The Frenchtown Historical Foundation
The mission of the Frenchtown Historical Foundation is the preservation and interpretation, through research, signage, and educational outreach, of sites related to a 19th-century community of Native American, French Canadian and métis families in the Walla Walla Valley. The Foundation raises money to maintain and develop the site through membership, donations, and the annual October Frenchtown Rendezvous.
The FHF was established by descendants of the early settlers in the summer of 1993, with the goal of reclaiming the land where the old Saint Rose of Lima Mission Church and the final Frenchtown cemetery were located, eight miles west of Walla Walla.
This land was also the site of the Battle of Walla Walla in 1855, reputed to be the longest battle in Washington State history.
On December 10, 2005, over 75 people attended an open air observance at the battlefield site followed by a reception and program at Frenchtown Hall in Lowden. The ceremonies included singing, drumming, and words from leaders of the Umatilla Reservation, greetings from the governor and a U.S. Senator, talks by a state legislator, a county commissioner, the president of Whitman College, and descendants of Frenchtown residents. On that same date, an agreement was signed between landowners and the Frenchtown Historical Foundation that led to the eventual conveyance of 57 acres – what has the upper 27 acres of what is now the Frenchtown Historic Site, and an adjoining 30 acres along the Walla Walla River, which the Frenchtown Historical Foundation then conveyed to the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in 2013.
The formal opening of the Frenchtown Historic Site near Walla Walla and the rededication of the old Frenchtown cemetery took place on December 11, 2010, a wet blustery day exactly 155 years after the close of the Battle of Walla Walla.
On July 9, 2011, the Frenchtown Historical Foundation held its Grand Opening of the Frenchtown Historic Site on the two hundredth anniversary of the launching of the fur trade in the inland region by David Thompson of the Canadian North West Company. Thompson had come down the Columbia River from Canada, and on July 9, 1811, planted a British flag at the mouth of the Snake River, claiming the area for Britain and telling the Walla Walla Indians of his company’s plans to establish the first fur trading post in the region near there, which they accomplished in 1818.
2009: Restoration of native grasses to the site.
2010: Installation of the access road and path to the cemetery, along with interpretive signage, parking and the small overlook shelter on the hill.
2012:The Foundation drilled into the shallow aquifer to provide drinking and irrigation water.
2013: Completion of the large interpretive shelter with its enclosed portion in the style of a traditional French-Canadian cabin. The shelter showcases dove-tail corners, rough-sawn logs and shake roof. Also in 2013, the lower portion of the site was transferred to the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation in partnership with the Frenchtown Foundation.
In 2014, the Foundation brought what appears to be the oldest existing cabin in Washington State, referred to as “The Prince’s Cabin” to the site for restoration and preservation.
The restoration of “The Prince’s Cabin” was completed in 2016.
2018: Volunteers planted trees along the eastern boundary of the site.
2019: Cemetery restoration including a retaining wall and a commemorative sign which tells the history of the cemetery, and lists the names and dates of burials.
In 2020 and 2021, Frenchtown was unable to host annual events such as Rendezvous due to the pandemic.
2021: Volunteers worked on plant restoration such as replanting trees, and installing irrigation. The site also welcomed almost 500 goats to clear unwanted vegetation.
Future plans for the Frenchtown Historic site include enhancement of signage and development of educational outreach materials for local schools.