THE HISTORIC ARCHITECTURAL DEVELOPMENT CORPORATION

The Historic Architectural Development Corporation, or HAD, was created in 1973 in reaction to the direction they saw Walla Walla moving in. The wonderful heritage of architecture left by early settlers was crumbling, either through abandonment or demolition, to make room for newer buildings. The group had the foresight to see that these buildings were an asset to citizens. Not only would the restoration of these buildings create a beautiful place to live, but would also benefit downtown, and Walla Walla in general, economically by  preserving the rich history of this city.

Incorporated on November 6, 1973, HAD’s purpose was to aid in the development and restoration of existing historic buildings in the Walla Walla area, and to purchase, when necessary and practical, historic buildings to restore and develop new beauty and usefulness to the community. The founders of HAD were W.L. Minnick, Erma Jo Bergevin, Helen King and Peggy Hoyt. The original officers of HAD were Erma Jo Bergevin, Peggy Hoyt, Whitney Ellis, Tim Copeland, W.L. Minnick, Mrs. Ralph Stevens and Mrs. Eugene W King.

Their early objectives were focused on raising awareness of the beautiful landmarks in the area. This was done by aiding landowners in placing their buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, including the Dacres, the Memorial Building at Whitman College, Carnegie, and the Kirkman House. They also developed a city beautification program through research, displays and promotion of a commission to provide the guidelines for preservation of buildings. An educational program was developed by Professor Paul Dewey, which presented the architecture of Walla Walla and showed how buildings originally looked, thereby giving local citizens an idea of why returning these buildings to their original condition was so important (Walla Walla Union Bulletin, March 23, 1975).

While HAD made great strides and received recognition within the community, some actions were met with controversy. An early example of this occurred in their work with the Schwarz building downtown. HAD received great criticism for their actions toward the owners of the Schwarz building in trying to get them to not raze, but restore the building. While the owners looked at their options and decided it was not economically feasible to restore, HAD continued to push, sending letters to newspapers and holding meetings with the architects and banks involved. The Schwarz was eventually razed; however, HAD’s concerns were noted. When plans for the new building on the site were discussed, HAD participated in the Advisory Council to ensure the new building designed matched the surrounding buildings.

HAD began their relationship with the Kirkman House in the early 1970s. The group had been in contact with Carolyn Retzer, the property owner at the time, regarding the historic value of the building. Upon HAD’s recommendation, Retzer placed the Kirkman House on the National Register for Historic Places. In the spring of 1977, HAD bought the Kirkman House for $50,000. The property then became the headquarters for HAD. Originally, the group planned to restore the house to its original condition and use the building as a historic architectural library and picture gallery for lectures, workshops and special events. The purchase, however, split the group internally and caused many members to resign. There was a growing sentiment among some members that the group was taking on too many projects too soon and straying from the original mission of the group. The acquisition of the Kirkman House left many dissatisfied with the direction of HAD. Indeed, HAD did shift directions with its purchase of the Kirkman House. HAD’s time was now consumed with the restoration of the House, not the development and restoration of Walla Walla buildings overall.  

As the Kirkman House progressed, the original goals of the Historic Architecture Development Corporation drastically changed. Where once they were involved in many projects, the Kirkman House Museum became their sole project. The members of HAD became the board members of the Museum. In 1977, the by-laws called for a “Kirkman House Planning Committee” and then later a committee within HAD for the “Kirkman House Board.” Today HAD exists as a legal entity over the Kirkman House, but in name only. The group is now exclusively the board of the Museum. The origin and mission statement of the Museum currently is as follows:

Kirkman House Museum was owned and operated by Historic Architecture Development, Inc., a state registered, non-profit organization.  Historic Architecture Development, Inc. was formed in 1975 to purchase the Kirkman House and restore it to its Victorian era appearance.  Since 1975 it has repaid its loan for the initial purchase and restored 80% of the mansion's interior to the 1890s era when the William Kirkman Family lived there.  The volunteer Board of Directors has obtained local grants, admission fees, and rent from adjoining non-historic property to cover its operating expenses.  In 2013 the Historic Architecture Development name was abandoned, and simply became the Kirkman House Museum.

THE START OF A MUSEUM

The mission: The Kirkman House Museum -- celebrating over 150 years of Walla Walla history and the Kirkman family saga -- through preservation, education, events and exhibits.

When the Kirkman House was purchased in 1977 by HAD, the house was not a house but an apartment building, and had been for nearly fifty years. The building retained little of the splendor it originally held. Like many homes in Walla Walla, the Kirkman House has undergone a number of changes since it was built in 1880. The Kirkman family built the home between 1874-1880, and was their main residence until 1919. At that time, Mrs. Kirkman gave the home to Whitman College, then estimated at a value of $20,000. Mr. Kirkman had long been a supporter of the College and the gift of the Kirkman House was to aid these fundraising efforts.. Whitman had begun a fundraising effort to build a new dormitory on campus that later became Lyman Hall. The College used Kirkman House as a dormitory for five years. After giving the home to the College, the William Kirkman Chair of History was established for the generous gift.

In the 1920s, Whitman College sold the property to a private owner. The house was then converted to an apartment building, and was used as one for nearly fifty years. Front porches were added to the façade with the addition of four columns. The widow’s walk was taken out and the balustrades above both of the lower front windows were torn down, greatly changing the exterior. On the inside, walls were added, ceilings were lowered to 10-12 feet, and plumbing for individual apartments was added. The original faux marble in the hallways was painted over many times, and carpets covered the elegant wood floors in all the rooms and the parquet in the hallway. The carpets laid in the 1930s protected the floors. When they were torn up in the 1970s during the beginning of restoration, the wood floors were in beautiful condition. Thus all the floors in the home are original and are in remarkable condition, considering their age. Nevertheless, the task ahead to restore the building into a museum resembling the original home was enormous, and would prove to take over fifteen years.

First annual Christmas Open House in the Front Parlor

 
On May 1, 1977, HAD moved their offices to one of the cottages on Kirkman grounds and quickly began their work. The Dining Room and Isabella’s Room, or the Master Bedroom, were the first to be restored. On Sunday, December 11, 1977, the Museum had its first-ever Christmas open house. And while there were still many tenants living in the building, Isabella’s room was cleaned out and partially restored. That little of the home was restored mattered not for the enthusiasm of HAD and visitors, as over 500 people attended the Museum that day to see the progress and hear the plans HAD had for the building. The event raised over $600 and began the traditional Christmas Open House that continues today at the museum.
Momentum was building. In January of 1978, HAD was awarded a matching grant for $31,721.00 from the Historic Preservation Program, Department of the Interior. This grant ushered in the first major step in restoring the house, and the next two years were spent using this grant. HAD started at the foundation, using part of the grant for both foundation and porch repair.

The apartments made extensive changes to the house. Porches were added to the facade and the widow’s walk was taken down. With this grant, the façade was restored to near original condition and much of the exterior was painted. The Kirkman façade originally had a balustrade above both of the first story windows, which was not added with this restoration. The results, however, were very similar to the original, and the home began to take on, once again, its original stateliness. The work was finished on the façade by December, 1979.

This grant was also used for updating the heating unit and adding radiators to the upstairs bedrooms. Interior paint and wallpaper for both the master bedroom and dining room were bought. Both of these rooms reached near completion as far as restoration. From this point, a call for furniture was sent to members in the community to decorate these fine rooms.

Widow's Walk Railing

In September, 1979, the Museum had quite a surprise. With the help of “a little luck and a keen eye,” the widow’s walk was restored to its proper place atop the Kirkman House (Walla Walla Union Bulletin, “Widow’s Walk Finds its Way Home,” by Marianna Jones, Sept. 27, 1979.)  Taken down during the apartment phase, the walk was “missing” for nearly fifty years. A lady who was helping to restore the museum saw a beautiful walk at the Garden City Furniture building on Alder Street and thought it remarkably similar to the original Kirkman House widow’s walk balustrade. After speaking with several experts and consulting old photographs of the house, their suspicions were confirmed. Indeed, they had happened upon the original walk. Jim Nostdal, a local artist, helped return the gate atop the Museum, and made wax-clay replicas of the corner pieces that had been lost. This wonderful find fueled excitement for the Museum further, and restoration only increased in the following years.

1979 Restoration Work

In 1980, progress continued. The dining room was completely restored by December, while the Master bedroom was partially completed and work on the front parlor began. There were over 800 guests to the Museum that year, and HAD decided to hire an intern from Whitman College to oversee tours and live in the apartment.

1981 was perhaps the busiest year of restoration. Two grants from the George T. Welch Foundation for $4,000 each, as well as a grant from the Department of the Interior for $2269.79 gave the Museum the means to continue.

The Welch grants were used in creating what is now the library. The library was originally Mr. Kirkman, and then William Henry’s, bedroom. Victorian couples often had separate bedrooms, and while Mrs. Kirkman had her room upstairs, Mr. Kirkman was downstairs. His poor health throughout his life probably factored into his decision to keep a room on the lower level, to avoid climbing the 22-step staircase on a daily basis.

However, HAD wanted the Kirkman House to be an “ideal” Victorian mansion. This included having a library in the house, despite the original home’s lack of one. Using the craftsmen at the Whitehouse-Crawford to supply the paneling and molding, “Uncle Will’s” room became the library we see today. Donations of books and Victorian bric a brac were added to the built-in shelves. Mrs. Erma Jo Bergevin reframed William Henry’s law degree and placed it, along with a drawing of Mr. Kirkman in the stately room to complete it.

The grant from the Department of the Interior was used to support much of the labor in returning rooms to their original size. Walls were torn out, ceilings that had been put in at 10 feet for heating purposes were torn down, showing the original 14 foot ceilings above. By the end of the year, the Front and Middle parlors were ready for wallpapering. HAD had wanted to recreate the original wallpaper, but due to high costs decided on the Lincrusta paper that is in place today. The hallway carpeting was removed, revealing the beautiful parquet flooring that had long been covered over. The pink paint in the hallways was scraped off, showing the original faux marble the Kirkmans had on their walls.

A new brick retaining wall, steps and pillars, sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. James Eagleson, were added to the façade and front lawn, completed by November of 1981.

HAD as the board of the museum, was busy fundraising as well. A Tea Dance at the Ritz House created funds for the museum. At the 1981 Christmas open house, raffle tickets were sold for a Hawaiian trip, which brought in well over $600. A Community Christmas card, placed in the Union Bulletin, was sponsored by local individuals to benefit the Kirkman House Museum.

1983-4 saw the completion of the Library and the Sewing Room, making four rooms in the Museum complete. The Museum began persuading local groups to “adopt” a room. Community groups would either pledge money or volunteer hours (and often it was both) and then work with HAD to complete the room. This worked quite well, and helped move the process of restoration further. The Walla Walla Chapter of the Daughter of Pioneers adopted the Master Suite, while Fannie Ann’s room was sponsored by the Walla Walla Valley Collector’s Club.. The Library was adopted by the George T. Welch Foundation, as it was this foundation that sponsored, through several grants, the creation of the Library. The Walla Walla Chapters of P.E.O. adopted the dining room, while the AD Chapter of P.E.O. the music room. The front hall was aided by the help of the Telephone Pioneers of America, and the Kitchen by the Walla Walla Junior Club.

1979 Restoration Work

 
In 1983, the Welch Foundation gave a $2,000 matching grant which was used for the purchase of two antique fireplaces and the repair of the oak fireplace in the Music Room. The two antique fireplaces were bought in Paris, France by Jay Bergevin and are French marble. The matching facings were placed in Fannie Ann and Myrtle Bell’s rooms.

From 1984-1989, much of the focus was in acquisitions. Descendants of the Kirkman Family were generous in their giving, loaning or donating many items to the Museum to be displayed in their original home. The community was very supportive, giving local items to the Museum for many to see and enjoy. And while the Museum did buy some items now on display, much of the furnishings here were given, thanks to the spreading enthusiasm of the members of HAD, and their own generosity (see list of gifts and major events).

In July, 1988, the mortgage was officially paid off. By the end of 1989, nearly all the rooms were restored to what we know today. The hallway was begun, and in 1990 the faux marble was completed by Pendleton artist Bill Bier. A sample of the original faux marble was restored at the top of the front stairs. By 1993, the all but two rooms were completed, the Kitchen and Leslie Gilmore’s room.

AMERICORPS

In the summer of 1998, the Museum took a new turn. The museum had traditionally hired interns from Whitman College to work part time at the Museum and to live in the upstairs apartment. While this adequately worked, the AmeriCorps program offered a full-time coordinator to deal with the day to day work necessary to move the Museum forward. Government funded, the position is an 11 month internship using recent college graduates, to run the Museum. The effectiveness of the program is seen through the progress made in the past four years. The house is taking on new directions and involving groups that previously had little contact with the Museum.

Andy Beard was the first AmeriCorps volunteer. During his tenure, he wrote a history of William Kirkman and his family. He also initiated the annual craft show now held the weekend following Thanksgiving.

Lindsey Frallic followed Andy.  Many of our now annual events began during Lindsey’s stay. Sheep to Shawl and the Whispered Memories Tea were two of the most successful events. She also wrote a biography of Walter Brattain, a Whitman dormer at Kirkman House.

Allison Bren had perhaps the largest task, to create an accession file of the items in the Museum. Her year was spent cataloging, finding, describing, and numbering each piece in the Museum. Allison also had several children’s crafts, including a summer program called Mornings at the Museum which is becoming an annual event as well.

Kim Nemeth continued running the annual events, adding a vintage fashion show and Strawberry Regale. Her project was writing a history of the Museum, documenting the evolution of the Kirkman House through its twenty-five years of existence. Her tenure also saw the beginning of the Textile Center at the Museum in the first cottage on the grounds, giving the Museum new direction and focus.

Alan Adams will continue the AmeriCorps tradition of bringing new ideas and events to the Museum. He will also focus on preservation of materials, specifically textiles.

THE TEXTILE CENTER AT THE KIRKMAN HOUSE

In the fall of 2001, the Walla Walla Textile Artists approached the Kirkman House Museum about developing a Textile Center and Weaver’s Cottage at the Museum to promote and educate the public about the fabric arts from the 1850s through present day. This would be done through displays, demonstrations, and eventually classes teaching spinning and weaving, and branching into many varieties of fabric art. The founding members are Peggy Hoyt, Textile Coordinator, Susan Swayne, board member and liaison between the board and the Textile Center, Mary Jane Fehrenbacher and Tam Lennox.

Their proposal was approved in January of 2002 and work quickly began. When the Museum opened in April, the South Parlor had been converted into a temporary Textile Center, with daily demonstrators showing visitors how to spin and weave. By September of 2002 the first cottage on Museum grounds had been renovated and turned into the Weaver’s Cottage. The opening on September 7th was marked with a Sheep-to-Shawl on the lawn and a celebration. Daily demonstrations are now given in the Cottage and a Mercantile will soon open selling hand-made, fiber arts pieces to the public.

The inclusion of a Textile Center continues the Museum’s goal to be an ever-evolving entity, striving to find new ways to educate and involve the community. The annual events offered continue to expand, creating opportunities to involve many age groups in the Kirkman House. From 1993 to 2000, little information is available regarding the events and growth of the Museum. Few major accomplishments occurred during this time. According to board members, and through reading past board meeting minutes, the Museum appears to have focused solely on day to day operations and small events. The start of the AmeriCorps programs with the Kirkman House pulled the Museum to a new level by having someone who would handle daily tasks. Of course, much more needs to happen with the House, including restoration of the last two rooms to their original condition as well as structural work. The last several years have marked a new phase, and brought new enthusiasm to the Museum. 

* This history was compiled in 2001 by Kim Nemeth an Americorps Volunteer working at the museum 2001-2002.

 

When You Visit

The museum is open on Wednesday through Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm and on Sunday from 10 am to 2 pm. It is also open by appointment.

Admission is $7 per person or $25 for a household. Admission is free to all NARM and ROAM members. Kirkman House is also a Blue Star Museum that welcomes current servicemen, armed forces veterans and their families.