Whitman County Historical Society
Perkins House & Cabin
Ronda Penwell - Perkins House Coordinator
623 N. Perkins Ave.
P O Box 67
Colfax, WA 99111
Office: (509) 397-2555
Hours: Saturday and Sunday 10am to 2pm
Closed in January and February
James Allen Perkins 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 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. Jennie 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.
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.
Photos by Bruce Ikenberry Photography