A Brief History
The Kirkman House was built between 1876-1880 of brick from the Weston, Oregon Foundry. When the house was completed, William and Isabelle Kirkman moved in with their four surviving children, William Henry, Fanny Ann, Myrtle Bell, and Leslie Gilmore. The family built an addition comprising of a larger dinning room and kitchen in 1890. Fanny and Allen Reynolds were married in the front parlor on November 7, 1894. William Henry, upon becoming a widower in 1905, moved back into the house with his son William Leslie.
When built, the Kirkman’s home was one of the grandest residences in Walla Walla reflecting tastes of the day and wealth generated by the ranching business. Now the Victorian Italianate house remains the only example of its kind locally, though vestiges of early 20th century architecture can be found throughout Walla Walla.
In its heyday, the house was the setting for lavish entertaining, as well as for routine activities of daily American Victorian life. In addition to being home for the Kirkman’s, it also served as a boys’ dormitory for Whitman College from 1920-1924. During this time Walter Brattain, 1956 Nobel Prize winner for the co-invention of the transistor, studied in the home. Later, the house was converted into an apartment home for more than 50 years. The museum came into being as a rescue operation to save this home on the edge of the local Northern Pacific railroad. The house was elected to the National Historic Register in December of 1974 and has been run as a non-profit organization since 1981.