Ghost Town of Elberton

Waypoints in the Palouse Tour - Story 7

The towns of the Palouse followed similar patterns of early growth as white settlers flooded into the area, followed by a long and gradual decline with the greater mechanization of farming. Some simply vanished. Today,the ghost town of Elberton stands as a silent witness of rural depopulation.

Elberton's story started in the 1870s when, due to an abundance of timber in the area, a sawmill powered by the nearby Palouse River was built. Within the next few years the Oregon Railway & Navigation Co. had constructed a line through the river valley. These enterprises brought more settlers to the area and in 1886 the town was platted by Sylvester M. Wait. Fruit orchards were introduced and apples and plums quickly became the chief source of Elberton's prosperity for many years.

At the height of its prosperity, Elberton had a population of nearly 500, a flour mill, sawmill, two stores, a post office, three churches, and also boasted the "region's largest" prune dryer. The most important attraction was the Elberton Picnic held from 1893-1924. The annual Picnic was a three day, fair-like event that was known throughout Whitman County and attracted hundreds of visitors. According to long time resident John Elwood, the Elberton Picnic was so popular that presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan even showed up to give a speech during his famous 1896 campaign.

Elberton's quick rise to regional prominence would only last a few years as a series of unfortunate events occurred during the early 20th Century, beginning in 1906. This is the year that the district around Elberton was deforested enough to force the sawmill to move to Idaho. In 1907 the O.R. & N pulled its area service, and then the flour mill soon followed suit. In 1908 a fire burned part of the town and in 1910 a catastrophic flood submerged much of what was left of the struggling community.

The final blow came in the early 1930s when the stock market crash and the Great Depression helped to seal Elberton's fate. The town was nearly empty by the 1950s. After years of existing as a residential bedroom community, Elberton was officially disincorporated as a Washington town in 1966. It was around this same time that Whitman County fire crews began using many of the town's long-abandoned structures for training purposes, lighting them ablaze to extinguishing the fires. Elberton's decline is representative of the economic strain experienced in most Palouse farming communities during the '30s.

The only original structure to survive to the present-day is the United Brethren Church, built in 1913. Although nearly all of Elberton's buildings were destroyed or damaged during fires and floods, the United Brethren Church managed to endure. It has not been in use for many years, and still retains much of its old character. Its dilapidated state only adds to the personality of this Washington ghost town. The cemetery lurks on a hill overlooking Elberton, which also adds a certain 'hallowed' quality to this abandoned community.

Today there are only about 15 residents in the vicinity of Elberton, but a trip there will not disappoint as there are interesting things to see and do. Remaining landmarks and structures include the United Brethren Church, the abandoned railroad trestle and the old cemetery off Oral smith Road directly northeast of the church. Remnants of the original orchards and even private gardens can be seen during the spring and summer. If you look close enough you can even find some structural remains beneath the overgrowth.

Images

The Old Elberton Flour Mill, 1895.

The Old Elberton Flour Mill, 1895.

The Flour Mill was one the main employers of the town, but closed down during the turn-of-the-century. The Mill's closure was devastating to the local economy. Image Courtesy of Whitman County Rural Heritage. http://www.washingtonruralheritage.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/whitman/id/1453/rec/4 View File Details Page

Elberton Sawmill, 1896

Elberton Sawmill, 1896

Looking down at the Elberton Sawmill in 1896. It was this sawmill that helped to spawn Elberton's growth and prosperity. It was also the sawmill that helped bring an abrupt end to Elberton's growth. Notice the lean-to living quarters to the right of the mill. Image Courtesy of Whitman County Rural Heritage. http://www.washingtonruralheritage.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/whitman/id/2891/rec/1 View File Details Page

Downtown Elberton,1899.

Downtown Elberton,1899.

Some of Elberton's first residents and buildings. These men are standing in front of the town's bank,and next door is the Post Office. Image Courtesy of Whitman County Rural Heritage, http://www.washingtonruralheritage.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/whitman/id/1455/rec/5 View File Details Page

Averill Sawmill,1900.

Averill Sawmill,1900.

Group of workers in front of the sawmill. Notice the young child with the crew who was more than likely employed at the mill as well. Due to the amount of lumber cut at this particular mill,the area around Elberton was almost completely deforested by 1901. Image courtesy of Whitman County Rural Heritage. http://www.washingtonruralheritage.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/whitman/id/1465/rec/12 View File Details Page

Panoramic view of Elberton, 1914

Panoramic view of Elberton, 1914

A view of the town during its peak in 1914. This photo was taken from the hill north of town and east of the cemetery. Only one of the buildings visible in the photo remains today. Image Courtesy of Whitman County Rural Heritage. http://www.washingtonruralheritage.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/whitman/id/3120/rec/3 View File Details Page

United Brethren Church, 2013.

United Brethren Church, 2013.

Here stands the United Brethren Church,built in 1913. This is one of the two remaining structures still standing in Elberton. Image Courtesy of Author. View File Details Page

Elberton Cemetery,2013

Elberton Cemetery,2013

This old cemetery is one of the more interesting aspects of Elberton. Located on the hill directly to the northeast of town,the cemetery holds some of the oldest graves in the area. This particular marker displays the difficulty faced by Palouse pioneers,as infant mortality rates were very high. This baby was only a few days old when she passed. Image by author,2013. View File Details Page

United Brethren Church,2013

United Brethren Church,2013

The only remaining building from Elberton's old days. The church's current state does little justice to how popular it once was. Image by author,2013. View File Details Page

Logs Floating on the Palouse in Elberton,1905

Logs Floating on the Palouse in Elberton,1905

The Palouse River often swells far beyond its banks,giving the lumber mills a chance to snag the floating logs to bring to the mill. Residents would also try to grab a few logs before the mill workers in order to take advantage of some free firewood. Image courtesy of Whitman County Historical Society. View File Details Page

Elberton,1913

Elberton,1913

A panorama of Elberton in 1913 during the town's most prosperous era. Not long after this picture was taken,Elberton began its decline. This photo was taken from the hill on the north side of the river. Image courtesy of Whitman County Rural Heritage. http://www.washingtonruralheritage.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/whitman/id/3119/rec/2 View File Details Page

Elberton Ruins,2013

Elberton Ruins,2013

An unidentified old shack. This building could have been used for a variety of purposes 100 years ago. Today it remains as one of the few visible remnants of Elberton. Image by author,2013. View File Details Page

County Financed Grave Marker,2013

County Financed Grave Marker,2013

There are a few of these odd little markers in the Elberton cemetery. These cheap metal placards mark the graves of former residents of the County Poor House which was once located in Elberton for a short time. Those without any land or money that arrived in Elberton were quickly placed in the "Poor House",which fed and housed these souls until they were able to get back on their feet. In many cases,these people died and the county would foot the bill for the cheapest grave marker they could find,and sometimes that did not even happen. Image by author,2013. View File Details Page

Elberton Sawmill

Elberton Sawmill

First constructed in 1996, the Elberton sawmill was one of the largest operations in town. | Source: Image courtesy of the Washington Rural Heritage project. View File Details Page

Video

From "Up and Comer" to Ghost Town

Elberton resident, John Elwood, explains the many waves of industry to enter and leave the Elberton area and how this affected the small bedroom community.

Audio courtesy of John Elwood. View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Robert M. Lambeth, “Ghost Town of Elberton,” Spokane Historical, accessed July 22, 2017, http://spokanehistorical.org/items/show/358.

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