Milton and Freewater began as two separate cities. The area is rich in history, and a short account of the beginning of the two towns and development of the surrounding area is set forth below. For more information we encourage you to visit the Frazier Farmstead Museum site at http://museum.bmi.net
In 1872, W. S. Frazier laid off a town site on part of the Frazier property, gave a man by the name of Woodward 1½ acres on the west side of Main Street as a site for a hotel, and sold John Miller 15 acres and a water right for $125 to build a grist mill. The mill machinery contained three runs of stone burrs. In 1873 M.V. Wormington built the first residence on the platted area. By general community consent the town name of Milton was selected in an application for a post office. Milton was on its way to a rather enviable reputation of conservative social life, especially regarding spiritual affairs, sobriety and a high standard of education.
Horticulture was one of the profitable enterprises of the first settlers. From the beginning, the product found a ready and profitable market. A long growing season, combined with ample water and fertile soil made production of a wide variety of fruits and vegetables easy. William S. Frazier planted a large part of his acreage to tree fruits and berries.
By 1882 Milton had a population of 400 and boasted two general stores, two drug stores, one variety store, one millinery store, a hotel, a restaurant, three saloons, three livery and feed stables, one undertaker’s shop and many more shops. It also had a flour mill, a planer, chop, and shingle mill, a hall, a flume, a railroad station, school house, two churches, post office and express office. In 1886 the town Board of Trustees established a city government and incorporated under the name of Milton City.
The Milton Academy
In 1886, Milton was chosen by the Upper Columbia Conference of Seventh Day Adventists for the location of a denominational school. Elder G. W. Calcord was placed in charge of the school and its development. Enrollment the first year grew from 14 to 40 pupils. Enrollment the second year grew to 80. In 1888, a three-story dormitory was built to provide for 100 resident pupils.
In 1892 more land was needed for the school farm, and the school was moved to College Place and is now known as Walla Walla University. However, Milton Academy left an indelible mark on the record of education in the community by pioneering the progress in secondary education here.
In March 1900, a movement by the East Columbia Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church began to establish a Methodist College. The move was so successful that the College was opened that fall on the site of the old Milton Academy. Columbia College was dedicated September 18 and 19, 1900 and first classes were held on September 24. The first year’s operation ended with 131 pupils enrolled. Enrollment continued to grow, and fundraising began for a new building. Earl A. Williams was selected as contractor, who was noted as having also very satisfactorily built the Milton and Freewater school houses. In 1910 the new building was completed in time for classes to begin in the fall. The College continued a very successful operation until 1923, when financial demands became hard to meet. The financial situation did not improve the following year, and coupled with a fire in June 1924 that destroyed the girls' domitory and damaged other buildings, the school was so crippled it could not continue. In 1925 Columbia College was officially closed for lack of funds. The building was acquired by the City of Milton in 1929 for use as City Hall and continues in operation today as Milton-Freewater City Hall.
The establishment of Freewater is credited to a group of men who in 1889, dissatisfied with the way things were going in Milton--one main reason being the prohibition of sales of alcoholic beverages--decided to start a sister town. The late H. H. Hanson, a Touchet farmer, was one of the “dozen-odd” people who met shortly before the turn of the century to name Freewater. “I went to Milton in 1889”, said Hanson in an interview shortly before his death, “ . . . as depot agent for the Northern Pacific railroad, and by that time ‘Freewater’ had had its start.” A man named Mahana – “a visionary sort of man who wanted to do big things” – had laid out a town site north of the depot when Hanson arrived.
New Walla Walla Tried
“Mahana had his troubles,” said Hanson. “First, he decided to call the town ‘New Walla Walla’, but the folks living in the established town of Milton - backed by the Milton Eagle newspaper - made such fun of the name that he changed it to ‘Wallaette’.” Hanson said the “fun-poking” didn’t end. The “Eagle” wrote poems about the name rhyming like – Wallaette – he’ll get there yet. "Mahana forged ahead anyway”, said Hanson, “and decided to establish a grain mill in the new town. He wanted people to invest in the enterprise – sort of subsidize it”, he said, “so it wasn’t long before they named Mahana’s horse “Subsidy.” Mahana continued to sell lots in the town and he advertised the advantages of the location widely. "The people were still jangling quite a bit about the name Wallaette,” said Hanson “ . . . so Mahana decided to change the name again.”
“A meeting was scheduled and about a dozen of us attended,” said Hanson. “We pointed out to Mahana that one of his main advertising attractions was ‘Free Water For All Home Sites’ so we suggested the name ‘Freewater’ for the town and he accepted.” Some of the men who attended the meeting were the Evans brothers, Burton and Bill Kuhns, who later built the town hall.
Mahana established his own newspaper – called the Freewater Herald – and hired a Mr. McComas from La Grande to run it. “The Milton Eagle and the Freewater Herald really battled,” said Hanson, “but most of it seemed in fun. Milton would call Freewater ‘Jerkwater’ and accused the residents of ‘lack of civilization’ since they had just come in from the East, and the Herald would refer to Milton as ‘that place up in the Gulch’,” said Hanson.
While Freewater was organized in 1889, it was not incorporated until 1902. Early stores included Sanders and Tanke, General Merchandise; Fred Kuebler, Confectionery; Dr. Hill’s Pharmacy; George Darting’s Blacksmith Shop; White’s Liver Stable; Al Pearson’s Real Estate; and Ed White’s Cigar Store.
Freewater was also known for its saloons, six in 1902. Some were “The OR AND N”, “The Boozerino”, “The Palace”, operated by Taylor and Ireland, where games were played, including roulette, and horses could be ridden into the saloon; the “Ole Kentucky”; and “Gallon House”, owned by Hizekiah Keyes, and the Kelly brothers, Jack and Jess.
After operating separate cities for so many years, and growing closer together over the course of those years, servicemen returning from World War II resolved to do something about a possible merger, which had been a topic of conversation for a long time. J.T. Monahan was elected chairman of the newly formed Consolidation Club. Achieving consolidation was no easy matter as feelings still ran high with many persons, and the committee worked very hard to encourage the merger. Under state law, the majority of voters in each of the two communities had to favor consolidation. In November 1950 the election was held and a new city was born. The votes cast were: Freewater - 240 for consolidation, 204 against; Milton - 464 for consolidation, 167 against. The communities became the City of Milton-Freewater, ending a duplication of governmental services in the two adjoining communities extending over a period of 61 years. J.L. Yantis was elected the first Mayor of Milton-Freewater.