While many citizens are huddled around the stove for the winter, the local history detectives have been hot on the trail of the stories from our heritage.
The Stevens County Historical Society (SCHS) has had a busy winter planning for the preservation of the Colville Indian Agency Cabin, located at 309 North Third Street East in Chewelah. The cabin was constructed in 1868 and is on the National Registry of Historic Places. It originally served as the Indian Agency for Eastern Washington Territory in the late 1870’s and was homesteaded by John A. Simms in 1884. It is one of the oldest standing buildings in Washington State. The S.P. McPherson family owned the cabin and property for one hundred and four years, turning it over to SCHS in 2010 for safe keeping.
Since that time, a preservation committee was created to research, plan and seek funding for the long term care of this historic resource. The committee is made up of members of the SCHS, Chewelah Historical Society, Heritage Network, Valley Museum and other interested volunteers from the community. They are advised by members of the Kalispel, Spokane, Colville Confederated and Couer d’ Alene Tribes, whose ancestors were served by the agency from 1873-1882.
The building and grounds committee for the cabin, chaired by Charlie Bourg, has supervised the cleaning of underbrush from the site, removed the front porch deck and interior walls to conduct a thorough inspection of structure of the cabin. In so doing, the committee, including architect Tom Bristol, have concluded that the cabin will need to have work done to repair and shore up the foundation of the building and replace the sill logs. The interior floor of the building will be removed and the dirt in contact with the sills and floor of the porch excavated.
Permits are pending with the Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation (DAHP) to proceed with archaeological excavation at the site in the spring. Both the Spokane and Kalispel Tribes are participating in the historic preservation of the building by providing professional assistance and planning by their paid staffs.
Volunteers are needed who can help with the removal of the interior floor, cleaning the interior logs and chinking, removing nails and cleaning up inside the cabin. Power will be installed with all utilities being placed underground. Next the archaeological digs will take place. Then, when the dirt is removed, a construction company will jack the cabin up so the sill logs and foundation can be addressed. Safety issues with the decaying chimney on the east and the lean-to on the north side are being studied by the committee. Once the major foundation work is completed, a crew will re-chink and seal the interior logs and replace the modern floor with a historically accurate replica of the original floor from the 1870’s.
Janet Thomas, President of SCHS, has made application to have the cabin placed on the Most Endangered Historic Buildings of Washington State. If the cabin obtains that status, it will help in seeking historic preservation funding to keep the building standing for another hundred and sixty years. The long term goal of the preservation committee is to provide a museum and historical interactive display to aid the education and genealogical research of the community. Thanks to the donation of a gas stove by Rick Getchell from Hearth and Home Technologies in Colville, the old cabin will be open to historians, visitors and students on a year-round basis.
At the Chewelah Museum, the city crew has been busy on a renovation project as well. The office of Curator Barbara Swanson has been moved from the front of the building to a large room in the rear next to the bathroom. Walls were removed and others sheet rocked and painted. A generous donation of carpet and installation by Lynn Husby at Chewelah Floor and Wall, plus improvements in the heating of both rooms will make a significant improvement in the facility for years to come. The City Administration, David Alby of Highmark Construction and the City crew have made good on a promise to use $7,000 obtained from the proceeds of the Crossroads on the Columbia Preserve America grant to improve the museum. Display work and clean up continue to make certain the Chewelah Museum can be open on time in the spring. Volunteers are encouraged to call Barbara Swanson at 509-935-6188 to offer services.
Progress continues on the Fort Walla Walla to Fort Colville Military Road Project, based at the Cabin. The creation of a coalition of volunteer historical advisors from all geographical areas of the road are contributing to the ongoing investigation. The first three phases are scheduled to conclude in September of 2014. For more information, Call Don McLaughlin, Project Director, Stevens County Historical Society, Chewelah at 509-995-8450.
In This Photo: This photo shows the interior of the Indian Agency cabin with the fireplace and windows facing East. SCHS photo