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Among the state’s small towns, Waterville contains one of the most intact and cohesive collections of historic buildings, many of which are listed either individually or as part of a historic district on the National Register of Historic Places and Washington Heritage Register.

The highway curves through the shaded streets of Waterville, at the foot of Badger Mountain and east of the Columbia River. Clay pits and limestone quarries once added to the town’s revenue. Waterville was founded by Albert T. Greene in 1883, who was said to be enamored of the idea of founding a town in the west from his boyhood days. The town has had three names: it was Okanogan City in 1884, when it was the main stopping point on the road to the Okanogan country toward the north; later it was Jumper’s Flats because of claim-jumping activity prior to the construction of the railroad; and finally, it was platted as Waterville, when water was secured from a 30-foot well on Greene’s ranch. Horse racing was an annual fall event, with a pari-mutuel track operating under the Washington State Racing Commission.

Points of Interest Points of Interest icon

Smith Hospital and Douglas County Press Building

This building is significantly associated with both the medical and publishing history of Waterville and Douglas County in the early 20th century. From its construction in 1913, the complex served for many years as the region’s leading private hospital and only fully equipped medical center for a radius of about 50 miles. In addition, the complex was home to one of the county’s two leading newspapers, providing information, entertainment, and a sense of cohesion to the widely scattered residents of the farming area. Although converted to apartments after World War II, the complex continues to retain sufficient historic integrity to convey these past associations.

Canton House

Reflecting both the irregular forms of the late Queen Anne style and the simplified ornament of post-Victorian domestic architecture, the William J. Canton House is a significant example of turn-of-the-century residential design in the small farming community of Waterville, Washington. The house is one of the best preserved and most elaborate from an early boom period in the city’s history, and is closely associated with the career of attorney William Canton, a long-time Waterville lawyer, Douglas County prosecuting attorney and adjutant general of the Washington State National Guard.

Douglas County Courthouse

Built in 1905 and designed by Newton C. Gauntt, the courthouse replaced an early 1889 courthouse that was destroyed by a fire. The courthouse is an eclectic design.

Nifty Theatre

The Nifty embodies the characteristics of the type of theater built in rural communities and would be considered a “Combination House” by the year it was built, with characteristics of a Nickelodeon style of theater, serviceable to both vaudeville and movies. A Combination House often featured characteristics of Old World styles for embellishment and were known as vaudeville theaters, movie theaters and movie-vaudeville theaters. Other elements of a Combination House include projecting marquee above a recessed entry and exterior embellishment. The interior space was divided into a lobby, projection booth and auditorium. Nickelodeons, recognized as the first movie theaters, encompassed the storefront conversions, second floor walk-ups and built expressly for early film exhibition with functional, flat floor, singular spaces with a fixed screen at one end and a projection booth above the entryway at the opposite. Sometimes there was a shallow stage under the screen, Although the Nifty was built a few years later (1918) than most Nickelodeons (1905–1910) and Combination House theaters (1905–1915), it was built in an earlier style, instead of the Palace-era style theaters of 1915–1936, probably due to the economics of rural Waterville. The owner may also have been influenced by the palatial elements in early theaters, based on the appearance of the elaborate wall coverings that were installed high on the interior walls.

Waterville Hotel

Erected in 1903 in a Jacobean style, the Waterville Hotel was one of the most important commercial establishments in the small town. The hotel was a source of pride for the community and served as a center for social interactionand became a political focal point where crowds of 100 to 150 people would gather to meet, listen to speeches, discuss issues and argue. The building had 33 rooms, each with a window, chest of drawers, and a bed. There were 10 deluxe rooms that shared a bath with only one other room.

St. Joseph’s Catholic Church

Since its construction in 1916, the church has served the Catholic community of Waterville and the surrounding Big Bend country. The Italian Romanesque style structure, designed by Bell and Haskins, remains the most significant example of religious architecture in Waterville, and an important reflection of the eclectic Period Revivals that influenced design in this time.

Downtown Waterville Historic District

The Downtown Waterville Historic District is a compact group of commercial structures, built mostly between 1891 and 1915, which served as the business hub of the Douglas County seat through the late 19th and 20th centuries. The district includes historic shops, fraternal halls, professional offices, and banks. Collectively, the group is distinguished by the uniform use of local brick, the consistent scale of the one- and two-story buildings, and the restrained vernacular architectural designs employed by the builders. Contributing structures within the district typically feature broad storefront bays framed by brick piers, arched fenestration with segmental brick hoods, and ornamental cornices of metal or corbelled brick. Physically contiguous (and often built with party walls), the district forms a solid core at the heart of the city. The density of development and coherence of design set the district apart from the more modest and diffuse structures that lie outside the boundaries.

Melvin Barn

Believed to have been built in 1915, some stories persist that the barn was built as early as 1883. James Melvin built the barn, which originally had milking stalls and a hay loft on the sides, with the center isle used for storage. The present owners installed a larger door on the north side of the barn to accommodate storage for combines. On the south side of the barn is a large advertising sign which reads “A General Tonic, Dr. Pierce’s Golden Medical Discovery.” Dr. R. V. Pierce, from Buffalo, NY, was successful in a nationwide advertising campaign to sell his medical elixirs around the turn of the century. The sign was repainted around 1997 and a new roof was installed on the barn at the same time. The barn is on the only building on site.