Friday, February 13, 2015

From Large to Small--A City in History

By Miralee Ferrell

When starting to research for a novella in the 12 Brides of Christmas and the 12 Brides of Summer, I looked for cities in Washington State that would have existed in the late 1870's. But more than that, I needed a town that was considered more than a farm community, and hopefully, one where supplies would be routed through the area. However, I didn't want to use Seattle or Vancouver, Washington, as I hoped to find something that hadn't grown to that extent and still retained a more rural feel. Most of my story is set on a farm, but knowing the history was still very important to me.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered Goldendale, Washington, only 50 miles from my home, a perfect fit for what I was looking for. It's now a farming town of about 3600 residents in the city limits and maybe 5000 including the surrounding area, but it was the 5th largest city in Washington State in the 1870's and 1880's. 

In 1872 the town was named by an early homesteader--John Golden--and the Golden House is still viewable in downtown Goldendale. The town was mostly dependent on logging and a saw mill, along with farming, and by 1878 it had grown in importance to become the county seat. 

Four different snow-covered peaks can be seen from a
viewpoint just outside of town 
I found the following episode, as reported on the official Goldendale website, to be quite interesting:  Goldendale grew steadily with the demands of the region settlers from 1870- 1880. The typical western town of frame buildings hurriedly erected was beginning to feel substantial when tragedy struck. On a hot Sunday afternoon early in the 20th century, while most citizens were a few miles away on a picnic, fire broke out at the west end of Main street. Fanned by strong west winds, it raced from building to building, stopping only when no more structures were in its path. Approximately 85% of the buildings were destroyed in the blaze. The town was rebuilt thereafter in brick and many of the buildings stand today on Main Street as a testament to those times.

One of the most unique buildings in town, dating back to the 1890's, is the Charles Newell house, now a historical landmark. It was built and owned by a horse-trader of considerable renown, and while there's no proof to support it, locals have long believed the color of barn-red was the original paint. 

Newell soon earned the title "Horse King" of the Northwest, and is believed by some to have shipped and sold more horses than any individual dealer in the country. Newell dealt exclusively with the Yakima Indians whose cayuses ran wild on the open range of the reservation. Corrals were constructed at various locations on the range, and Newell would dispatch his own riders to participate in the roundup. With bags of silver at his side, Newell then toured the corrals, driving a hard bargain for each and every horse. 

I LOVE historical buildings and this one is even better, since it contains the historical society and a museum. It's the Presby Mansion, built in 1901. Here's a little information on the history of the house, as taken from the Historical Society web site:

In 1902, attorney W.B. Presby contracted Pierce Bros. Carpenters to build the
Presby Mansion and Museum
three-story, 22-room house at an estimated cost of $8,000.00. The four fireplaces have ornately carved wood mantles and are inlaid with ceramic tile. The fireplaces are flanked by pocket doors which lead into the parlor, office, and dining room. Unique features of this house are the detailed woodwork in the stairway and the upstairs bathroom which has been completely restored. The house has been utilized as a family residence as well as a boarding house for school teachers and railway workers. 

So many towns have a rich history if we only take time to dig. I'm even considering a story loosely based on Charles Newell, Horse King of the N.W. 

Miralee Ferrell is the author of The Other Daughter and the Love Finds You series, which includes the award-winning novel Love Finds You in Sundance, WY, as well best-selling Blowing on Dandelions and 9 other novels. She and her husband live on eleven acres in southern Washington State, where they love to garden, sail, ride horses, and visit with their children and grandchildren. She's stepping into new territory in March with the release of her first middle-grade horse novels for girls...A Horse for Kate, the first book of four in the Horses and Friends series. 

The Nativity Bride--Available in ebook now
Deborah Summers has waited five years and prayed for Curt Warren to return to Goldendale, Washington, passing up another marriage proposal by believing in her first love. When tragedy finally brings him home, will a rift with his father drive him away too quickly?

Coming June 1, a spin-off book also set in Goldendale, The Dogwood Blossom Bride, part of the 12 Brides of Summer collection.


  1. I love those historic old houses, too! Isn't it amazing how much there still is to learn about the history of right where we live ... that old horse trader would probably be a colorful character for a story!

  2. Those old houses are really cool. I love the white one. Wish I could see inside of it.

  3. I love historical homes and landmarks! Thanks so much for sharing these, Miralee. The Horse King story sounds like a great idea!

  4. So fun to find towns like this and get involved in their history and people! Love the barn red color!

  5. I do also enjoy historical buildings. The barn red mansion is gorgeous and so inviting. Sm wileygreen1(at)yahoo(dot)com

  6. I, too, enjoy historical buildings. It's surprising how many places fall by the wayside and little communities disappear leaving only a chimney,. Thanks for your great post.