Sunday, July 20, 2008

Postcard from Dayton, WA

June 20, 2008

Today, we planned an ambitious drive from the Post Falls/Coeur d’Alene area to Walla Walla, by way of Grand Coulee Dam, Moses Lake, Palouse Falls State Park and Dayton. There is a lot to see and do along this drive, and we will highlight some of the attractions that should be of interest to everyone.

We had visited Spokane on a previous trip so we continued to the massive Grand Coulee Dam. A must see is the Grand Coulee Arrival Center. The featured documentary movie gave a history of the Dam’s construction during the Depression years. Among the facts that amazed us were the 7,000 undocumented aliens, mostly from Europe, who worked on the project.

Grand Coulee Dam.

Today was the hottest (near 100° F) day we encountered on the drive, so we sought out a shady spot for a picnic lunch. We found just the ticket at Moses Lake, a reservoir linked with the Columbia Basin Project. We enjoyed watching the boaters and fishermen plying the lake to cool off.

We then headed southeast toward Walla Walla. First stop was lovely Palouse Falls State Park. We were fortunate to see this 200-foot-high waterfall with the afternoon sun. Note the “rainbow” embedded in the spray!

Palouse Falls, near Washtucna, WA.

Our intended destination was Walla Walla, but instead we succumbed to the charms of small-town Dayton, 30 miles north on U.S.12, and we decided to spend the night there. In contrast to many of the dusty towns in the arid Palouse Country of eastern Washington and Oregon, Dayton has streets lined with tall leafy trees. Additionally, there are numerous historic neighborhoods replete with beautifully restored and maintained Victorian, and Arts and Crafts houses, well worth a walking tour. An outstanding example, now a museum, is the Queen Anne-style Boldman House, located at 410 1st Street.

Stephen Boldman House, Dayton.

On the east end of town lies a park, where a tiny farmers’ market was in operation this Friday afternoon. There were only six vendors, but we could not pass up the chance to pick up some fresh home-grown cherries and strawberries. The best deal was the opportunity to buy a 10-pound bag of freshly milled whole wheat flour for $5, or 50 cents a pound! Perfect for our weekend pancakes and waffles!

We were willing to settle for a conventional motel for the night, but we remembered reading about the Weinhard Hotel, a historic place in the heart of the tiny downtown. We walked into the lobby, inquired about a room. They had one double left, a handicap unit on the ground floor. When we saw how spacious it was, and considered all the safety features in the bathroom, we took it. There were a bowl of fresh fruits and chocolates awaiting us. The room cost $94, with tax and AAA discount. The continental breakfast, included in the price, consisted of freshly baked muffins, fruit, orange juice, coffee and tea.

The Weinhard Hotel. Note the red "surrey" available to hotel guests. The original entrance to the former Lodge is now part of an art gallery.

The Weinhard has had quite a history. Jacob Weinhard, nephew of Henry Weinhard, the Portland (OR) beer brewer, built the combined Saloon and Lodge in 1890. The Lodge continued in use until 1963. The property then contained a succession of uses, including a Safeway grocery (!), until 1994, when the owners did a total restoration and conversion to a Victorian-style hotel. The present configuration consists of 15 rooms and the lobby/sitting room, which came off a distinctly understated side entrance. Much of the Victorian detailing came from elements preserved from the dismantling of the original Lodge.

The elegant lobby was the setting for late afternoon entertainment (offered Friday and Saturday) by an “older” couple playing vintage tunes on the piano and drums. The hotel provided complimentary sparkling cider and cookies with the concert.

Lobby and registration desk at the Weinhard Hotel.

We decided to have dinner at the Weinhard Café, located right across the street from the hotel. The two chefs/owners, Tiffany Cain and Mae Schrey, serve an eclectic American menu with worldwide influences. Our entrees were lamb meatballs with mint and feta cheese over unleavened bread (decidedly Middle-Eastern in flavor); and beef tenderloin with cranberry and onion relish over potato pancake, accompanied by peapods sautéed in garlic oil. We would recommend the Weinhard Café as an excellent place to eat at modest prices.

Two landmark buildings are located in downtown Dayton. First is the Columbia County Courthouse, built in 1887 in Italianate Victorian style. It was completely restored in 1992 and is in use for County business today. It is the oldest courthouse in continued use in Washington State.

Columbia County Courthouse, Dayton.

The Dayton Historic Depot was built by the Oregon Railroad and Navigation Company in 1881. It is an ornate example of Stick/Eastlake Victorian style. The Depot was in use as a railroad station until 1972 and now serves as the local historical museum.

Dayton Historic Depot, now a museum.

In all, we found Dayton to be a delightful alternative to Walla Walla, and would recommend a stay there.

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