Grain Silo and Dumas Seed Warehouse
Downtown Pullman's tallest structure, this 75-foot concrete grain silo, built in 1954 for the Pullman Grain Growers, is a physical reminder of the region's principal crop: wheat. The ability to cultivate wheat on the rolling hills of the surrounding Palouse has been vital to the economic development of Pullman for more than a century, and since 1978, Whitman County has been the largest wheat-producing county in United States. Just down Grand Avenue from the silo is the Dumas Seed Warehouse. In the early 1960s, the visionary legume grower Edwin A. Dumas (1910-1978) purchased a prefabricated building from the Butler Manufacturing Company in Galesburg, Illinois, and had it shipped, by rail, to Pullman for the storage of locally-grown peas and lentils. Dumas earned international fame in the 1960s for initiating the sale of dry pea products from Pullman to Japan, and his pioneering work helped area farmers recognize that legumes could be used as rotation crops by restoring the nitrogen stripped from the soil by grains. Inside the building, some of the machinery once employed in the pea-storing process still remains.
Backstory and Context
Farming, particularly the cultivation of wheat, has been an important industry in Washington since the 1820s. Hudson’s Bay Company outposts were the first to grow the crop in the area using seeds brought from Europe. Pioneer settlers began wheat farming in Walla Walla, but the practice soon spread north to the Columbia Plateau and east to the Palouse.1
Wheat farming appeared in the Palouse region, near present-day Pullman, by the 1880s. According to an overview of Northwest wheat farming printed by the Oregon Wheat Commission and Washington State Department of Agriculture, “Wheat Supply and Distribution,” it quickly became clear that the Palouse was a natural environment to grow wheat with rich soil that is “finely textured, fertile and highly retentive of moisture.”2
Despite the region’s fertile land, it took experimentation over a number of years to find the right strains of wheat that would flourish in the climate of eastern Washington. New technologies increased production, particularly with the arrival of motorized tractors and gas- and diesel-powered combines. However, according to “Wheat Farming in Washington,” by Jim Kershner (available on HistoryLink.org), “Three other factors were even more important [than mechanization]: advances in fertilizer research and availability; collaborations between farmers and scientists to reduce soil erosion and resist diseases; and new wheat strains and genetic crosses.” Scientists like Orville Vogel (1908–1991) at Washington State University developed the new strains. This increase in productivity propelled Whitman County to become one of the top wheat-growing counties in the United States and by 1978, it rose to the top of that list.3 Today, Whitman County continues to be the top wheat-producing county in the country.
Edwin A. Dumas was born in 1910 to parents James L. and Fannie (Storie) Dumas. Edwin’s father was Pullman’s first superintendent of schools and played a key role in forming Pullman’s four-year high.4 The family home was located on College Hill at 725 Ruby Street. Edwin attended Washington State University in Pullman and began working for an implement dealer. He met his wife Edith Evangeline Chanslor (1913–2005) in Pullman and they married on June 11, 1940. They had two children: Edwin (Bud) Jr. (born 1941) and Evangeline (born 1945).
Edwin went into the pea business in 1942 and in 1960, he purchased the Klemgard Pea Co. and changed its name to the Dumas Pea Seed Co. He also purchased the Washburn-Wilson Seed Co. in Moscow, Idaho.
1. Jim Kershner, “Wheat Farming in Washington,” HistoryLink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, http://historylink.org/File/20504, January 19, 2018 (accessed January 29, 2018).
4. Robert Luedeking and the Whitman County Historical Society, Images of America: Pullman (Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2010), 68.