A Living History performance at Fort Walla Walla Museum brings history to life with reenactors portraying real people from the area's past.
The Living History Company at Fort Walla Walla Museum is in its 21st year and planning another full season for 2019. Organized in 1998 by Walla Walla City Council member Barbara Clark and her husband Dan, the company has grown from about a dozen authentic characters out of 1800s Walla Walla to over fifty. The goal of the company is to bring to life the exhibits at the museum with live presentations every week from April through October, telling visitors dramatic stories about the lives of a variety of Walla Wallans and the issues of their day, and allowing visitors to question the characters about their lives and times.
This year’s schedule continues the company’s tradition of 2 pm presentations every Sunday from April through October, and also on Saturdays from June through August.
Click on the scheduled performances posted below for more information. Performances are subject to change.
William B. Phillips came to Walla Walla in 1860 and brought his family up from Salem Oregon in 1861. He opened a tin and stove shop on Main Street as well as Walla Walla’s first foundry. After a series of disastrous fires, he was appointed Fire Marshall and reorganized the fire department. Williams will be talking about early events and happenings in Walla Walla’s formative years.
William Phillips is portrayed by his great-grandson, Dick Phillips.
As a graduate of the Bangor (Maine) Theological Seminary in 1855, Peasley Chamberlain received his first assignment to pastor First Congregational Church in Portland, Oregon Territory. He and his new wife, Alice, left New York on their wedding day for Portland.
Although the church grew from 23 to 150 members during his first year as pastor, it didn’t take long for Rev. Chamberlain to take his virulent vilification of secret societies and the Roman Catholic Church to extremes. Things deteriorated to the point that in 1862 he was dismissed as pastor.
Within two years, Chamberlain had settled in Walla Walla, such a debauched place that Chamberlain decided to establish a church here, one that would also provide schooling for the young children. With his own money, he erected a small building at Second and Rose that was dedicated as First Congregational Church in November 1864.
The Chamberlains sustained themselves primarily through the school they operated in the church building. Chamberlain was instrumental in advocating moving Whitman Seminary, the precursor to Whitman College, from Waiilatpu to Walla Walla. He was appointed as the first principal in 1866 when the seminary opened in its new building at Boyer and Park. He continued to preach at First Congregational Church until 1879 and died in 1889. He was never successful in growing the church he established here due to his extreme beliefs, but over the ensuing years First Congregational Church has assumed an important role in Walla Walla.
Reverend Peasley Chamberlain is portrayed by Steve Wilen.
Local viticulturist/winemaker/master distiller Rusty Figgins portrays his maternal grandfather, Francesco Antonio “Frank” Leonetti, during Columbus Day weekend. The performance will take place at 2 pm in the Pioneer Village, and an educational, interpretive tour of the small vineyard will immediately follow.
Born 1880 in Serra Pedace, Cosenza Province in the Calabria region of southern Italy, Leonetti immigrated to Walla Walla in 1901, when he was twenty-one. He married Rose Fazzari in 1905. A truck gardener, Leonetti made room in his vegetable fields for an acre of Black Prince grapes, from which he made wine for family use.
The destruction of Leonetti’s beloved vines in the infamous ‘Black Frost’ of 1955 is said to have broken his heart and is believed to have contributed to his death shortly thereafter. Frank Leonetti’s passion inspired his descendants to grow grapes and make wine commercially. His namesake winery, Leonetti Cellar, is notable for creating fine wine for the past forty years. Figgins as Frank Leonetti explains the history of viticulture in the Walla Walla Valley and the Italian-American contribution to area grape cultivation and winemaking.
Planted under Figgins’ direction in 1995, Fort Walla Walla Museum’s vineyard features Black Prince grapevines of the kind grown by Frank Leonetti. The Black Prince variety, brought here by train from a plant nursery in Sacramento, California, was discovered by Figgins to be genetically identical to Cinsault, a variety that is prominent in the southern Rhône and Provence in France. Black Prince grapevines are known for their ability to withstand hot, dry climates, and are known for use as both a table and wine grape. Black Prince produces light- to medium-bodied red and rosé wines, and as Cinsault, has enjoyed a renaissance in the Walla Walla Valley, where plantings have increased owing in large part to Figgins’ influence and the industry’s interest in Rhône Valley grape varieties.
The vineyard at Fort Walla Walla is one of the Museum's horticultural displays in support of its Italian Farmstead exhibit in the pioneer village. Unlike most modern grapevines that are trained laterally on wire trellises, the museum's Black Prince employ a method common in the 1800s where a free-standing vine is head-trained, that is, grown on a single, vertical stake. Pruning the grapevines in the form of an open basket or goblet allows more sunlight to penetrate and promote the ripening of the grapes. In recent years, students of Walla Walla Community College’s Institute for Enology & Viticulture program have pruned the vines.
William Tye is an assistant conductor working for Dorsey Baker's Walla Walla & Columbia River Railroad. Tye will be talking about his job working on the locomotives, how these narrow-gauge steam engines ran, and how they were configured (have you ever heard of a platform of dogs being used in place of a cow catcher?). He will also give some history on the local railroad, how it was brilliantly financed by Dr. Baker and what it took to bring the railroad to Walla Walla. He'll also describe how the track itself was constructed and explain exactly what "rawhide railroad" is referring to, clearing up some myths and legends that surround Dr. Baker's famous enterprise.
During their visit, guests can see one of the locomotives William Tye would have operated. The Blue Mountain is the last existing narrow-gauge engine from Dorsey Baker's WW&CRR. If weather permits, William Tye will show visitors the components of the train and describe the missing pieces that would have allowed the train to operate.
William Tye is portrayed by Gary Lentz.
As another year passes, our Living History Company will end the 2019 season with their annual 19th Century Party.
This year, a number of performers will take you on a chronological journey from the days of the fur trade and early exploration of this region through the influx of emigrant pioneers heading West along the Oregon Trail, through the boomtown years of 1860s Walla Walla and beyond.
Each performer will help create a timeline that will put the region’s history in perspective.
The festivities will commence at 2 pm in the Museum’s Grand Hall, and will mark the end of the 2019 Living History season. Refreshments will be served.
Living History's 2019 schedule is generously sponsored by an anonymous donor.