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Exploring Walla Walla
  Walla Walla Travel Tale

by Lorry Patton

wash_walla_green_gables.jpg When I toured Walla Valley in southeast Washington State recently, I was surprised to learn that there are over two dozen districts, farmsteads and houses registered with the National Register of Historic Places in the area. The bulk of them are houses in the town of Walla Walla; others, like the Frazier Farmstead Museum, are out of the county in the bordering state of Oregon. The two most significant ones are the Whitman Mission National Historic Site and Fort Walla Walla Museum Complex.

My first stop was at the Whitman mission, at Waiilatpu, meaning, "place of the people of the rye grass." The 2,000 miles long wagon path from Independence, Missouri, to the mouth of the Columbia River, now known as the Oregon Trail, cuts through here. Although the main trail bypassed the mission after 1944, those who were ill and in need, turned to the mission for help.

wash_whitman_museum.jpg It was an ordinary day in the grassy valley -- beautiful and cloudless. The view was peaceful and gentle from the hill where a monument stands in honor of the Whitman's hill. The very hill they stood atop when they first arrived.

"Here we are, one family alone." Narcissa Prentiss Whitman wrote in 1844. "A waymark, as it were, or center post, about which multitudes will or must gather this winter. And those we must feed and warm to the extent of our powers."

The Whitman's journeyed west from New York in 1836. Their successful trek inspired many families to follow. A covered wagon, similar to the one the group used, is on display. Inside the visitor center opened daily, except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day exhibits, films and scheduled demonstrations, describe life at the mission. A self-guiding path led to the grave of the pioneering couple, killed eleven years later, along with two orphaned children and nine others, by a Cayuse Indian band.

My next stop was seven miles away at Fort Walla Walla.

wash_walla_palouse_waitsburg.jpg Fort Walla Walla was originally a fur-trading post (1818-55) at the juncture of the Walla Walla and Columbia Rivers. It became a military fort during the Yakima Indian Wars of 1855-58. Today, the 15-acre complex features a pioneer village that includes an 1859 homestead home, a complete one-room school and a 1904 jail. The largest horse agricultural display in the west runs through five big buildings. As big as they are, however, they aren't big enough to most effectively present the vintage grain combine pulled by thirty-three sculpted mules cramped inside one of the buildings.

I had a picnic on the grounds of the fort, a harvest of Walla Walla's very own vegetables and breads. Wheat is the area's number one crop; however, the bread we were eating, was made out of Garbanzo beans, a grain that is gaining increasing attention in the Pacific Northwest. The vegetables included the world famous Walla Walla Sweet Onion. Why, this onion is so famous the town celebrates its harvest!

The drive through the residential area of Walla Walla ( meaning many waters) was a pleasant experience. Even homes that were not registered bring an aura of elegance and sophistication to the district. But, of course, many houses are on the historical register, such as the 1884 Queen Anne Mansion located on 720 Bryant. This three-story mansion, with six fireplaces and twelve-foot high ceilings, was the home of Washington's last territorial governor: Governor Miles Conway Moore. The Kirkman House, built in 1880 by one of Walla Walla's most prominent civic leaders, William Kirkman, is open to the public by appointment.

Most of the dwellings are private residences; some are converted Bed & Breakfast Inns. The Green Gables Inn is a handsome example of a B&B. A stay in this home, if you ignore the television, will take you back to 1909. An item on display speaks volumes about the attitude of the original owners. Above the fireplace in the living room, an authentic motto reads: "The ornaments of a house are the friends that frequent it."

Footnote: If you want to know more about the homes in Walla Walla, there's an excellent book called "Walla Walla Her Historic Homes" by Penny Andres. The book features thirty-six houses, with pictures by photographer, Bob Andres, a description of the style, and a brief historical outline about the people that once lived there.

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