George Washington’s Kin: Ephrata Makes History Again

by Kathleen Kiefer

The full story has finally emerged, and who thought it would tie the first president of the United States with a small house in Ephrata Washington with a Civil War veteran, the building of the Grand Coulee Dam, and the career of a distinguished state Senator? It does, and it’s a meaningful journey, though brief, that starts with the first American colonies of Virginia and ends with the stellar legislative and legal career of Nat Washington, fifth great-grand nephew of George Washington.

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Photo by Keith and Sadie Dogle

The story doesn’t begin at 42 C Street in Ephrata, a cozy two-story house nestled beneath a canopy of trees across from the Grant County Courthouse, but it ends there. At least the remnants of the story now reside beneath the roof of the beautifully remodeled home where Nat Washington Sr., former County Prosecuting attorney lived and where he raised his three children, including Nat Jr. and twin girls Roberta and Glenora. It’s also where Nat Jr. lived with his wife Wanda and where they raised their two sons Tom and Nat III.

Mike Scellick, owner of Ephrata Athletic Club and Sole Performance, now owns the house. Mike grew up in Ephrata and has blessed future generations of citizens with his love and commitment to local history. After buying the house in 2010 he began the process of remodeling and installing pictorial displays that portray the history of the Washington family. The recent compilation of a Washington family history narrative is his latest investment in the history of the house and the family.

The narrative begins with the Virginia Colony and young George Washington who was hired by Englishman Thomas Fairfax as an assistant to survey 5.2 million acres of Virginia land that Lord Fairfax had inherited. The listener is quickly struck by the fact that in the 17th century, there was no United States and yes, England owned it all. But that’s what oral history does sometimes, catches the listener unprepared for the bare-boned details of the past

George and Martha Washington had no children, but George had four full brothers, a sister and two half brothers. George Washington’s siblings and their families owned property in the Shenandoah Valley and surrounding areas. In a brisk narrative that includes music and sound effects and interviews with Nat Washington Jr., and one of his relatives, the story moves through the Civil War and the circumstances of the Washington Families in the Valley during and after the war.

The Washington’s were aristocratic, well-educated people of substance and stature. They were dedicated farmers and Christians following doctrine of The Church of England. They owned large plantations and looked after hundreds of slaves. The Civil War changed their lives forever.

In the aftermath of the war, several Washington family members moved to the state that bore their name. Settling in Spokane, Jim Washington went to work for Weyerhaeuser. Within a few years, his brother, sister and Civil War Veteran father moved to Spokane.

From there the story unfolds like a pioneer novel. From Spokane to a homestead on land near the site of where Grand Coulee Dam now sits, the family struggles with harsh conditions, draught, death, and progress as the growing desire to build Grand Coulee Dam became more than just a passionate rumor.

It is at here the audience learns about Nat Washington Sr.’s role in making Grand Coulee Dam possible: An unsung hero in an amphitheater of hero’s that had their hand on the wheel. Nat Washington Sr. played a pivotal role in making sure that President Roosevelt knew about the dream to build the dam. His tragic and untimely death in 1926 meant a passionate spokesman and leader would no longer play a role in the mighty cause of building a dam at Grand Coulee.

True to the legacy of family leadership emerges Nat Washington II. He grew up, in part, on the rugged reaches of his grandfather’s homestead on the Columbia River, riding horseback to Ephrata on occasion. Most of the time he spent living in the house at 42 C Street. He went on to serve several terms as Washington State Senator. He was the attorney for Grant County PUD and led important negotiations that led to financing which made possible the construction of Priest Rapids and Wanapum Dams. He also helped orchestrate the agreement between the utility and the Wanapum Band of Indians living at Priest Rapids before construction of the dam.

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The greatest revelation is that the Nat Washington House at 42 C Street is now the only public repository in the country containing historic Washington family records. They were brought west by Bushrod Corbin Washington, George’s 4th great-grand nephew when he moved to Spokane.

The historic Nat Washington House in Ephrata is a state treasure. It can be rented for overnight stays, special events or meetings. Copies of Washington family personal papers, diaries, letters and photographs can be viewed by appointment.

For reservations to stay at the historic house or to review the documents, call (509) 754-4300.

Kathleen Kiefer is a prolific writer, photographer, filmmaker and long time Soap Lake resident. Her photographs have appeared in annual reports, calendars, websites, posters, cards, in books, film, advertising. She is the author of numerous articles for the hydro-power industry publications, annual reports, documentary film scripts, regional publications, and local newspapers. Kathleen has completed numerous documentaries, shorts and commercials. Her films have won silver and bronze Telly Awards, gold AVA awards, Telly Peoples Choice, and a Bullitt Foundation Icicle Prize.

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