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Garfield

Like most of the towns of Whitman County, the city had an air of permanency. The men and women who first settled here came to find homes; some came directly from the south and east; others hesitated for a short time in the Walla Walla country, crossing the Snake River after the danger of attack by Native American bands had passed. Many of the farmers as of 1941 were the children or grandchildren of the original homesteaders. Garfield, served by good roads and three branch rail lines, was also an important shipping and marketing town. Samuel J. Tant, who owned the land, named the town for James A. Garfield, twentieth president of the United States.

South of Garfield, the tour winds down an easy grade into the fertile Palouse River valley. For many years wheat was the most important crop of this area, and later considerable acreage was planted to peas, harvested green for canning or for the market, allowed to ripen for seed, or processed to produce split peas, green and dried.

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McCroskey House

While this property was undoubtedly in agricultural use throughout the 1880s, its historical importance did not begin until 1887, when Robert Crampton McCroskey (1845–1922) purchased the acreage. Over the ensuing 25 years R. C. McCroskey extended his land holdings until he had one of the largest wheat farms in Whitman County, more than 2,000 acres. Aside from his agrarian pursuits, McCroskey was a member of perhaps the most economically, socially, religiously and politically important family in Whitman County. His half-brother, J. P. T. McCroskey, was a representative from Whitman County to the Washington State Constitutional Convention of 1889; his cousin, the Reverend Solon McCroskey, was Garfield, Washington’s first Cumberland Presbyterian minister (the entire family being instrumental in the advancement of that church in Garfield); his nephew Virgil McCroskey gave Steptoe Butte to the state of Washington for use as a park; and his nephew, Milton McCroskey, aside from being Washington State University’s first football star, was active in Whitman County government. R. C. McCroskey himself helped to represent the state at the 1896 National Democratic Convention. McCroskey was elected to the Washington State Senate for the second and third legislative sessions (1891—1895). In this capacity, he was active in the founding of the Agricultural College Experiment Station and the School of Science of the State of Washington (now Washington State University) in Whitman County. He was an instrumental force behind the Wasson Bill, which substantially reduced freight rates on farm produce, grain in particular. He was appointed to the Washington State Grain Commission and to the Board of Regents of the State College of Washington (formerly the Agricultural College Experiment Station and School of Science of the State of Washington). He served on the Board of Regents for the years 1897–1905 and 1909–1922, and his legislative acumen proved a tremendous asset to the life of the college. R. C. McCroskey’s home was known not only as a social center for visiting state officials, but for many Garfield community activities as well.

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