The Whitman Centennial, Incorporated - Part 1

 

In February 1935, the Walla Walla Chamber of Commerce appointed a committee to "inquire into the desirability of having a Centennial Celebration to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the coming of Dr. Marcus Whitman and his party to Waiilatpu." [44] In reaction to the favorable response, the Whitman Centennial, Inc., "a charitable and benevolent corporation," [45] was formed under the leadership of Herbert G. West, Harold Davis, and Alfred McVay. In addition to celebrating the centennial, the corporation's major goal was to "acquire, maintain, and operate a park at the place of the Whitman Mission." [46] West believed that the best way to maintain the mission and to recognize Whitman's role in preserving Old Oregon for the United States was to restore the buildings and establish a national monument. West asked U. S. Representative Knute Hill and U. S. Senator Homer T. Bone to introduce bills in the respective houses of Congress to provide for the establishment of the Whitman National Monument and restoration of buildings and grounds. [47] As a result, H. R. 7736 was introduced on April 25, 1935.

The Centennial Corporation's action occurred shortly before the passage of the 1935 Historic Sites Act which declared it national policy "to preserve for public use historic sites, buildings, and objects of national significance." [48] Administration of this act fell to Verne E. Chatelain, Acting Assistant Director, National Park Service. Dr. Chatelain advised the Whitman Centennial, Inc., to purchase the mission property and donate it to the government, and to prepare a brief requesting a national monument. [49] Accordingly, C. Ken Weidner prepared the brief while the Whitman Centennial, Inc., sold $1.00 and $10.00 corporation memberships to raise funds to purchase the mission property. [50]

In the meantime, Dr. Chatelain requested Olaf T. Hagen, Acting Chief of the Western Division, Branch of Historic Sites and Buildings, to investigate the proposed national monument site, which he did on April 17 and 18, 1936. Hagen favored the idea of a national monument and recommended that the eight acres belonging to the Walla Walla Trust Foundation "should be incorporated as part of the Monument." [51] In addition, he recommended expanding the western, eastern, and southern boundaries and securing easements on all adjacent property to protect the historic scene.

While the Whitman Centennial, Inc., prepared for the Centennial Celebration and the National Park Service surveyed the mission property, H. R. 7736 was presented to Congress. The bill provoked little debate until May 21, when the House refused to accept an amendment submitted by the Senate Committee on Public Lands and Surveys. The committee's amendment deleted section four of the bill which stated, "There are authorized to be appropriated such sums as may be necessary to carry out the provisions of this Act." [52] House members Rene L. De Rouen of Louisiana, Knute Hill of Washington, Harry L. Englebright of California and Senate members James E. Murray of Montana, Elmer A. Benson of Minnesota, and Gerald P. Nye of North Dakota were appointed to a conference committee to end the debate. On June 3 they recommended "that the Senate recede from its amendment." [53] Thus, the bill passed with appropriations, and was signed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, June 29, 1936.

 

Last updated: March 1, 2015

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