From the outside, the Perkins House in Colfax might look like it’s in great shape for being 134 years old, but inside, volunteers at the historical museum are seeing the effects of time.
The foundation of the home, built by Colfax founder James Allen Perkins, is beginning to crack. Some windows and doors are becoming difficult to open, an indication that major structural work is needed, said Nancy Rothwell, museum coordinator. “It’s going to take quite a bit of digging.”
The Whitman County Historical Society has raised $15,000 of the expected $50,000 required for repairs to the cement walls and masonry. In June, the society was forced to cancel one of its biggest annual fundraisers, an ice cream social, because of COVID-19 restrictions. To raise money for the project during the pandemic, members came up with a different way to bring people together. Saturday, the group will take people back in time with a physically distanced show of Victorian-era dress and activities. Donations will be accepted for the project, and food will be collected for the Colfax Food Bank.
Perkins was 29 when he came to the area in 1870 to farm and set up a sawmill. The cabin he built holds the record as the oldest standing structure in Whitman County. He married Sarah Jane (Jennie) Ewert in 1873, and they lived in the cabin, where their four children were born, until 1887 when they moved into the adjacent two-story Victorian home Perkins had constructed.
“Mr. Perkins was a real visionary,” Rothwell said. “When he built that house, he knew electricity would show up some day. In 1886 he had it wired for electricity. The people in town thought he was crazy. Seven years later, electricity came to town, and Perkins House lit up immediately.”
The home was the center of Colfax society until 1920, when Perkins died. The historical society purchased the house in 1970, stripped it down and restored it to period accuracy. It’s used as a venue for meetings, parties and weddings.
Saturday, volunteers will model replica and vintage dresses from the 1880s to 1900s in three live scenes outside the mansion. Costumed volunteers will act out a tea party, an active game of croquet and relax on an old-fashioned, two-person swing, a popular form of summer entertainment in the late 1800s, Rothwell said.
Vintage dresses from the era can be worn only by very small people, usually high school-aged girls or younger, Rothwell said. An anonymous donor created 15 replica outfits from the era for others to wear.
Volunteers are being grouped by family ties to help protect them against exposure to the virus.
The event will include a variety of other safety measures, and people are invited to participate according to their comfort level, she said.
For the lowest amount of contact with others, visitors can drive by and briefly view the vignettes from their vehicles. Masked and gloved volunteers will be available to accept donations.
A garden walk-through is an option to get a closer look. The grass will be marked with arrows and lines to indicate paths for viewers. Brief, self-guided tours of the inside of Perkins House also will be available.
Masks are required and will be provided, along with hand sanitizer.
In the event of inclement weather, and depending on the COVID-19 status of Whitman County, the event could be canceled or held on a smaller scale inside the house.
Donations also are being accepted online at whitmancountyhistoricalsociety.org, where a photo tour of the house is available to view.