Battleground preservation nears finish lineDrive to establish historic site nears finish line

A foundation is working to open 27 acres surrounding the Frenchtown-St. Rose Cemetery this year.


LOWDEN -- A decades-long drive to preserve a historic battleground and pioneer cemetery may be on the home stretch.

The Frenchtown Historical Foundation is preparing a drive to raise the remaining funds needed to open 27 acres surrounding the Frenchtown-St. Rose Cemetery later this year. The nonprofit group needs to raise an additional $25,000 to move ahead with the project, said Kathleen Garbe, foundation board member.

Located east of Lowden next to U.S. Highway 12, the site is a central portion of where the 1855 Battle of Walla Walla occurred and is also where the St. Rose of Lima Mission and the St. Rose Cemetery, established in 1876, were located. An obelisk and wooden cross visible from the highway mark the spot today.

The project passed a milestone recently after the foundation received title to the property from Alfalfa LLC, the corporation developing Wine Valley Golf Club. It has also received contributions from other sources, along with a contingent $55,000 grant from the Sherwood Trust that requires it to sign construction contracts and raise the balance of its $105,000 project budget before the end of the year, Garbe said.

Claro Bergevin, the capital campaign co-chair, said the effort to develop the site has stretched across generations of his family.

"We've been trying to get something done for the last 60 years," he said. "We've got 11 Bergevins buried at that cemetery."

The foundation's plans for the site call for the construction in October of an access road north from the existing highway marker on U.S. Highway 12 to a parking area from which a trail will lead to the historic cemetery and to an overlook just above it. Interpretive signs discussing history and the environment will be provided throughout the site, which has been planted to native grasses.

The portion of the Frenchtown site below U.S. Highway 12 down to the Walla Walla River has also been planted in native grasses and will be maintained as a nature reserve pending the planned transfer of the land to the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation for historic preservation purposes, Garbe said.

Future events include a salmon barbecue being planned at Frenchtown Hall in Lowden, Garbe said. For more information, call 522-0399.

Andy Porter can be reached at or 526-8318. Check out his blog at

History of site

The Frenchtown site is where the first European settlement in this area was established by French-Canadian employees of the Hudson Bay Company and their Indian wives more than a decade before Marcus and Narcissa Whitman arrived in 1836. The St. Rose of Lima Mission and St. Rose Mission Cemetery were established in 1876, but by 1900 the mission was seldom used and in 1911 the property and church were sold by Ed. J. O'Dea, the Bishop of Nisqually.

The area is also a central portion of the area where the 1855 Battle of Walla Walla, also known as the Battle of Frenchtown, was fought. The conflict took place on Dec. 7-10, 1855, between area tribes and Oregon volunteers. The battle marked the end of the struggle for control of the Walla Walla Valley that had begun in 1847.

(Sources: Claro Bergevin and the Frenchtown Historical Foundation)

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