Friday, December 19, 2008

History of Govan

From "Lincoln County, A Lasting Legacy."


With the building of the Central Washington Railway in 1889, Govan was designated as a place on the map. The discovery of a large sandbank in the area in the autumn of 1890 created a boom-town atmosphere as a crew of workmen, complete with steam shovel, extracted sand for the railroad construction. The name is derived from R. B. Govan, a construction engineer employed by Central Washington Railroad.

Although Govan was made headquarters for the contractors Wood, Larsen & Company during the building of the railroad, the 1890 census showed the town to be inhabited by only 33 residents.

A post office was established in 1889 in Govan’s railroad depot. By 1898, the post office was moved to the general merchandise store of Almon J. Smith, who was the first officially appointed postmaster. Daily stops were make by a passenger train, and the postmaster had the additional duty of providing messenger service between the post office and the depot. Trains provided mail service to Govan until 1954 when they were replaced by trucks. Two rural routes were established in 1906, combined in 1942 and discontinued when the route was divided between Almira and Wilbur in 1967.

Govan grew from a railroad depot into a small town in 1898 when several merchants and 76 citizens lived in the community to support the main industry of grain and fruit exports.

The 1909 Directory of Lincoln County described Govan as a “village of grain shipping stations on the railway,” with a population of 115. Listed as part of the community were the Methodist and Presbyterian churches, one grain elevator and several warehouses, two general stores, two hardware stores, a drug store, saloon, hotel and public school. The State Bank of Govan was well established and the community was served by the Pacific Telephone and Telegraph Company.

Govan’s C.B. Monroe Cemetery was located about a half-mile west of town. Only eight graves were recorded from 1904 to 1908, but it is believed several others were also buried there. Other burials of Govan residents were either in Almira or Wilbur cemeteries. The marked graves were moved from Govan to Wilbur Cemetery in 1975.

Govan has been the scene of several unsolved murders. Reported in the December 16, 1902 issue of The Wilbur Register as the “most brutal crime ever committed in this county” was the axe murder of Judge J.A. Lewis and his wife, Penelope. The elderly Lewises kept sums of money about the house. It was believed that robbery was the motive.

A masked assassin gunned down C.S. Thennes in the Govan saloon in April 1903. Thennes, who owned a livery barn and stable, died without divulging the name of his murderer, although his wife and the bartender were confident that they recognized the man. A suspect was arrested and tried for the crime, but was never convicted.

Mrs. Lillie L. Lesnett, a former mail carrier for Govan rural Route 2, was murdered at her farm on August 29, 1941. Her son, Wes Murray, disappeared at the same time. In June 1948, a boy riding horseback about a mile south of the Lesnett home discovered a skeleton which was identified as that of the son. Mother and son evidently died about the same time, but the case was never solved.

Govan children attended several rural schools before School District 126 was established in 1903.

The Govan school was built in 1905. It was staffed by two teachers. It remained in operation until 1942 when it was consolidated with the Wilbur district.

Fires in 1904 and 1909 had destroyed individual Govan homes and businesses, but a major blaze in 1927 nearly wiped out the town's business district. Four warehouses, one grain elevator, the Northern Pacific depot, stores, the post office, the hotel, a church, homes, and three freight cars loaded with wheat were burned. That loss was estimated at $100,000.

Two warehouse buildings and a garage survived. Plans to rebuild an elevator and warehouse were made immediately after the fire. A post office was opened the morning after the fire. Many of the town’s businesses chose not to rebuild.

Until a general store could be rebuilt and a gasoline pump installed, the Dorse Bagleys sold gasoline from their private pump and did a few minor automobile repairs from their home. The town’s water supply, which had been stored in a tank atop one of the burned elevators, was replaced with a cistern built on a hill above the town.

Govan’s eventual demise was hastened in 1933 when the community was bypassed by U.S. Route 2. The only retail store remaining in business by 1940 was the Govan General Store, with the owner doubling as postmaster. Charles Fredrickson, who had the store since 1922, rebuilt after the fire of 1927 and continued in operation until 1946. Peter Luby and Jack Joplin each ran the store one year, then Herman and Helen Kessinger purchased the business in September 1947. They continued in business until the mail service was transferred to Wilbur in 1967. Kessingers store provided a few staples, canned goods, and fresh bread and milk as well as a good supply of penny candy for the children. It also served as an election polling place after the Govan school was closed.

In the fall of 1987, only six homes were occupied. Govan’s senior resident, Mariam Bagley, came to Govan with her family, the T.B. Drapers, when she was only 2 years old. She lived south of the town until 1920 when she married Dorse Bagley and moved into Govan to occupy the house where she still lives. Other Govan residents include Miriam’s son, Orville Bagley and his wife, her granddaughter Lydia and Orville Widmer, the Jim Ogle family and Jim Nelson.

Govan still remains an important grain shipping terminal for area farmers. Almira Farmers Warehouse Co. has a 308,000 bushel capacity elevator. Barley is loaded directly to rail cars for shipment, but wheat is trucked to Almira to be shipped on 20-car unit trains. There are some custom loadouts for farm storage grains.

United Grain Growers’ 480,000 bushel capacity also provides storage for some wheat trucked in from the Wheatridge station.

A crew of one or two workers dispatched from Wilbur and Almira is sufficient to handle the grain during the peak harvest season.

Current pictures here.

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