Franklin County Tour Reveals
by Kristi Pihl
Some of rural Franklin County's history is hidden under the water of the Snake River.
That's where the towns of Page and Redd were. The overlooked nature of that area of county history is why Rella Reimann, former president of the Franklin County Historical Society, came up with the idea for the inaugural historical tour of the county.
On Wednesday, about 50 Franklin County Historical Society members and friends went on an all-day tour that stretched from the Neff homestead to Hooper.
"Everybody seems to forget the history in this part of the county," Reimann said.
Stories of settlers were shared, including how farmer Wm. Geo. Harder's family eked out a living in the county.
Wm. Geo. Harder, who goes by Bill, said his family moved near Kahlotus around 1888. His grandfather, Hans Harder, began by buying horses from the Native Americans, breaking them and then selling them to the U.S. cavalry in Walla Walla. Then, his family established a sheep farm on the grassland. Later, the family switched to cattle and farming.
The Harder property includes the oldest cemetery in Franklin County, Reimann said. It is raised from the ground with stones walling in soil, and a rusted metal gate surrounds the small family plot.
The oldest grave has a small stone for Herman Harder, born Dec. 24, 1898, and died Oct. 20, 1899. Bill Harder said the baby -- his father's brother -- died of whooping cough, which claimed the lives of several buried in the cemetery.
More space has been added to the old cemetery, where two of Bill Harder's sons now are buried.
One of the pioneers to the area was Dan Page. He arrived in the Washington territory in 1879 and settled in the town of Page, said Kim Neff, historical society treasurer. Page operated a school, post office, general store, orchard and ferry.
The school burned down twice, and Neff said no one is certain if the fires or lack of students led to the school's closure.
Dam construction has put the town of Page and nearby Redd under water, Reimann said. Both towns are near T & R Farms, owned by the Reimanns.
Not far from Page is where one of the Lewis and Clark expedition canoes tipped over in the Snake River. The mishap dumped some supplies, but journals were rescued by Sacajawea, said Ron Reimann, Rella's husband.
Wheat was shipped from Page, Redd and Snake River Junction, which had ferry service into the Walla Walla County side. Wheat was transferred to railroad cars at the Redd and Snake River Junction.
Steve Meline worked at Snake River Junction in 1966 and 1967 to prepare railroad cars for wheat. There was a grain elevator in the town, as well as a general store. Meline made $20 a day, which was good money then, he said.
Snake River Junction now is part of the Columbia Plateau Trail State Park.
Part of a pipe that farmers used to transport wheat from the top of a hill closer to the river still remains, although the grain elevator is gone.
Early settlers used plows to turn over the sandy soil, Walter Neff said, but the wind would blow the soil away. With only 8 to 10 inches of rainfall in a year, there wasn't much that could be grown. An old map found by Walter Neff refers to the area as Poverty Flats.
Walter Neff said his grandfather purchased a sizable portion of his land from auctions after settlers' farms failed. Land would be auctioned off on the steps of the county courthouse.
In 1904, his grandfather married Lula Rogers, who had her own homestead in what is now Franklin County. The most well-known part of the Neff homestead is the Neff School, site of a 1998 film called The Basket.
Walter Neff said the school once had a bell tower and last was used in 1929. That's when the area became part of the Pasco School District. Now, the school house is storage.
In addition to settlers, the area has its characters. For example, Oscar Neff, Walter Neff's uncle, never drove a car and used a shotgun to scare off surveyors for the Ice Harbor Dam. The survey only occurred after a court order was issued, Walter Neff said.
In Kahlotus, Ann and Jim Moore and their family are refurbishing George Cutler's old general store.
Cutler's general store also repaired buggy carts, said Bill Harder, who sold the store to the Moores.
Ann Moore said the building dates back to about 1917. They have found many things in the building as they have been remodeling it, including the original blueprints, she said. Cutler kept adding onto the building.
Some of the tools and other treasures found in the old store are on display, including a scale, Cutler's glasses and wooden boxes with advertisements for Coca Cola and 7Up.
Ann Moore said they hope to complete the remodel in a year, although the family hasn't decided what to do with the building and treasures they've found.
The historical society hopes to offer the tour again in the spring, said Sherel Webb, historical society administrator.
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