Project to move historic cabin needs funding

What is believed to be the oldest cabin in the state is in Walla Walla County.

Research by Robin Peterson, who died in 2011, indicates this cabin was built in 1837 for the brother of the headman of the Cayuse Village located near the Whitman Mission. The timbers holding up the front walls were placed there by Peterson to stabilize the building.

Research by Robin Peterson, who died in 2011, indicates this cabin was built in 1837 for the brother of the headman of the Cayuse Village located near the Whitman Mission. The timbers holding up the front walls were placed there by Peterson to stabilize the building. Photo by Andy Porter.

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WALLA WALLA — A project to relocate what may be the oldest surviving cabin in Washington state is seeking supporters.

The project involves moving what has been known as the Peterson cabin from the farmstead of Robin and Kriss Peterson on Last Chance Road near Walla Walla to the Frenchtown Historic Site two miles west of the Whitman Mission.

The Frenchtown Historical Foundation has adopted a preliminary budget of $50,000 to begin work on the relocation, said Dan Clark, foundation member.

In a release, Clark said historical research by Robin Peterson, who died in 2011, points to the likelihood that the cabin was built at the request of Pierre Pambrun, chief trader at the Hudson’s Bay Company’s Fort Walla Walla trading post at Wallula in about 1837. It was built as a peace offering for the Prince, a brother of the headman at the Cayuse village just up the Walla Walla River from the Whitman Mission.

“The documentation for this conclusion includes a letter written by Narcissa Whitman in early 1844 reporting that a family of eight had moved from the crowded mission into ‘the Prince’s house up the river.’” Clark said.

Independent documentation establishes that Pambrun had a cabin built on the Umatilla River in 1837 for Young Chief, another Cayuse headman, who with the Prince and Looking Glass of the Nez Percé had been blacklisted by the Hudson Bay Company for assaulting Pambrun in a dispute over fur prices.

“If this history is correct, then the cabin is indeed the oldest surviving residential structure in Washington state,” Clark said.

The Petersons had planned to move the cabin to the front of their property and open it as a cultural reconciliation center. However, following Robin’s death, Kriss Peterson transferred title to the cabin to the Frenchtown Historical Foundation on the condition that it be moved to the Frenchtown site where it will be readily available for public viewing, Clark said.

The foundation hopes to relocate the cabin in October and then begin restoration with the goal of completing the project before the end of 2014. To accomplish this, it needs to raise funds to cover moving costs as well as initial labor and materials for the restoration work while grant applications are under way to complete the project.

Clark said tax-deductible contributions to the Frenchtown Cabin Fund can be made to the Frenchtown Historical Foundation, PO Box 1222, Walla Walla, WA 99362. Information is also available online, by emailing frenchtownpartners@charter.net or at 509-629-0044.

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