Walla Walla to turn 150


This year is the sesquicentennial of the founding of the town of Walla Walla, which was formally established and named 150 years ago this month.
After the close of the Indian wars in late 1858, President James Buchanan ratified the treaties with the Walla Walla, Cayuse and Umatilla Indians on March 8, 1859, ceding area lands to the U.S. and opening the Walla Walla region to white settlement.

When A.B. Roberts rode the Nez Perce Trail from the west into what is now Walla Walla in February 1859, what greeted him were eight or nine low buildings just before the trail crossed Mill Creek at what is now First Avenue and Main Street. On the east side of the creek was the old military Fort Walla Walla, near which the village sprang up.

Roberts' later sketch of his memory of those original buildings has been replicated on a bronze plaque to be installed in a sesquicentennial monument at the corner of Second Avenue and Main Street in a ceremony scheduled to take place at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday.

That is the date Walla Walla County commissioners approved a citizens' petition to plat the town, name it Walla Walla, give it a town government and designate it the seat of county government. The city of Walla Walla later received its charter from the territorial legislature in 1862.

Key local events in 1859 began with the appointment of Walla Walla County officials by the Washington Territorial Legislature on Jan. 19. On March 8, treaty ratification created the Umatilla Indian Reservation demanded by the tribes at the 1855 treaty council, and opened all remaining area lands to white settlement.

On March 15, 1859, Walla Walla County commissioners held their first meeting, followed by the first election to county offices in July.

On July 1, Lt. John Mullan and his crew departed Walla Walla on a heroic project to link the Columbia and Missouri rivers by constructing the northwest's first highway. The Mullan Road, completed in 1861, ran from the steamship port at the old Fort Walla Walla trading post at Wallula on the Columbia, through the new military garrison on the hill where the VA hospital is now, and on 624 miles to the steamship port at Fort Benton on the Missouri River.

Other events of 1859 include the establishment of a Catholic church in a small log building, the organization of the first Methodist Church, the establishment of the first Masonic Lodge and the granting of a charter to Whitman Seminary, which later became Whitman College.

To celebrate the founding of the town and related events, a sesquicentennial committee has been organized by the Historic Resources Coordinating Committee. Among planned events at the Nov. 17 is an actor portraying Dorsey Baker, founder of Baker Boyer Bank and one of the signers of the petition to plat the town, along with actors portraying other signers and Walla Walla pioneers of 1859-1862.

During the three years leading up to the 2012 sesquicentennial of the city's charter, members of the committee will contribute additional columns highlighting early events in the city's history. The committee is also encouraging others to organize sesquicentennial events.
If you would like to participate in the planning and coordination of events to honor Walla Walla's early history, contact committee chair Kirsten Schober at Kirkman House Museum.

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