr. Thompson's report effectively concluded a debate that lasted nearly forty years.

This decision is the most important cultural resource development to affect the Whitman Mission National Historic Site. The decision to not reconstruct preserved the tranquil setting that is important to the park's memorial nature. Very likely, reconstruction would have shifted interpretive focus to the reconstructed buildings rather than on imagining times past. Maintenance would have increased and the administration would have had to grapple with making these modern developments seem historic. In short, reconstruction would have resulted in an entirely different national historic site. Therefore, recognition is given to all those who debated the reconstruction issue, both pro: Whitman Centennial, Inc., President Herbert West, Mount Rainier Superintendent John Preston and, more recently, Superintendent Joe Kennedy, and the con: both Regional Supervisors of Historic Sites, Olaf T. Hagen and Aubrey Neasham, and Historian Erwin Thompson. Only after the surfacing of all sides of the issue and re-evaluation of policies could such a far-reaching decision be made.


Last updated: March 1, 2015

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