James Allen Perkins, the second of twelve children, came to the area in 1870, when he was 29 years old. He and Thomas Smith traveled from Waitsburg to set up a sawmill at the suggestion of Anderson Cox, who speculated that the valley along the South Fork of the Palouse might make a fine location for a new settlement. They proceeded to build a log cabin with timber hauled from Walla Walla. Both Smith and Perkins staked out property. The two men split the valley, Perkins taking the northern part. He purchased a pre-emption on 160 acres at $2.50/acre. The line separating the two parcels ran east to west and later became Last Street. Smith grew discouraged and moved to Union Flat, but Perkins remained and took on a new partner, Hezekiah Hollingsworth.
In the spring of 1871 Hollingsworth and Perkins hired a surveyor to plat a townsite. Perkins decided to call the new town Belleville. The men hired workers to build the sawmill which opened for business in September 1971 but they soon turned the sawmill into the hands of John Davenport, who also built a flour mill. Gradually businesses and the young settlement grew.
James met a pretty young woman by the name of Sarah Jane (Jennie) Ewert in 1871. She was the daughter of Captain James Ewart who founded nearby Ewartsville. They were married in 1873 at the first schoolhouse at the corner of Third and Mill Streets. The growing community was first called Belleville, possibly after Perkins’ hometown of Belleville, Illinois, but a story exists that Jennie thought he named it after his former girl friend, Belle. To dispel any hard feeling, a decision was made to call the town Colfax in honor of President Grant’s first VP Schuyler Colfax.
After the wedding the new couple moved into the tiny log cabin where their four children were born. Perkins tried various business and political interests, including the purchase of the Bank of Colfax in 1881. As his finances grew, so did his family and he decided to build a larger home adjacent to the cabin in 1886. This two-story Victorian home, completed in 1887, was the center of Colfax society until 1920, when James died. Their son Sumner and family moved into the house and helped their mother, bringing life and laughter back. Jenny passed away in 1935. Although Sumner died in 1959, his wife maintained the large home until the late 1960s.
The aging house was purchased by the newly formed Whitman County Historical Society in 1973 for $13,900 – a sum financed through donations and loans. A series of grants and much volunteer help allowed restoration to begin. Work has been done inside to restore it to an appropriate Victorian decor, update the electrical system, remove/rebuild the porch and chimneys, repaint the exterior and many other tasks. The roof, which was also in very bad condition, was completely replaced with cedar shakes like the original. With the new paint, various architectural features stand out, in particular the quoins on the corners of the house.
In keeping with traditions started by the Perkins family, the WCHS hosts an annual Ice Cream Social on the grounds of the home. At the 2001 event, Jeanette Sabo, granddaughter of James and Jenny Perkins, age 104, said that the house looked just as she remembered it.
The Perkins House is available for meetings, small weddings, bridal showers, anniversary parties, and other events. A modest cleaning fee is charged for use of the house. Tours can also be arranged.
Exciting activity at the Perkins House!
The Colfax Chamber of Commerce and the Whitman County Historical Society recently teamed together to make better use of the Perkins House. The Chamber, under the leadership of Unified Executive Director Val Gregory, maintains office space inside. This move ensures regular hours at the House to give visitors and residents the opportunity to tour the beautiful historic home. New signage on Main Street will direct visitors to the House. So stop by and see the new Chamber location and feel free to take a tour. Tour donations will go to the Perkins House. Thanks go to the City of Colfax and the Chamber for making this happen!
New coordinator of Textiles and Clothing Hannah Strong is organizing, cataloging, and working to properly preserve all the heritage clothing at Perkins House. Full of energy and enthusiasm, Hannah will be trying to organize events and means of highlighting the collection. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
BUY A “LOST” APPLE TREE for your property!
The Whitman County Historical Society has been proud to partner with the Lost Apple Project. So far four lost (thought to be extinct) apple varieties from the Palouse have been located and identified by apple “sleuth” David Benscoter. He has taken cuttings and arranged for the propagation of 100 trees which are now for sale. They include 25 Arkansas Beauty, 20 Nero, 20 Fall Jeneting, 20 Dickinson, and 15 Palouse. The Palouse apple was not extinct but it is an important part of Whitman County history as it was the only apple discovered in the county to go on to have popularity as far away as New York.
These trees are on M111 rootstock which can grow to twenty feet. They will be on sale to the general public for $25.00 each and to WCHS members at $20.00. Arrangements can be made through the Perkins House Coordinator, Theresa Dale, to purchase these “Heritage” and “Lost” apple trees. Contact Theresa at 509-397-2555 or email@example.com to place your order. Pick ups can be arranged on either Saturdays or Sundays between 10 am and 2:00 pm at the Perkins House, 623 N. Perkins Ave., Colfax. All proceeds help to fund further apple research and the WCHS.
More information about the Lost Apple Project can be found on this web site. Go to “Projects.”
SCENES FROM THE 45th Annual Ice Cream Social