Govan started as a railway station on the Central Washington Railway in 1889 named after construction engineer R.D. Govan. In 1890 a natural gravel vein was discovered influencing the route of the train and by 1898 creating a small town of merchants and rail workers. There were two saloons, a store and later a post office. It was a wild time in the wild west and the best way to get around was still horse, and most often without buggy unless in town. There was a mix of farmers, railroad workers and merchants.
Just as it seemed Govan would settle into a life of wheat farming and small town politics a tragedy happened that shook the community to the core. ‘Judge’ J.A. Lewis and his wife were found murdered on their property in 1902. Mr Lewis was known to always have cash, and would sometimes loan out money to people in hard times around Govan. Apparently while he slept in his bed he was krept up on and butchered with an axe. His wife was found similarly murdered out in the barn where her body was sloppily hidden under some straw. It is thought that the killer first encountered the wife, and that the murder weapon used on Mr Lewis came from the barn, leading to much speculation.
It was about a year later that a man was gunned down in one of the saloons. He was saying he knew who killed ‘Judge’ Lewis when suddenly a man burst into the main street saloon in broad daylight with a cloth pulled up over his face and shot him dead, then as the crowd stood around dumbfounded the killer made his escape by horseback. A posse was quickly rounded up and the man was pursued up into Wallace Canyon, a place well known for the criminal element. Rather than risking further incident they turned back and so the shooter was never identified. It was said that the killer was connected to a family of local outlaws that were active in the area and known for violence, but no evidence was ever secured and the brutal murders went unsolved. For a while after the shootings any citizen that could arm themselves did, as paranoia swept through Govan like a cold bitter wind.
Life went on and in 1905 Govan received a new school, a bright red one with a bell tower that would call the kids from the nearby small town as well as the further away homesteads in the fields of wheat. It was a magnificently ornate two room school situated not far from the tracks and silos that carried away the grain and ushered in the small town prosperity. Sometimes the school was used for church functions and social gatherings.
For a while everything was status quo in the small sleepy farm town of Govan. Slowly new technologies, like cars, trucks and motorized combines were introduced and the mechanized era of farming begun. Then suddenly in 1927 a fire started in the business district that burned the saloons, stores and other businesses. There was some rebuilding but Govan never could properly recover with the competition of nearby Wilbur and even to a lesser extent Almira and in 1933 a new highway bypassed Govan completely cutting it off and stranding it in the fields of wheat that once supported it.
Govan is now more memories and stories than buildings and gunslingers, with the school being the only real accessible building to Govan’s past. It is a place to be honored, and shown respect as it is the last of a deteriorating set of artifacts that tie us directly with our past.
((pictures from 2016, 2017 and 2018))