Pomeroy Washington Downtown
National Historic District

Pomeroy Washington Downtown
National Historic District

Downtown Pomeroy Washington, 1908

Historic District Nomination
Section 8: Statement of Significance and History

Researched and Written by Donovan & Associates Hood River, Oregon

Statement of Significance

The Downtown Pomeroy Historic District is locally significant under Criterion A as an intact concentration of building reflecting the early development of Pomeroy as the leading business, governmental, trading, and shipping center of Garfield County. Pomeroy handled the regional trade of the farmers and ranchers who came to town to ship their products, shop for goods, conduct business, and find entertainment. Located on one of the major stage routes through southeast Washington, Pomeroy emerged in the 1870s as a viable business center as the discovery of dryland wheat farming stimulated growth in the region. In 1884, development of the town was further encouraged by the arrival of the railroad and designation of the town as the Garfield County seat. Pomeroy flourished as the hub of local commerce. Through the first half of the Twentieth century, the downtown continued to grow and adapt to changing patterns of transportation, agriculture, commerce, and government despite the devastating fires that plagued the community. Pomeroy is the only incorporated city in Garfield County and still maintains it historic function as the county's commercial and business center.

The District is also eligible under Criterion C as an excellent collection of primarily commercial buildings dating from the 1880s, the initial period of the town's expansion, to the early 1950s when the community benefited from the prosperity of the post-World War II era. The downtown District shows a continuum and evolution of architectural building types, methods of construction, and styles. Distinctive elements of the District include the uniformity of the building types and styles reflecting the reconstruction period after the 1900 fire. The governmental buildings, the county courthouse and city hall, still maintain their historic function and are in prominent locations downtown. The District includes significant resources in the community's history that date from 1887 to 1953 and include commercial, governmental, recreational, transportation, and fraternal building types. The Broad Themes of Settlement, Agriculture, and Commerce are represented in the District.

Historic Context: Garfield County

The Washington Territorial legislature created Garfield County from a portion of Columbia County on 29 November 1881. Named after President James A. Garfield who was assassinated in July 1881, Garfield County covers approximately 714 square miles and is one of the least populated counties in Washington State with a current [2003] population of 2,342 (Garfield County and Pomeroy Comp Plan, pp. 20, 51). The county seat, Pomeroy is the business, governmental, and community center of Garfield County and the only incorporated city in the county.

Exploration and Settlement

Prior to the Euroamerican settlement of the Columbia Plateau, native peoples including bands of Walla Walla, Cayuse, Palouse and Nez Perce traveled through the land that would later become Garfield County. These indigenous people established trails used by explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark; the first Euroamericans to pass through the region on their overland route to the Pacific. Lewis and Clark traveled through on their return trip in May 1806, camping about five miles east of present-day Pomeroy. Over the next fifty years, trappers, missionaries, and military personnel crossed the region as the struggle to control the vast Oregon Country progressed. In 1848, the Oregon Territory was created; five years later the Oregon Territory was reduced to its present size with the creation of the Washington Territory.

Most of the early emigrants to the Northwest settled west of the Cascade Range after crossing the continent on the Oregon Trail. The interior of the Washington Territory did not begin attracting settlers until after hostilities between the native people and emigrants decreased in the late 1850s. After this time, isolated homesteaders began claiming land in present-day Garfield County's fertile valleys. In 1860, Parson Quinn was the first to settle in the Pataha Valley; the site that would later become the City of Pomeroy (Kuykendall, p. 29).

More settlers came into the region after gold was discovered in Idaho and Montana in the early 1860s. Miners passed through present-day Garfield County on their way to the gold mines of Idaho on trails once used by native people. The trail between the communities of Walla Walla, Washington, and Lewiston, Idaho became a major stage route hauling freight, supplies, and people. The settlement around the current town of Dayton (35 miles southwest of Pomeroy) became a regular stop on the stage route to the mines. In 1863, Joseph M. Pomeroy ventured by stage to Dayton from his home near Salem, Oregon, to work at the stage stop for a season. A year later, Joseph sold his Oregon claim and moved his family to Eastern Washington, eventually settling in the Pataha Valley on land that would later become the City of Pomeroy.

Pomeroy purchased land from Walter Sunderland on Pataha Creek, and built his log home. This homestead became a wayside stop called 'Pum's' by travelers who could rest and dine after a long journey. For twelve years, the Pomeroys cultivated the land, raised Shorthorn cattle, and tended to the daily stage customers.

Early Development of Pomeroy

By the late 1860s, it was apparent that agriculture rather than mineral wealth would support the economy of the southeast Washington. The earliest settlers were stockmen who occupied and cultivated the fertile river bottomlands, and used the hills and bench lands for grazing sheep and cattle. By the 1870s, farmers in the Columbia Basin near present-day Walla Walla started experimenting with the idea of growing grain on the rolling hills and plateaus of the region. These experimental wheat fields convinced farmers that these high table lands could be used for growing grain. Settlers in Alpowa Ridge and Pataha Flat in present-day Garfield County began experimenting with raising grain. This was the beginning of the agricultural economy of county.

As new settlers moved into the area, commercial centers were established to serve their needs. Columbia Center was the first town platted in newly created Columbia County (formed in 1875). The town, platted on 26 December 1877 was formed only a few months before the town of Pomeroy was surveyed. Created on 28 May 1878, Pomeroy was platted by Joseph M. and Martha Pomeroy, and Benjamin B. and Minnie Day. Columbia Center faltered because it was about eight miles south of the stage route; too far south to compete for business development. Another community, Pataha City, was platted and was sited on the stage road only few miles east of Pomeroy. Competition as the leading business center was fierce between Pataha and Pomeroy. In the entrepreneurial spirit, Joseph Pomeroy started giving away Main Street lots in Pomeroy to people who would construct businesses in the new town. Pomeroy, in collaboration with entrauprauener William Potter, also financed the construction of a flourmill on Pataha Creek west of the new town plat. This development harnessed the resources of Pataha Creek and stimulated growth in the fledgling town.

Pomeroy then hired F. A. Parker to construct a two-story wooden hotel that became know as the Pomeroy Hotel. The hotel was used as an overnight stopping place on the stage line. By spring 1879, the town of Pomeroy had a flourmill, mercantile and drug stores, hotel, brewery, blacksmith shop, livery stable, grocery, saloon, and hardware store (Illustrated History of Garfield Co., p. 534). The first school opened and a telegraph line was strung along the stage road from Walla Walla to Lewiston through Pomeroy. Citizens began forming organizations for their mutual benefit. The Masonic Lodge was established on 22 March 1879 and the IOOF organized the Harmony Lodge No. 16 in May of that same year. By 1879, the newly created town had a population of about 400 people.

Although no buildings within the Historic District survive from the initial settlement period, the grid pattern, some of the street names, orientation of downtown to Pataha Creek and the early mill site, are the direct result of Pomeroy's original town plat of 1878.

The Prosperity of the Railroad Era

Garfield County was created on 29 November 1881. The formation of the new county generated competition for the location of the county seat. Asotin City, Pataha City, and Pomeroy each vied for the position. Pataha City and Pomeroy were the largest communities, but before a vote could be taken, the town of Mentor was platted on paper close enough to Pataha City to dilute that town's voting block. The 1882 county election gave the seat to Pomeroy; however, Pataha City appealed. On 20 October 1883, the Territorial Legislature declared in favor of Pomeroy. The battle continued when a procedural error by the Territorial Legislature was discovered invalidating their previous selection of Pomeroy. In May 1884, an Act of Congress settled the legal dispute between Pomeroy and Pataha City, giving Pomeroy the distinction of being the only county seat declared by an Act of Congress. Pomeroy's future as the governmental and business center was secured.

Dryland farming continued to dominate the local economy in the 1880s as more people settled in the region. The area's growth and production; however, was hindered by the inadequacies of the transportation systems that linked the region to outside markets. River bluff farmers devised long tramways or chutes to get sacked grain from the high plateaus down to the banks of the Snake River; Pataha Flat farmers hauled their grain harvest overland by wagon (sometimes tandem wagons) to the New York Bar on the Snake River (Baldwin, p. 86). From there the grain was shipped to the Columbia River, around several portages, downstream to Portland to markets in the states and beyond. This changed in mid-1880s when the O. R.& N. Co. made plans to connect the productive wheat lands of southeastern Washington by rail with Portland and other parts of the world.

When the O.R.&N. Co Railroad reached Dayton, Washington in 1881, 35 miles west of Pomeroy, farmers in the Pataha Valley lobbied the company to extend the line east to Pomeroy. In 1885, extension of rail line began. With the use of Chinese laborers, tracks were laid and the railroad reached Pomeroy in January 1886. The sidetrack loading platforms, turntable, water tank, and depot were sited at the end of the line about a mile east of the commercial center. After disembarking, passengers had to be transported by wagon to the town center. Later, a platform was constructed near Eighth and Columbia streets so passengers could disembark downtown.

The railroad provided an enormous boost to the agricultural economy of Garfield County. Crops could now be shipped with relative certainty. In the first year of use, the railroad transported approximately 14,900 tons of wheat. At this time Garfield County had 46,332 improved acres, 138,947 acres of arable land, and a population of 3,451 of which nine were Chinese (Illustrated History, p. 516). The railroad also ensured that Pomeroy would remain the shipping and business center of the county.

On 27 January 1886, the Pomeroy City Charter passed the Territorial Council and was ratified on February 2; days after the railroad reached Pomeroy. Joseph Pomeroy was appointed the town's first mayor until a vote could be taken to fill the position. In July, the citizens voted Elmon Scott into office. The new City Council (Common Council) started the process of establishing ordinances. Improvement projects like grading streets, widening the main road into town, constructing sidewalks, and building bridges across Pataha Creek were started immediately. The Pomeroy Improvement Company was organized with the task of bettering the city. One of the first projects was to establish a dependable water system in town. The company financed the construction of a reservoir on the hillside north of town, and later sold the system to the city. The group also purchased a new hose cart, and hook and ladder truck for the community.

By the mid-1880s, Pomeroy had a population of about 600 and was an active business center. An article in the August 1885 Dayton Chronicle describes the town as presenting 'a lively appearance to the stranger as he enters the town from either direction, and as it inhabitants are noted for their enterprise and staywitheachothertiveness.' The article continues and states that the town has:

An excellent school, three churches, one flouring mill, three general merchandising and a number of grocery and notions stores, two blacksmith shops, two livery stables, two drug stores, several agricultural implement warehouses, several saloons, a brewery, two wagon shops, two hotels, several restaurants, an excellent opera house, a photographic gallery, one bank, one harness shop, two markets, one lumber yard, a millinery store or two, and in fact, every business necessity to the prosperity of a county town is represented in its midst.

The town also had a Chinese laundry operated by Sam Lee. The business was located behind the St. George Hotel. Burlingame Hall on Seventh Street was used for public gatherings, political meetings, dances, and skating. At this time, the City of Pomeroy ranked 11th in population in the Washington Territory.

The community continued to grow around the original town plat that included residences and commercial buildings. Between 1882 and 1887, local business people added six new additions to the town: Wilson, Day, Pomeroy, Mulkey, Darby, Depot, and Potter. The fire department was officially organized in 1887 with over 30 volunteers as the town saw its first brick structure being erected, the First National Bank of Pomeroy (#4). The two-story building, constructed of locally made bricks, was completed in 1887 at a cost of $20,000. County Commissioners leased the old bank building for use as the Garfield County Courthouse. Another brick structure was constructed a year later across Main Street opposite the new bank building; the St. George Hotel Annex (#46). The two-story brick building was built west of the original wooden hotel and provided additional rooms and a saloon. Other brick edifices built on Main Street included the Seeley Building and the Pomeroy Mercantile Company building. At this time, Main Street was lined with wooden false front commercial structures with a few substantial brick buildings.

As the city grew, other organizations were formed including the Garfield Lodge No. 25 Knights of Pythias (1887), the Faith Rebecca Lodge (1888), the Women's Christian Temperance Union (1884), and the Grand Army of the Republic McDowell Post (1885). The Catholic Church started a school in 1886 and a Catholic school building was constructed in 1888. The first newspapers of the region were printed in Pomeroy and documented the creation of the city and county. The Washington Independent was founded 12 April 1880 and the Pomeroy Republic, the predecessor to the Eastern Washingtonian, was first published 4 March 1882.

Improvements in the planting and harvesting equipment in the late 1880s and 1890s enhanced the efficiency of the wheat farms. Large threshing crews could be seen harvesting wheat with large number of horses maneuvering the thresher around the fields. These crews often moved from one farm to the next, threshing all over the county until the harvest was completed.

The prosperity of the 1880s was attributed to several factors; the arrival of the railroad, creation of Pomeroy as the Garfield County seat, and the rich agricultural lands of the surrounding countryside. This rapid growth continued for a few more years until the financial panic of 1893 crossed the nation.

The 1890s and the National Depression

In 1890, there were 3,898 people living in Garfield County. The 1890s were a difficult period for the agricultural community due to the national depression that began in 1893 and continued through 1896. Even with the completion of the Cascade Locks and Canal in 1896 that improved the transportation system along the Columbia River, grain prices fell as a result of the economy and competition for grain sales from other countries. The prosperity of the 1880s gave way to the financial panic of 1893.

A February fire ushered in the new decade in the City of Pomeroy when two commercial buildings on Main Street were destroyed. The property owners rebuilt as the community of 661 focused on bringing new amenities to the community. A local brickyard was established, and new board sidewalks and crosswalks constructed. A prosperous building season was recorded in 1891 as commercial buildings and residences were constructed. Few buildings stood empty in the town. In 1892, the Pomeroy State Bank (#45) constructed one of the largest buildings along Main Street. Located on the southeast corner of Main and Seventh streets, the two-story brick building housed the bank and a merchandising store, and complimented the other brick edifices on that intersection. E.M. Pomeroy, the founder's son, added to the City's land base by platting the E.M. Pomeroy Addition on 28 November 1892.

People continued to join civic and social organizations that promised a better and brighter future. Company H of the National Guard was organized in October 1890, one of the earliest in the Territory. Fairview Camp No. 119 Woodmen of the World was created 5 July 1892 and the Women of Woodcraft auxiliary formed shortly after. The Modern Woodmen and the Foresters of America were later organized.

Building in downtown Pomeroy came to a stand still after 1892 until the national depression lifted around 1897. This optimism of the late 1890s; however, was thwarted somewhat on 15 July 1898 when the Henley Brothers lumber yard, a blacksmith shop, dwelling, and barn were destroyed by fire. This temporarily hurt the local economy. Once again, the business community rebuilt and continued to improve the city. In response to the fires that plagued the city, a new wood firehouse and jail were built at the north end of Seventh Street. As the community ushered in the Twentieth century, Pomeroy's population increased from 661 in 1890 to 953 by 1900.

The Great Fire in the Progressive Era

On 18 July 1900, a fire began in Rice's saloon on Main Street, destroying two thirds of Pomeroy's business district including the street-front wooden offices of the county government. Most of the businesses on Main Street east of Seventh Street were destroyed with the exception of the two-story brick Pomeroy Savings Bank (#45). Recognizing the dangers of fire, the Pomeroy City Council designated a fire district downtown in which no wood construction would be allowed; only fireproof material could be used. This encompassed the entire commercial center of Pomeroy. Property owners who lost their businesses and buildings in the 1900 fire began to reconstruct immediately using brick from the nearby David Dixon brickyard. By October, eleven brick edifices were under construction. The railroad assisted the town by reducing the freight rates by a third for carrying building materials to Pomeroy. An account of the time describes the activity in town, 'Never before has the pulse of business activity beaten with stronger, fuller or more vigorous life throughout all the channels of local trade' (Illustrated History of Garfield County, p. 542).

Between 1900 and 1906, over thirty businesses were constructed in the downtown. The buildings erected between Seventh and Ninth streets on the south side of Main Street (#31 to #35, and #37 to #44) were one-story brick buildings with decorative brick or pressed metal parapets; many having distinctive peaked parapets. These similar building types and styles created uniformity to the new business blocks. Some of these same styles of building were constructed along the north side Main Street after the fire (#9 through #12). The imposing three-story Hotel Revere (#46) was constructed on the site of the St. George Hotel after the original hotel was moved in 1902. Stevenson's Hardware (#14) erected a large two-story building around 1905 that anchored the corner of Eighth and Main streets. The 22 February 1902 Columbia Chronicle states,

Those citizens who have not visited Pomeroy for a number of years will be greatly surprised at the improvements made there since the fire two years ago. Main Street has been built up almost entirely with brick buildings, and during the past year a number of fine dwellings have been erected. The City has an air of prosperity on every side and the good work is to be continued until every modern convenience that enterprise can suggest and money will buy.

After the fire, the voters quickly approved funding for a new county courthouse since everything except the vault in the old wooden structure had been destroyed. Well-known Albany, Oregon architect Charles Burggraf was hired to design the fashionable Queen Anne style brick courthouse. Completed in 1901, the $20,000 courthouse had a clock tower crowned with a justice statue, rounded bays, and decorative brick details. Setback from Main Street, the courthouse's expansive lawn had gardens, an open-air bandstand, and a Civil War Veteran's Memorial gracing the lawn (dedicated on 4 July 1904).

This building boom coincided with the prosperity of the local agricultural industry. The county produced 2,301,765 bushels of wheat and barley in 1903. Area farmers formed the Pomeroy Local No. 10 on 4 May 1907. This union established the Farmer's Union Warehouse Company that erected a long, 50 ft by 450 ft warehouse with a capacity of holding 200,000 bushels of sacked grain (purchased by Pomeroy Grain Growers in 1942). This warehouse was at the east end of Pomeroy near the railroad depot.

With the city's increase in population, citizens and City Councilors began pressing for ordinances that would improve the town. Nuisance laws were enacted including ordinances to prevent obstruction of all streets and alleys, and to create a proper repository for garbage for the purpose of burying of stock and rubbish (City Council minutes, 4 June 1901). A city cemetery was established, plans for updating the water system were approved in 1902 with the passage of a $26,000 bond, and the City purchased a new hose cart for the fire department. The fight to make Pomeroy a dry town continued in 1903 when an ordinance was presented to prohibit the sale of alcohol. This was voted down along with an ordinance that would have prohibited dancing, concerts, entertainment, or shows in establishments where liquor was sold'an attempt to rid the town of 'bawdy houses.' In August 1903, the new city water system was turned on as the mains filled with water. The Tucannon Power Company, organized by Barney Owsley, received the contract for erecting power poles and wires in downtown. The Tucannon Power Company sold the facility to Pacific Power and Light in 1911. In 1904, Pomeroy granted a franchise to Pacific State Telephone Company, the predecessor to the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company. The first lines were erected around this time. Water hydrants were installed at intervals along the Main Street to help in future fire-fighting efforts.

Pomeroy's population swelled to about 1,700 in 1906 at the same time M. H. Houser introduced the town's first automobile. With the City's continued growth, came the creation of other new ordinances. Citizens asked for additional nuisance ordinances that included laws like no livestock allowed in City Park, no selling of alcohol in bawdy houses, no dogs without licenses, no circuses in town without permits, no spitting on sidewalks, and no automobiles traveling faster than seven mph in town. The city council decided to build a new 150,000 gallon reservoir to help adequately serve the need of the city. Other improvements included resurveying the city, paving the streets with a macadamize surface, and building concrete sidewalks with curbs and gutters along Main Street. By the end of the first decade of the Twentieth century, the O.R.&N. Co. had purchased land (1907) for a downtown depot, and the Pomeroy Commercial Club organized (1908) for the purpose of promoting and improving the City. The Garfield County Pioneer Association was formed to preserve Pomeroy's history and build a historical museum. Three additions, Highland or Sunnyside (1902), Crystal Springs (1902), and Stephens Pomeroy (1904) were platted to accommodate the population growth. By 1909, Pomeroy boasted a population of 1,750, making it a city of third class. Garfield County's population reached 4,199 by 1910 with 504 ranches and farms growing barley, wheat, potatoes, and apples, and raising cattle and sheep. The prosperity of the first decade of the new century welcomed the age of the automobile.

The Automobile Era

Once again, transportation played an important role in the development of Pomeroy. More automobiles traveled county and city roads after the arrival of the first automobile in 1906. Congress passed the 'Good Roads Bill' in 1911 that ushered in the Good Road Movement and the age of the automobile. The Good Roads Movement swayed the nation in favor of infrastructure needed for safe automobile travel. Despite this transitional period from rails to roads, the O.R.&N. Co. constructed a new brick depot (#60) in downtown Pomeroy in 1911. The new passenger depot, only a block south of Main Street, had all the amenities of a larger city. The Pomeroy Hotel (#15), completed circa 1911, coincided with the completion of the new depot as more people toured in their motorcars and arrived in town by rail.

In 1912, a new sewer system replaced the original cesspool system, and in November of that year, prohibition was put to a vote. Citizens voted in favor of prohibition, using the local option law to vote Pomeroy dry. This signaled an end to the some established businesses in Pomeroy whose mainstay was serving liquor. New entertainment establishments opened, such as pool halls and the New Seeley Theatre and Opera House (#56). The theatre opened in the fall of 1913 to an overflowing crowd, providing entertainment for all. The old Seeley Hall (Burlingame Hall) was moved to the adjacent lot to the south.

The city continued with improvement projects. In 1916, the city awarded a paving contract to Clifton Applegate Company to pave Main Street between Second and Eleventh streets. That same year, Pacific Power and Light gave the city an estimate for installing new streetlights; the council voted in favor of purchasing fifteen new iron lampposts and laying the wiring underground. Although an official highway had not been built through Pomeroy at this time, the effects of the automobile era were evident in the new buildings under construction. Service and gas station, repair shops, and car dealerships were opened along Main Street replacing older blacksmith shops and liveries. The Parlet Building (#2) was constructed during this time along with several automobile service stations including, Moore Brother's Garage (#25) and the Electric Service Station (#22). The 'modern' Pomeroy Steam Laundry (#53) was erected and the Telephone Exchange Building (#48) was built. New churches were established to meet the needs of the community, and new organizations formed including the Ladies Improvement Club and other specialty organizations like the garden club, reading club, and church auxiliaries. The growth of Pomeroy was recognized in 1917 when its status changed from a territorial government to statutory regulations pertaining to cities of third class.

The age of the automobile also changed farming practices. Tractors began slowly replacing the horse and mule teams, freeing up more acreage for cultivation. This transition occurred over the next forty years and transformed many aspects of agriculture. Forces outside the county also affected the agricultural economy of Garfield County as transportation systems were improved in the region. The Army Corps of Engineers completed the Celilo Canal on the Columbia River in 1915. This eight and a half miles long canal had five locks that improved shipping on the Columbia River by circumventing Celilo Falls without relying on railroad portage. Shipping Garfield County's grain by water became a viable alternative to the railroad. In 1913, local grain grower Max Houser shipped seven million bushels, more than 12% of all the Northwest's grain that year (Baldwin, p. 88). Houser was subsequently appointed by President Herbert Hoover in 1917 to handle the Northwest wheat production to meet the demands for wheat during World War I. As grain prices rose, Garfield County wheat was shipped abroad to support the war effort.

A County Council of Defense was created in 1917 in response to the U.S. Food Administration's warnings that groups were threatening to sabotage the nation's transportation system, and burn crops and warehouses. Garfield County growers collaborated and established fire lookouts, guards for warehouses, and a 'home guard' company with over twenty men. The preparations apparently succeeded; only one fire was thought to have been an act of sabotage during the war.

After World War I, the county once again focused on local improvement projects. In 1919, Garfield County approved road construction to Central Ferry, an important shipping point on the Snake River. In the early 1920s, the highway was completed from Pomeroy to Clarkston, and by 1926, the highway was officially designated, and extended from Lewiston, Idaho, through Pomeroy, across the state to Aberdeen, Washington. This was the predecessor to U.S. Highway 12 (reclassified in 1967).

In the 1920s Garfield County considered an ambitious plan to irrigate the lands of Jackson Ridge. The Tucannon Irrigation Project was heartily welcomed until the costs became clear; the County Commissioners refused to support the project at the 8 July 1924 meeting. The American Legion initiated a fundraising campaign in 1919 for construction of a community swimming pool. The fundraising efforts of the Ladies' Civic Improvement Club and the city's financial support augmented the efforts of the Legion. Water from Cosgrove Springs filled the new pool that was completed in 1922. Pataha Creek, at the west end of Main Street, still powered the flourmill and the Pomeroy Warehouse and Milling Company.

In 1926, the City Council authorized construction of a new combined City Hall and Fire Hall at the north end of what is now Seventh Street (replacing the old fire station). Completed in 1927, the new building housed the jail, city offices, and fire equipment. That same year Garfield County produced 1,704,207 bushels of wheat, of which, 1,074,913 bushels came through Pomeroy, and out of 72,252 bushels of barley, 38,905 bushels passed through Pomeroy's shipping facilities. Pomeroy Kiwanis Club organized in 1929, and a year later, Garfield County Grain Growers organized for the purpose of giving grain growers more control over the movement of their wheat so more profit was made. Low prices and new government programs made this organization more attractive. In 1928, a new hall was dedicated that stood south of the Hotel Revere. Maple Hall (#54) served the needs of the community accommodating parties, gathering celebrations, dances hall, and services. The stock market crash in October 1929 ushered in a national depression that would plague the region for the next decade.

The Great Depression and World War II

Pomeroy, like the rest of the nation, suffered from the effects of the Great Depression. The decade was marked by job losses, bank closures, and drought in the surrounding farmlands. Lower prices for grain and livestock affected the local economy. Business revenue slowed as many people used the bartering system to acquire staples. In 1935, the Knettle State Bank closed its doors and many other businesses suffered losses. New construction in downtown virtually came to a halt with the exception of the new Telephone Exchange Building (#7) completed at the beginning of the Great Depression.

The New Deal, implemented by President Roosevelt, helped put people back to work. Many young men joined the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). The CCC came to Garfield County in 1933 and set up camp at Mt. Misery. The 290 men built roads, trails, fire lines, guard stations, toilets for campsites, and wooden lookout towers. This camp closed in October and the men were distributed to other locations. A group of Pomeroy citizens wanted to build a golf course with the help of CCC laborers. The organization applied to the government program; the request was approved and a new CCC camp was built west of town. With the CCC labor and other donated time, the Pomeroy golf course was completed in 1934 and opened for business in the spring of 1935. Another CCC project included a soil erosion stabilization project that encompassed over 39,000 acres; a project that took four years to complete. During this time, the crew also completed three tennis courts, a baseball field, a winter ice rink, and an addition to the high school in Pomeroy.

Garfield County farmers were quick to compare the economic depression of 1929 to the national panic of the 1890s. This time; however, government subsidies allowed some farmers to hold onto their land. Fewer farms changed hands. During this period, Garfield County increased the use of mechanized farm equipment and tractors because using horses for harvests cost more in labor and time. In 1930, grain was stored at a dozen sites around the county. At that time, Garfield County grain growers formed the Pomeroy Grain Growers, Inc. and negotiated the purchase of the crib elevator and warehouse at the east end of town on Columbia Street. In 1937, the Pacific Coast Elevator Company also sold its facilities including an elevator and warehouses in Pomeroy and Mayview that included the Mayview Tramway. By the end of the 1930s, the Depression was waning and the agricultural industry was once again on the upswing. Despite the improved economic conditions, the Depression had taken its toll on Garfield County. In 1940, the county had a population of 3,383; a decrease of almost 20% in 20 years (1940 U.S. Census). This population decrease was primarily due to the mechanization of agriculture, the use of fewer workers in harvesting, and the economic hardships of the Great Depression.

World War II

In 1942, land west of Pomeroy was purchased for the Green Giant Company pea cannery. The pea cannery began operating on 8 July 1942 and eventually employed over 400 workers. Construction of the plant aided the local economy as World War II loomed on the horizon. When the war began, demand for grain production increased offering farmers and ranchers a more stable income. At this time, a major shift occurred in the way grain was stored and shipped. Due to wartime scarcity of materials, growers were unable to purchase hemp bags needed to sack and ship grain. The process of sacking grain waned as warehouses were converted into bulk storage facilities. This change favored the railroad and trucking companies who had the facilities to handle bulk grain. Pomeroy Grain Growers purchased the Farmer's Union Warehouse Company in 1942 and converted the newest section to bulk grain.

Pomeroy contributed to the war efforts in other ways by activating a draft board, creating a war emergency committee, rationing gasoline and food, and initiating scrap metal drives. Some women worked in previously male dominated jobs as the men in the community left for active duty. Construction in downtown came to a standstill during the war. As the war ended, another era of prosperity began.

Post-World War II Era

Wheat, barley, oats, peas, and livestock continued to sustain the local economy in the post-World War II era. As the war ended, Garfield County produced the highest average yield of wheat per acre of any county in Washington. In 1946, Pomeroy was the largest primary grain shipping point on the Pacific when the railroad recorded 2,528,128 bushels of grain shipped from town. As farming technology changed with better equipment, so did the methods of transport. The Pomeroy Grain Grower facilities stored and protected harvests from inclement weather in new storage facilities, and crops were shipped to markets via rail service (80%) or truck to Columbia River barges (20%). Improvements in river transports included the construction of the Dalles Dam and Lock in 1956 on the Columbia River. Plans were being made for a series of dams on the Snake River. In response, Garfield County established a Port District in 1958.

Proud of the strong agricultural heritage of Garfield County, the Garfield County Fair Association formed in the summer of 1946 and sponsored the Eastern Washington Livestock Show and Rodeo. Organizations like 4H and FFA became active participants in the fairs. By the mid-1950s, the private fair association was turned over to the county.

A building boom occurred in Pomeroy after the Great Depression and World War II; the fifteen-year construction hiatus was over. As restrictions on building materials were loosened, new edifices were erected in downtown and new residences built. The Pomeroy Tractor Company (#29), McKeirnan Hardware and Implements (#57), Krouse's Machine Shop (# 21), Herres Farm and Home Supply (#50), Belknap Insurance Building (#19), and McKeirnan Storage (#3) were all built between 1945 and 1949 in downtown. Citizens lobbied for a county hospital, and in March 1948, the Garfield County Hospital was opened. The same year voters authorized a $36,000 bond to build a new city fire station (#23), and in 1949, new steel streetlights were installed along Main Street. The Pomeroy Chamber of Commerce was created replacing the Pomeroy Commercial Club. By the end of the 1940s Pomeroy's population peaked at 1,954 residents. Garfield County recorded the largest grain crop in its history in 1950 when 3,630,982 bushels of grain were produced (Kuykendall, p.118).

The building boom continued in the beginning of the 1950s with the construction of the O.K. Rubber Welders shop (#20), and the new Masonic Temple (#6) and IOOF Hall after a 1950 fire destroyed the Union Hall that housed various fraternal organizations. More fires plagued the community. Cardwell's Department Store (#45) was damaged by fire in 1950, the Pomeroy Warehouse and Feed Company (the old mill site at west end of Main Street) burned in September 1950, the Chard Building (#14) was damaged by fire in 1954, and the Seeley Building at the corner of Main and Eighth streets burned in 1959, destroying three businesses. The fires caused a wave of reconstruction projects in the downtown.

For an agricultural community like Pomeroy, the 1950s brought other changes. In 1953, the first televisions came to Pomeroy; a decade later the Seeley Theatre shut down. A new pool, built in 1957, replaced the 30 year-old community pool, and the Bank of Pomeroy became The National Bank of Commerce (later Rainier Bank). Modern agriculture methods allowed more grain to be grown and shipped while requiring fewer workers. In 1957, Kuykendall's Drug Store closed its store that was established in 1882, and so did the Pomeroy Dairy Products, established in 1935. One of the largest county employers, the Green Giant Plant (opened in 1942) closed at the end of the 1950s. In the ten years from 1950 to 1960, Garfield County's population decreased from 3,204 to 2,976, and Pomeroy's population declined from 1,954 to 1,815.

1960s to Present

In 1960, Pomeroy Grain Growers began building a terminal at Central Ferry. In June 1963, Federal dam construction began on the Little Goose Dam on the Snake River near Starbuck, Washington. Soon after, work also started on Snake River's Lower Granite Dam north of Pomeroy. Both projects brought workers' families to Garfield County, and seven trailer courts mushroomed to provide needed housing. This increase in population lasted only until the dams were finished in 1975. The completion of these dams brought river shipping up to Central Ferry once again.

The agricultural industry continued to prosper. Robert Dye Seed Ranch became one of largest bluegrass processors in the nation; the crop yielded 20% of national production (Kuykendall, p. 154). New records were set for the total number of acres planted and the number of bushels harvested in Garfield County since government controls were imposed.

Three buildings were constructed downtown in the 1960s that included a repair shop (#58), the new U.S. Post Office (#36), and a bank building (#8). Fires continued to shape Pomeroy's built environment. In 1965, a fire destroyed two businesses directly west of the Revere Hotel (#46). The hotel was spared and only suffered from smoke damage. Construction slowed in the 1970s with only two businesses erected in downtown (#1 and #55).

In 1970, the bulk grain shipping terminal at Central Ferry opened, expanding to accommodate the growing commercial river barging made possible by the series of dams that guaranteed a navigable channel depth and slow currents. Expansions of the Central Ferry facilities occurred repeatedly; the last upgrade was in 2001. A new bridge was built (1970) at Central Ferry, replacing the 1924 bridge lost under the lake created by the Little Goose Dam. In 1970, Garfield County had a record harvest of 65.06 bushels/acre, 10% higher than the previous record of 57.63 bushels/acre (Kuykendall, p. 158). In 1971, a fire destroyed the Robert Dye Seed Ranch processing plant, then the largest Kentucky bluegrass processor in the world. The company rebuilt, reopening in December that same year. Prosperity of the recent decades allowed for expanded community services.

The Garfield County Historical Association was formed in 1970 for the purpose of constructing a museum. Dedicated in November 1977, the museum had been one of the missions of the first historical society in the county created in 1909, the Garfield County Pioneer Association's. The Garfield County Nursing Home opened next to the hospital in 1976, and a new high school was constructed in 1979 to replace the 1916 three-story brick building. The significance of the Garfield County Courthouse was recognized; the courthouse was listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. Part of the county was also recognized for its wild and scenic values when the Wenaha-Tucannon Wilderness area was designated in 1978. Despite the new amenities, the population of Pomeroy decreased in population in the decade of the 1970s from 1,776 to 1,550 by 1980. The county also experienced a decline from 2,911 to 2,468.

Transportation systems changed in the region once again as trucking dominated local shipping. In 1981, the Union Pacific Railroad abandoned the Pomeroy railroad line extending through town on Columbia Street; by 1986 the tracks had been sold for scrap metal. The tracks were replaced in 1986 with a linear park filled with flowers and trees, known as Centennial Boulevard that commemorates the centennial of Washington State. The U.P. Railroad sold the depot that was rehabilitated into use for professional offices.

Currently, Pomeroy has a population of about 1,517 with a total of 2,342 living in Garfield County. Dryland farming (wheat, barley, grass seed) and livestock continues to support the economy of the county. Currently bulk grain travels by truck to ports on the Snake River and by barges down river to world markets. The local economy has fluctuated over the years. Many independent merchandise and specialty stores have given way to other types of businesses. The historic brick buildings of Pomeroy have adapted to new uses; some catering to the tourism industry. Pomeroy maintains its historic place as the central shipping, business, and governmental center of Garfield County and is at the center of one of the most productive grain producing regions in the county.

The District's Architecture

The Downtown Pomeroy Historic District has an excellent cross-section of architectural building types, styles, and uses that reflect the historic period of significance from 1887 to 1953. The buildings in the District depict the evolution of the town from its beginnings as small stage stop to the leading commercial center serving one of the most productive agricultural regions in the state. The disastrous 1900 fire that destroyed the majority of the buildings downtown defines a major development period in Pomeroy's history.

The majority of the buildings to withstand the 1900 fire were brick structures at the intersection of Seventh and Main streets. These two-and-three-story structures were built in the late 1880s and the early 1890s when locally made brick was first introduced. These buildings symbolize the prosperity of the community after the railroad reached the town in 1886. Although more Vernacular in style, these buildings displayed stylistic details of the Italianate and Gothic Revival styles. The buildings destroyed by the fire were generally one-story, wooden False Front style structures common in communities throughout the region.

The building boom after the 1900 fire provided an opportunity for business owners to erect brick commercial structures that were similar in style, scale, and design. Local builders used several stylistic techniques that were repeated on these one-story brick buildings, including decorative brick work, peaked gable parapets, ornate pressed metal cornices, cast-iron supports, and wooden storefronts with large display windows. Within the first decade of the new century, solid business blocks lined Main Street between Seventh and Ninth streets. The new elegant Queen Anne style county courthouse presided over the town on the hillside above Main Street.

The advent of the automobile changed the face of Pomeroy once again as new concrete and brick buildings were erected along Main Street. These buildings housed automobile related businesses such as service and repair shops, gas stations, car dealerships, and tractor repair and sales shops. Usually larger, one-story structures with minimal decoration, these structures had different massing than the businesses constructed after the fire. Some smaller gas stations were built at the east and west ends of town and catered to the motorists. These auto-related businesses began replacing the liveries and blacksmith's shops that were necessary in the early settlement period of the community. The train depot, a new theatre and opera house, and city hall off Main Street were designed with elements of the popular Craftsman and Sullivanesque styles.

The Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II halted construction in downtown Pomeroy. This changed after the war when another building boom occurred. From 1946 to 1952, nine new buildings were constructed in downtown that included commercial structures, public buildings, and a fraternal hall. These buildings reflected the modernistic period; some were designed in the Art Deco and Moderne styles. Generally, these concrete structures were void of decorative details. Some of the older structures were remodeled during this prosperous time and reflected the Moderne style.

There is very little modern intrusion in the District. Only five buildings were constructed within the District after 1953. Some of these buildings were erected and other older structures remodeled as a result of fires in the 1950s. Vacant parcels along Main Street are a result of these and later fires that destroyed buildings on the lots. A majority of the storefronts in the District have been remodeled in recent years due to changes in use. Despite these alterations, the basic building form and details remain. Other commercial buildings have been restored to their historic appearance. Pomeroy's historic buildings are a lasting reminder of the town's development as the only commercial center in Garfield County.

Researched and Written by
Donovan & Associates
Hood River, Oregon
For the Pomeroy Commercial Historic District