Introduction to the William Kirkman Chapters
By John Andrew Beard - 1998
The Walla Walla Valley is noted for it’s historical significance and its treasured land and agriculture. This beautifully landscaped area was settled and cherished among numerous pioneers. These adventurous men and women made this community what it is today. The esteemed past is something that the valley holds dear and most of the settlers in the early era have disappeared into the depths of dusty history books and hidden records. The exhilarating part of history is making these pioneers come alive so the community can appreciate the ones who made the town of Walla Walla one of the greatest areas of the Northwest.
There is one man whose home still stands in this town whom not many citizens know about. This prominent and distinguished man was William Kirkman. Who was this man and how did he get to the valley? When did he arrive here? Where was he born and where did he travel? Why was he important to the town of Walla Walla? There are many unanswered questions about this man, yet people still come to the Kirkman House on a frequent basis to admire it’s grandeur. Kirkman built this home in the late 1870’s and is known as one of the inland Northwest’s most magnificent structures. The historical data of this pioneer and his house has never been evolved into one complete and comprehensive study until the present day.
I have ventured to the Great Northwest from Augusta, Georgia. I am an AmeriCorps volunteer at the Kirkman House Museum. My major project of my volunteer term is to complete a detailed history of the Kirkman Family and what effects they had on Walla Walla. In researching William Kirkman, I feel that I have become a member of their family and I intrinsically eleven that I was meant to come to Walla Walla and research this man for eleven months.
One morning I was delving into William Kirkman’s obituary on the microfiche machine and I noticed one particular name in the clipping that made me fall out of my chair. There it was, my name Andrew Beard that appeared in front of my sweet Georgia eyes! Beard was one of Kirkman’s last business partners that were present at the Kirkman funeral procession in the home. Of course I couldn’t stop there, I’m a historical researcher! My curiosity got the best of me and I looked in the city directory of Walla Walla for the year of 1889. How could it be? There listed between Mr. Grant Bean and Reverend Joseph H. Beaven was John A. Beard, which is my full name! Another peculiar note was that this Beard family lived on the same bloc k as the Kirkman family. So I sincerely believe it is my calling to write this wonderful history of the Kirkman’s
I had completed much of my note taking by the sixth month of my research, but there was something missing. I somehow stumbled upon ten letters that William Kirkman wrote home to his beloved father and stepmother in England. The letters contained detailed stories of Kirkman coming to America from England and making his dreams come true. I struck it rich when I found these gems, much the same way Kirkman discovered gold in the West. These letters recount the past of a great man and his adventures out west and his quest to find the perfect home for a family, the town of Walla Walla.