Where It All Began
“A Brief History of Time” in Penawawa
(with apologies to S. Hawking)
For eons, the warm spring water has flowed from the basalt formations that make up the Snake River Canyon at Penawawa. The first humans to take advantage of that crystal clear water were the Palouse and Nez Perce Indians who inhabited the area 11,000 years ago. They came down to various locations on the Snake to harvest the salmon runs in the spring and early summer, and in the winter to take advantage of the relatively mild climate compared to the surrounding higher elevations of the Palouse countryside and the Blue Mountains. Penawawa was one of those locations.
Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery were the first non-natives to pass the Penawawa bar on their way to and from the Pacific Ocean in 1805-1806. The first permanent settler arrived in 1871 and raised cattle. By then, Penawawa had become a crossing point on the Snake River for the military and early pioneers traveling the territorial road from Walla Walla to Spokane and a ferry was established in 1872. The town of Penawawa was platted in 1877. The early settlers soon discovered that the soil and climate conditions were ideal for growing produce and soft fruit.
Steamships traveling the Snake River made stops from the late 1890’s until the start of WWII, transporting grain, livestock, wool, fruit and produce. The railroad was being extended up the river and it reached Penawawa in 1906, adding another shipping alternative.
The late 1890’s and early 1900’s saw the establishing of a post office, a church and parsonage, a cemetery, a store, a two-story school, a railroad station, section house and cabins for the railroad workers, a farmers-union grain warehouse, two grain elevators and a stable and small hotel (my first home) to serve the ferry traffic.
Warm Springs Ranch originated in 1918 when our maternal grandparents, Hexie and Jeanette Eggers purchased 53 acres from an early settler. They grew cherries, peaches, and national champion Poland China hogs. They raised three daughters; Geraldine, Madeline and the youngest, Shirley who was our mother. Our father, Stacy Eggers, left Tennessee in 1937, spent two years in southern Idaho and arrived in Penawawa by train in 1939. He helped build one of the grain elevators and worked as a laborer for the railroad. (Yes, the discerning reader will have noticed the same last names. Our parents had the same great-great-grandparents.) Mom and Dad were married in December 1941 and the next spring they bought a small ten acre orchard. Terry arrived the next December and they took up residence in the aforementioned hotel on what we called the Monette place.
In the fall of 1946, Mom and Dad purchased the adjoining Warm Springs Ranch from my mom’s parents. That is where my sister, Patsy and my brother, Scott and I were all instilled with a very strong work ethic as we grew up.
Fast forward to 1967. The Little Goose dam was being built downstream on the Snake River. That summer Mom and Dad harvested their last fruit crop. That fall and winter they moved our house to a lot in Colfax, tore down the rest of the outbuildings and moved to a 300-acre irrigated farm in George, Washington. (Yes, that is the real name of the town). The railroad was relocated to higher ground and what was left of the community of Penawawa was flooded in the fall of 1970 by the filling of Lake Bryan behind the Little Goose dam.
Fast forward again to 1984 when mom and dad learned of a pending auction of tracts of land along Lake Bryan. One of the tracts contained a small portion of the original Warm Springs Ranch. They were the successful bidders on 143 acres of land that was mostly basalt cliffs, sage brush, and pasture land, but it also contained about 4 acres where two canyons and their streams emptied into the Snake River. It was also the place where the warm springs (68 degrees year-round) flowed out of the hillside near our old home site.
The following year (1985) our parents spent several weeks clearing the land of the forest of locust, walnut and hackberry trees that had grown up over the intervening 18 years. They then had a road built down into the cleared land. In the spring of 1986, Dad developed the gravity fed water system, utilizing the water from the two creeks. He and mom then hand-planted 50 peach and apricot trees. At the ages of 75 and 63, they were happily back in the orchard business! The following spring (1987), they hand-planted 100 more peach trees and in March 1988 added another 100 peach trees, this time with the aid of a tractor to help dig the holes.
Our parents are gone now, but some of the original trees are still producing fruit. Over the last twenty-plus years we, Mike & Patsy (Eggers) Kromm and Terry & Janet Eggers, with the help of our manager, Bryan Jones and several family and friends, have replaced many of the old trees and added some new varieties of peaches and nectarines. We continued to operate the Warm Springs Ranch as a U-pick enterprise.
We have the pruning done in January or February depending on the weather. Apricots bloom in late February, and the peaches and nectarines bloom in March. We have the thinning done in June. Bryan does the spraying in the Spring and Fall. Irrigation, mowing, propping of the trees, marketing and sales are a group effort. Apricots start ripening about the first of July and early peach varieties usually start ripening the third week of July. Nectarines and later peach varieties are available from the second week of August until maybe the second week of September.
Over the 90 some years that Penawawa existed as a community, there were several hundred people who called it home. From that group we can count at least four dozen families. In 1986 Mom and Dad started hosting a reunion, the Penawawa Picnic, for the former residents. Every year since then, except 2020, usually on the first Saturday of August, former residents and their descendants have returned to Penawawa. COVID prevented the 2020 gathering. This year the oldest attendee was in her mid-nineties.
We so appreciate all our amazing customers, some of whom travel significant distances to pick our wonderful fruit.
Mike & Patsy (Eggers) Kromm
Terry & Janet Eggers