WHITE BLUFFS — Rella Reimann thought she would be dead before a marble marker was placed to mark the site where the White Bluffs settlement once stood in Franklin County.
And that's why she broke out the champagne Tuesday -- to celebrate the culmination of 12 years of work with other Franklin County Historical Society members past and present near the White Bluffs boat launch, about 60 miles north of Pasco off Highway 124, in the Hanford Reach National Wildlife Refuge.
Reimann, a former president of the historical society, said society members wanted to document early Franklin County history with the marker.
People tend to think local history began when Hanford helped with the production of plutonium for the atomic bomb, she said.
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"They forget that the history in Franklin County was many, many years prior to that," she said.
The community of White Bluffs that was removed to make way for the Hanford project actually originated in Franklin County before it moved in the early 1900s to the Benton County side of the river, according to the marker.
The project wasn't as simple as just getting the marker donated from Wylie Monument in Walla Walla. Reimann said the group also had to get approval from the Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the tribes.
"Then our problems began with the bureaucracy," Reimann said.
The project went on the back burner while society members focused on other matters, said Sherel Webb, historical society administrator. But members still saw value in the project, so it was resurrected several years ago and finished Tuesday after the monument was installed.
The marker was placed near the only remaining building from the settlement.
The area is open to the public year round, although the building itself is fenced off.
The log cabin has been reinforced at different times but is missing most of its roof and has dirt filling the floor of the 7-foot structure.
Webb said the cabin could be from the late 1850s. There aren't any documents found so far that pin it to an exact date, but it is thought to be one of the oldest buildings in the county.
Jim Rabideau, historical society trustee emeritus, said there is a controversy over whether the remaining building actually was the blacksmith's shop. He's of the opinion it was, but that isn't included on the marker.
The White Bluffs settlement was a transportation hub for supplies heading to mining in northern Idaho, Montana, British Columbia and Fort Colville, Wash., with its most prosperous time between 1858-70, according to the marker.
The settlement had an Army depot, Wanapum village, ferry, saloon, trading post, warehouse and some houses, according to the marker.
At its height, the settlement may have had around 30 people, said Rabideau, who researched area history for the project.
"It was the center of the universe for probably six or seven years," he said. "There was nothing else around here."
But the end of steamers and pack trains hauling supplies through the White Bluffs area stopped that. Railroads were cheaper and more efficient, Webb said. The settlement moved, and the area became ranches instead, with a ferry that operated until the 1940s.
Rick Venable, historical society president, said despite growing up in Franklin County, it wasn't until he became involved with the historical society that he found out about Franklin County's White Bluffs settlement.
He said he found it amazing that the area had a history of settlement before the Civil War.
Having the marker is part of educating the public, said Sue McDonald, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service visitor services manager.
The marker is the first historical marker to be installed in the wildlife refuge, she said.
The U.S Fish & Wildlife Service has helped the society make sure the information on the marker is historically accurate, Venable said.
Now, when visitors to the wildlife refuge see the remnants of the log cabin behind its wire fence, they will no longer have to wonder what the building is, said Gracie Cooper, former historical society president.
"I didn't think we'd ever see this," she said, looking at the installed marker for the first time.
For more information about the Hanford Reach National Monument, visit www.fws.gov/hanfordreach/index.html.
-- Kristi Pihl: 509-582-1512; email@example.com