Built in 1899 with a $50,000 gift from Dr. Daniel K. Pearsons, the Memorial Building was named to honor Dr. Marcus and Narcissa Prentiss Whitman. Various college functions have occupied this building: classrooms, chapel, library, science labs, administrative offices. The clock was given by an unknown donor and the Walla Walla Gas and Electric Co., made sure the clock was lit at night; Walla Walla City Council paid for the electrical connections; Z.K. Straight and N.F. Butler installed the clock free of charge, and Al Lowe and Co. hauled the ‘many’ boxes containing the clock from the railroad to the college free.
The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. It is the oldest and tallest (111 feet) building on campus. Since 1983, depending upon the weather, Commencement has been held from Memorial’s south steps.
In 1903 President Teddy Roosevelt spoke to a large crowd from the same location.” Source: “The Developing Campus 1859-2002.”
President Teddy Roosevelt arriving on Whitman College campus, 1903.
The Memorial Clock Tower chimes every hour, once for the half hour mark and the hour number on the hour mark. In fall 2010, Memorial underwent a major seismic retrofitting project, to reconstruct the foundation to stand up to earthquakes. Besides those few months, people associated with Whitman College and nearby Walla Wallans enjoy the comforting sound of the bell tower, which has rung proudly since the building was constructed. It chimes 180 times a day, 5,400 times a month, 65,700 times a year (excepting leap years). It is a landmark on campus, reaching above the tree tops, and has become an icon in Whitman publications.