Local couple takes haunted hospital by storm

Colfax residents seek to transform St. Ignatius into vibrant community space

Ghost+stories+around+St.+Ignatius+have+circulated+since+1968%2C+when+it+was+decommissioned.+Now%2C+the+Storms+are+set+to+transform+it+into+Colfaxs+hottest+attraction.

MASON MARON

Ghost stories around St. Ignatius have circulated since 1968, when it was decommissioned. Now, the Storms are set to transform it into Colfax’s hottest attraction.

FRANKIE BEER, Evergreen Photographer

Seven years ago, Austin and Laura Storm stumbled upon an abandoned hospital and were amazed at how beautiful yet run-down it was. 

They knew they needed to restore the building and prevent it from becoming a lost piece of Colfax history, so the Storms bought St. Ignatius in April 2021.  After restoring it, they plan to eventually turn St. Ignatius into a community space.

Austin said it is important to preserve buildings like St. Ignatius because they are irreplaceable and provide community members with a tangible connection to a different time. 

“Finding old things that feel undervalued and showing people the beauty and value of them is something of a through line in our work,” Austin said. 

Austin and Laura’s passion for renovation extends to their secondhand clothing store in Moscow, the Storm Cellar, and their vintage home decor store in Colfax, Bully for You. 

These projects inspired the couple’s modern ideas for the future of St. Ignatius. Austin said the four-story building is too big to choose just one idea. Austin and Laura want to use St. Ignatius as a hospitality complex with a restaurant and brewery, a studio space for artists or even a classroom space. Preservation of the building is the couple’s primary goal. 

“I think that when you’re in the building, you feel a sense of loss because it is clearly a place that a lot of love and care was put into its inception, and it represented the desire to help other people,” Austin said. “My response to that is to want to fix it and care for it.”

In the meantime, the Colfax Chamber of Commerce schedules haunted tours and overnight investigations in St. Ignatius throughout October and November. The proceeds from the tours are split between the Colfax Chamber and the Storms to aid their restoration efforts. 

During haunted tours, guides explain the history of St. Ignatius and tell stories of paranormal activity they encounter in the building. They also provide tour groups with equipment like SLS cameras to detect ghosts. There is no electricity in the building, so tour groups make their way through St. Ignatius in the dark, guided only by their flashlights. 

Valoree Gregory, Whitman County Historical Society director, said guides have taken over 13,000 people on tours of the building. Visitors come from around the country to experience the historical tours and seven-hour overnight investigations at St. Ignatius. 

Gregory said she experienced many paranormal occurrences during the past seven years at St. Ignatius. Once, when she went on a tour with a high school group, they heard people running up the stairs.

“We leaned over the stairway, looking all the way down to the very bottom with our flashlights,” Gregory said. “There was nothing on the stairs. And so I went toward the noise, and as soon as I got to a certain stairwell, it just stopped. It was super eerie.” 

Although the haunted tours are sold out through October and November, Gregory said she hopes to add December tours. 

Gregory said St. Ignatius was the first hospital in Whitman County and was built by a 70-year-old nun named Mother Joseph. Mother Joseph was the first architect in Washington state: a rare feat for a woman in the 1800s. St Ignatius served as Whitman County’s hospital until 1968 when it was decommissioned.

Seven years ago, the Washington State Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation named St. Ignatius the number one most endangered historic building in Washington state. The Whitman County Historical Society then approved the Storm couple’s preservation project for St. Ignatius.

“If all I can get done is preserving the building for the next generation … I will be happy,” Austin said.