Historic cabin moved to Frenchtown site

Moving day for the upper half of a historic cabin formerly located on the farmstead of the late Rev. Robin Peterson on Last Chance Road. The upper half was taken to the Frenchtown Historical Site on Old Highway 12 while the lower half, which was taken away earlier, is being restored at another location. When restoration work is completed, the two halves will be reassumbled at the Frenchtown Historical Site.

Moving day for the upper half of a historic cabin formerly located on the farmstead of the late Rev. Robin Peterson on Last Chance Road. The upper half was taken to the Frenchtown Historical Site on Old Highway 12 while the lower half, which was taken away earlier, is being restored at another location. When restoration work is completed, the two halves will be reassumbled at the Frenchtown Historical Site. Photo by Andy Porter.

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WALLA WALLA — A project to move one of the oldest cabins in Washington state took a major step forward Monday.

The upper half of the structure known as the Peterson cabin was trucked to the Frenchtown Historical Site, while a few days earlier the timbers of the lower half were taken to a second location for restoration. The two halves will eventually be reunited at Frenchtown.

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On the morning of the cabin's move, Sam Pambrun, left, and Dan Clark, talk at the site of the structure on the farmstead of the late Rev. Robin Peterson on Last Chance Road. Pambrun is current president of the Frenchtown Historical Foundation and a descendent of Pierre Pamburn, chief trader of the Hudson's Bay Trading Company Fort Walla Walla trading post.

Believed to be about 176 years old, the cabin was on the farmstead of Robin and Kriss Peterson on Last Chance Road, west of College Place. According to Dan Clark of the Frenchtown Historical Foundation, research by Robin Peterson, who died in 2011, pointed to the likelihood that the cabin had been built in 1837 at the request of Pierre Pambrun, chief trader of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort Walla Walla trading post in Wallula.

According to Peterson’s research, Pambrun had the cabin constructed as a peace offering for “the Prince,” who was the brother of the headman at the Cayuse Indian village on the Walla Walla River near the Whitman Mission.

Peterson and his wife had intended to move the cabin to the front of their property and open it as a cultural reconciliation center. However, after Robin’s death, Kriss Peterson transferred the title to cabin to the Frenchtown Historical Foundation on the condition it be moved to the Frenchtown site on Old Highway 12 to be available for public viewing.

The preparations during the days leading up to Monday’s move drew visits by Clark and Sam Pambrun, a direct descendant of Pierre Pambrun and current president of the Frenchtown Historical Foundation. Another watcher of Monday’s move was Gerald Reed, who represents the Umatilla Tribe on the foundation’s board.

“My great-great grandmother was the midwife for Narcissa (Whitman),” Pambrun said. “Her name was Catherine Umfreville Pambrun, but everyone knew her as ‘Kitty’”

The French Canadian design used by the cabin’s builders is most evident in how the log ends were cut to dovetail into one another rather than simply cut with a “U” shaped notch, Pambrun said. The dovetail cuts allowed rainwater and snowmelt to drain away, which helped prevent the wood from rotting.

Monday’s move went smoothly, although the first stage was slow going as haulers had to maneuver to keep steel beams sticking out on both sides of the flatbed trailer hauling the cabin from striking a tree and fence posts along the gravel driveway leading from farmstead to Last Chance Road.

But the distance was finally covered and with escort vehicles bearing “OVERSIZE LOAD” signs preceding and following, the old cabin was off to its new home.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

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