Wine, Whiskey, and Wild Wild Women

Walla Walla has a lot of churches, giving an appearance the city is rather a teetotaling area. Oh my, those who think teetotalism was dominant in the little southeastern town are misguided.

An 1897 newspaper ad for Bachtold & Achermann.

In the 1800s, there was a legend that for every one church in Walla Walla, there were four saloons. These saloons were serving up “fire water” and “corn squeezins,” or known to the more citified as whiskey. Counting up the churches during that time frame, Walla Walla had seven churches. You do the math.

An 1889 newspaper ad for California Wine House.

An 1889 newspaper ad for California Wine House.

Today, with the current growth of tourism due to the wineries and the assortment of restaurant fare, some critics claim the wine scene is new to the Valley – and they couldn’t be more wrong. In the mid-1800s, with the settlement of the French and the Hudson’s Bay Company, the French brought many of their Old World traditions with them – and one of those traditions was dining with wine.  Families from Italy came to our area later during the same century. The Italians brought their knowledge of growing wine grapes and winemaking.

An 1889 newspaper ad for California Wine House.

An 1889 newspaper ad for California Wine House.

At the start of the new 1900s, the city fathers recognized their strength was in tourism, especially courting the miners from Idaho. They built hotels and fine dining establishments. There were at least a dozen wine and fine liquor merchants that popped up in the city. In the merchant’s basements were barrels of wine brought in via the railroad, along with wine produced and traded by the local Italians. Unfortunately, the 1920s brought Prohibition, which stopped the sales of alcohol. Walla Walla would make its claim to wine once again in the late 20th century.

Like the name “Walla” and how it repeats itself, so does the history of Walla Walla. And about those “wild wild women?” Well – that’s a story for another time.

By Catie McIntyre Walker


For more information, check out “Wines of the Walla Walla Valley: A Deep-Rooted History.” The book is also available through Book & Game Co. and The Downtown Walla Walla Foundation. Union-Bulletin photos and ads courtesy of Joe Drazan, Bygone Walla Walla.