Life of early Walla Walla merchant portrayed

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WALLA WALLA — Sigmund Schwabacher, an early settler and Jewish merchant will be portrayed Walla Wallan by Steve Rubin during a Living History performance at 2 p.m. Sunday at Fort Walla Walla Museum, 755 Myra Road.

Schwabacher was one of three brothers who helped establish the first mercantile business in Walla Walla and later one in Seattle.

Sigmund, Louis and Abraham and joined the thousands of emigrants who left Europe during the 19th century.

Born in Germany of Jewish heritage, the young men fled to America to escape an increasingly anti-Semitic Europe.

Enlisting the help of his mother’s brother, Isaac Bloch of San Francisco, Louis Schwabacher was the first brother to come to America.

Louis settled in Mississippi and started a business. In 1858 he went to California, remaining in San Francisco until deciding to make an inspection trip to the 6-year-old Washington Territory in 1859.

During this period, he sent to Germany for his brothers to join him.

They soon “found themselves among Indians, soldiers, settlers, miners and Chinese who ran stores and grew crops for the mines.”

On Sept. 1, 1860, the three opened their mercantile store near the northeast corner of Third Avenue and Main Street in Walla Walla.

Their business flourished and by 1862 they had outgrown their first building.

In 1876, they erected a two-story brick building there thatwas described in newspapers of the day as “the finest building north of San Francisco, its front resplendent with massive iron columns and arches; its seven entrances each with double doors, the outer ones being iron, the inner cedar ...

“The interior was 16 feet high, painted white. Its six iron pillars were painted and gilded. In the northwest corner, there was a glass space of 12x16 elevated with a fireplace where Mr. Sigmund Schwabacher could observe and direct the activities.”

A stylized replica of the store’s interior is displayed in the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma.

The Schwabachers became an important part of the town’s business community.

On March 18, 1878, the First National Bank of Walla Walla was chartered, which made it the oldest national bank in the state until its sale to Seattle-First National Bank in 1947.

Schwabacher was a director of the pioneer institution where Banner Bank stands on Alder Street today.

The bank’s president, Levi Ankeny, became a U.S. senator for Washington in 1903.

Living History performances begin at 2 p,m.

Visitors are encouraged to question Schwabacher about his life and times and visit the Schwabacher Brother’s Store display in Exhibit Hall 1.

The museum is open daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m., April through October.

Admission is free to museum members; eligible service personnel and their families through the Blue Star Museums program; Tamástslikt Cultural Institute’s Inwai Circle cardholders; enrolled members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation; and all children under 6; $3 children 6-12; $6 seniors 62 and up and students; and $7 adults. For more details, contact 509-525-7703 or info@fortwallawallamuseum.org.

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