Landmarks: Peavine Jimmy’s barn holds intriguing history

James “Peavine Jimmy” Walton’s threshing barn is credited as being the second oldest standing structure in Spokane County, and its history and the background story of Walton are as intriguing as the name might suggest.
James “Peavine Jimmy” Walton’s threshing barn is credited as being the second oldest standing structure in Spokane County, and its history and the background story of Walton are as intriguing as the name might suggest.

Peavine Jimmy’s Threshing Barn is credited as being the second oldest standing structure in Spokane County – and its history and the background story of Peavine Jimmy are as intriguing as the name might suggest.

Tracing the building through history was not entirely traditional, as it wasn’t well documented in some of the usual records, but historians and researchers have discovered the story, mostly relying on oral accounts and notations made by pioneer settlers. It was somewhat circuitous and ultimately fascinating, said Stephen Emerson, program director with Archaeological and Historical Services at Eastern Washington University and one of the researchers.

The threshing barn was likely constructed in the late 1870s. It’s at the confluence of the Spokane and Little Spokane rivers, near the site of the long-gone Spokane House, the historic fur trading post built in 1810. The barn and the Spokane House Interpretive Center are now within the boundaries of Riverside State Park and owned by the state. The barn is a half mile off Nine Mile Road along the paved road to the park’s boat ramp, some 10 miles northwest of Spokane.

It has been pretty clearly determined that it was one of several buildings put up by James “Peavine Jimmy” Walton as part of his foraging (supply) station along the Colville Road, the oldest of the pioneer wagon roads that connected the Snake and Columbia rivers with the Colville area.

The barn is the only structure remaining and is a double-crib log barn with two 18-by-18-foot enclosed areas separated by an open space in the middle, with the log walls facing the open breezeway shortened into half walls. The peeled logs, most likely Douglas fir, were placed about an inch apart allowing for ventilation and joined at the corners with V-notch construction. A 2009 cultural resources study showed evidence that for part of its history, the north area of the barn was used to house animals.

Spokane Indians were also present at the threshing barn site, both before and after it was used by white settlers. The study revealed numerous artifacts, including a soapstone mold for casting fixed cross-bar brooches (and possibly buckles), which Emerson said is the first evidence in the Pacific Northwest of the probable manufacture of such a regionally uncommon item.

The original roof was in near collapse by the early 1940s when a Rogers High School history class made a project of replacing it, using peeled logs from Mount Spokane State Park that were put in place replicating the same construction methods used by Walton. That roof held until the heavy snows of December 2008 brought it down and the state set about putting on a new roof as part of its threshing barn rehabilitation project, designed to preserve this relic of pioneer days.

There is quite a bit of legend, some contradictory, about Walton, with one account calling him a quiet teetotaler and another as a man afflicted by the need for “devil rum.” What is known is that he was born in 1830 in Pennsylvania, that he joined the gold rush in California and eventually moved on to the Fraser River area of British Columbia where he worked a claim that brought him $160 a day in gold.

He then got into the freighting business, taking pack trains throughout the Northwest. Along the way, he honed his skills as a carpenter. But it was during his days in Canada that he fed pea vines to his pack horses and oxen to help keep them alive in the winter – and thus his nickname was born.

After establishing his foraging station along the Spokane River, he moved to the Chattaroy area in 1882 and set up another foraging station along the Cottonwood Road, which provided a shorter journey into Spokane than the Colville Road. There is some evidence that he may have operated both stations at the same time, and he would still occasionally head north for some prospecting trips.

Described as a shy and retiring man who was fiercely independent, Walton, wound up nearly broke and in 1902 apparently spent the last of what he had left for train fare to Ohio, where his family had moved when he was a boy. He was 72 when he left and died that year.

On a side note: The oldest structure in the county is the Bassett family cabin in the Granite Lake area. It was likely built in 1874.

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