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Visit a bygone Walla Walla at Fort Walla Walla Museum – Part 2

by Vicki Hillhouse

If you missed part one about the Fort Walla Walla Museum, you can read that here first.

Down the hill from Fort Walla Walla Museum’s exhibit buildings, a village of wooden structures offers a peek into pioneer living.

Pioneer living at the center of town

The doorways, windows and even limited entry into some of the 17 buildings — from a blacksmith shop and doctor’s office to a jailhouse and general store — showcase the region’s furnishings, artifacts, architecture and way of life during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Along with walking shoes for the trek through the lush property, slather on sunscreen for summertime visits. The campus’s stately trees provide shade between some of the buildings — not to mention respite and homes for finches, squirrels and other critters worthy of afternoon watching — but the museum’s exterior attractions span wide-open areas with exposure to the seasons.

Guests can reach the Pioneer Village from the property’s main grounds through one of two pathways: Laughlin Road, near the small gazebo, or Penner Trail, just south of the main entrance building. Golf cart rides between the village and the entrance are available to those who may need them (509-525-7703). 

A tip as you travel down: Keep an eye out around those trailheads for cornerstones. They once marked the boundaries of the military reservation upon which the museum operates. 

The museum also acknowledges its location on homeland of the Cayuse people who, with the Umatilla and Walla Walla Tribes, comprise the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation now centered about 35 miles southwest of Walla Walla in Mission, Oregon.

Image: You can find these Native American artifacts in the Lloyd Family Exhibit inside the museum. These ones specifically were made by the Palouse Tribe. Some Palouse are still connected to the nearby reservation, but others are elsewhere.

If you time your visit on a Sunday afternoon, you can also have a brush with Hudson’s Bay Co. trader William McBean, journalist Nellie Day or any of the dozens of 1800s-era characters who shaped the community and are portrayed by a cast of modern-day residents through Living History performances (check the Visit Walla Walla Event Calendar to see the scheduled performer during your visit).

Ft. Walla Walla Ice Cream Social

The reenactments are just one of the museum’s many interactive family-friendly events that also include an annual antique truck show, a faux territorial prison break, an ice cream social complete with live-action Oregon Trail game and more.

As for that Pioneer Village, budget at least an hour to stroll the grounds, explore and get a sense of how people of the era lived, worked and played.

Fifteen of the buildings are original and came from within 30 miles of Walla Walla. Two are replicas. All have fascinating stories.

Among them is the Union School, built in 1867 west of Dixie. The one-room schoolhouse was preserved so magnificently it even has the original blackboards. Until its ultimate closure in 1930, it served students in first through eighth grades.

Union School
Railroad Building and Barber Shop

Across the way, an 1890 barber shop and bathhouse feature an 1870 Walla Walla barber chair. In the rear of the building is a tub where men could bathe for a quarter. Those who wanted the freshest water needed to drop in early. The same bathwater was used for all comers and grew colder and dirtier as the day went on.

Guests will see an 1880s-era railroad depot built by Northern Pacific near Eureka; a late 1800s doctor’s office; and a 1903 Prescott jail that sat so strongly among the wheat and farms that it survived a 1915 fire that destroyed the rest of the town’s business district.

 the original penitentiary
 Saturno Italian Farmstead

Along with that jail, the rest of the structures — from the Ransom Clark Cabin and its heartrending construction to the Saturno Italian Farmstead — are a showcase of fortitude, ingenuity and resilience from an era of discovery.

The Fort Walla Walla Museum is just one of the region’s historic sites that offer a glimpse into life during a different era. If you crave to learn more about Walla Walla and its people, there are more sites and museums to explore