Elberton was first settled by C.D. Wilbur. In 1886, the town was platted and named by Sylvester M. Wait (1822-1891), who in 1878 was among the delegates elected to meet with Governor Elisha Perry and discuss Washington Territory’s becoming the State of Washington. Wait chose the name Elberton to honor his son Elbert F. Wait, who died at the age of 25 the year before Elberton was platted.
Elberton’s heyday only lasted a decade. During this time, it was incorporated as a fourth class town on 24 April 1896. It grew to have a population of 500 and at one time had three churches, two stores, a post office, a sawmill, a flour mill, a railroad (the Oregon-Washington Railroad and Navigation Company) that passed through, and the region’s largest prune dryer. Elberton was also the setting for a major event that was held annually from 1893 to 1924. This event was the most important attraction for the town and it was known as The Elberton Picnic. The Elberton Picnic was a three-day-long fair that was so popular it was known throughout all of Whitman County and the State of Washington and attracted hundreds of visitors. Presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan even gave a speech at the event during his 1896 presidential campaign. His speech and the location of it put all eyes across the nation on the small town of Elberton and visitors from all over the country attended the fair to hear his speech after news got around that he would be there.
Despite that brief moment of national attention, in the early 1900s, a series of unfortunate events struck the still rather young town, and were the main factors to the decline. Firstly, the saw mill was forced to close due to the decline of timber, Elberton’s main industry. Next, in 1907, the Oregon Railway & Navigation Co. closed their rail line that went through Elberton. The following year, a fire broke out, followed by a flood came in 1910, and due to the decline in funds and population, many of the businesses and homes destroyed by the fire and the flood were too costly, and somewhat pointless, to rebuild. Still, the town hung on, until the final straw, which was the Depression in the early 1930s. This hurt the town greatly, and Elberton started to decline even more in population, with people packing up what they could carry and abandoning their homes that they could no longer afford to keep and maintain.
Elberton was disincorporated on 6 December 1966, a status that became official with the Secretary of State of Washington on 14 January 1966. Elberton became part of unincorporated Whitman County, Washington again within four years, when the county acquired the property of the town. One of the results of the county control came shortly after its disestablishment, when the Whitman County Fire Department used the vacant buildings as training purposes for new firefighters, and the abandoned homes and buildings were set ablaze so firemen could practice extinguishing fires. The homes and buildings that remained intact were left to weather whatever natural disasters Mother Nature decided upon.
Currently, about 15 people live in the 200 acre area once was Elberton. Many of the homes and buildings have gone or are partially collapsed, with only their foundations and perennial gardens that still bloom to serve as a reminder of what once was. Visitors coming through the Palouse ghost town can enjoy the few buildings, homes, and landmarks that still remain today, such as the fully intact United Brethren Church, built in 1913, and the Elberton Cemetery. They may also read about the town’s birth and death from the small plaque that was erected on the town’s site.
Update: As of 2014, only the United Brethren Church and two abandoned homes remain. The other homes that are intact are only so because they are occupied. If you wish to see Elberton, do so sooner rather than later, because each year sees another Elberton landmark disappear.
-Researched and written in part by A. Lamonte: writer, hobby historian and ghost town explorer.
Other sources for this information:
(source: History of Washington State, Edmond S. Meany, pg 266).
(source: Exploring Washington, Harry M. Majors, Van Winkle Publishing Co. 1975, Pg 143)