Washington State Magazine

Spring 2009


Spring 2009

Memory

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In This Issue...

Features

What Is Art For? :: Art, says independent scholar Ellen Dissanayake '57, is "making special." It is an act that gives us a sense of belonging and meaning. It is passed from mother to child. Its origins lie deep in our evolutionary past. It makes us human. by Tim Steury

The Love Letters :: In 1907, Othello had no high school, so Xerpha Mae McCulloch '30 traveled 50 miles to Ritzville to finish school. There she met, and fell in love with, Edward Gaines, a few years her senior. The recent gift to Washington State University of her steamer trunk reveals the life of a woman whose story is not only threaded through the University's, but also through the story of agriculture in Washington State. by Hannelore Sudermann

{ WEB EXCLUSIVEGallery: Photos and letters from Xerpha's trunk }

You Must Remember This :: Having reached a certain age, our correspondent sets out to learn the latest from Washington State University researchers about memory. She learns that memory comes in different forms, that the human brain is made for problem-solving, and that the key to much of brain health is the "dendritic arbor." And then she sets out to create an action plan. by Cherie Winner

{ WEB EXCLUSIVEStory: Maureen Schmitter-Edgecombe's work to help people with memory loss }

ESSAY

Privacy and the Words of the Dead :: Do we violate the privacy of the dead when we read what they wrote for themselves? Maybe it depends on our purposes. by Will Hamlin

{ WEB EXCLUSIVEGallery: Annotated pages from early English editions of Montaigne's Essays. }

Panoramas

Departments

:: FIRST WORDS

:: SPORTS: Coaching with heart

:: GREEN PAGES: Building green

:: A gift toward fuel research

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Story: Yucatecan lentil soup recipe }

Tracking

Cover photo: Bryan Hall clock tower reflected in the Abelson-Heald skybridge windows on the Pullman campus. By Zach Mazur.

Last Words
This photograph probably represents the opening of the Steptoe Butte Hotel to the public. Note the band members tp the left side of the front and note also the unfinished roof balustrade section. Photo courtesy of the Whitman County Historical Society

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This photograph probably represents the opening of the Steptoe Butte Hotel to the public. Note the band members tp the left side of the front and note also the unfinished roof balustrade section. Photo courtesy of the Whitman County Historical Society

The hotel was known for its elaborate displays of area products. <em>Photo courtesy of WSU - MASC.</em>

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The hotel was known for its elaborate displays of area products. Photo courtesy of WSU - MASC.

Cashup sits in the elaborate splendor of his parlor. The crowds ceased coming in spite of all the available luxuries and novelties he had acquired for his resort. <em>Photo courtesy of WSU - MASC.</em>

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Cashup sits in the elaborate splendor of his parlor. The crowds ceased coming in spite of all the available luxuries and novelties he had acquired for his resort. Photo courtesy of WSU - MASC.

A group pose with a dog in this 1909 photograph of the hotel. <em>Photo courtesy of WSU - MASC.</em>

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A group pose with a dog in this 1909 photograph of the hotel. Photo courtesy of WSU - MASC.

Sunset from Steptoe Butte. <em>John Austin/austinspace</em>

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Sunset from Steptoe Butte. John Austin/austinspace

Hotel at the Top

by | © Washington State University

Pioneer James “Cashup” Davis dreamed big. At a time when most Washington settlers were carving farms out of the Palouse, he was so awed with the panoramic views of the Palouse from Steptoe Butte, he decided to build a hotel at the top.

Davis’s first career was as a well-to-do stonemason in England, but he left that life in search of adventure. In 1872, at the age of 57, he settled in Washington and built a bustling farm as well as a stage coach stop and dance hall.

While most Washington State University students only know of the butte as a landmark east of Highway 195, the story of Davis and his hotel has captured the interest of a few. Randall Johnson ’37 was so impressed with the story, he undertook to write a small book about it. The result is a 20-page typed account of Davis’s life from his birth in England in 1815 through his days as a Washington settler. Johnson’s account was refreshed in 2003 when student Marc Howard ‘03 wrote his own history of Davis for the Whitman County Historical Society.

According to Johnson’s account, Davis set his sights on Steptoe Butte, which stood 3,610 feet above sea level and about 1,200 feet above the Palouse, as an ideal location for a mountaintop resort.

He bought 880 acres, which included the butte and the surrounding land. According to Howard’s account, Davis spent the remainder of his estate, about $10,000, to build the most luxurious hotel ever seen in Whitman County. It had a grand main floor hall and 20 guest rooms on the second level. The very top was an observatory where visitors could look through a telescope and see all the way to Walla Walla.

At first hundreds came to the sky-high oasis, but the allure didn’t last and the crowds dwindled. At times Davis waited up there alone, ready to welcome the rare guest, according to Johnson. Though he realized his venture had failed, he so loved the hotel, Davis continued to live there until he died in 1896. With him, the dream of maintaining a resort atop the butte died too. It sat empty for years. In 1911 a fire, purportedly an accident caused by two young boys, turned the dry timbers into a bonfire “seen for miles in every direction,” according to Johnson’s account.

The McCroskey family, contemporaries of Davis, eventually purchased the butte and then gave it to the people of Washington as a public park.

“Enjoy the view,” Johnson wrote, “and think a kind thought about the little white-haired Englishman with the stovepipe hat. He dreamed dreams beyond his reach, but he wove some bright threads into the generally drab fabric of the pioneers’ lives.”

Categories: Washington state history, History | Tags: Palouse, Hotels

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