Historic Information

A little history about this building and the family

Built by Willis Mercer

Our great-grandfather Willis Mercer, who rode horseback into the Yakima Valley as a young man going west in 1886. He cowboyed for the legendary Northwest cattle baron Ben Snipes.  

Horse Heaven Hills are named for the horses (and later wild horses) Snipes ran to graze up there. Willis said the native bunch grass was belly high on the horse when he first rode into the Valley. He decided he liked the area and purchased a mile wide strip of land from Mabton to the Columbia River, approximately 30 miles long to raise sheep.

In 1904 or 1905 he sold all of his sheep to concentrate on helping develop downtown Prosser. Through time Willis made large investments in Prosser real estate, particularly the business district. During this time Willis served on bank boards, city council and did philanthropic endeavors.

The major building Willis built was the Mercer Building. It was the “hub” of commercial activities in Prosser’s early years.  The 18,000 sq ft, 2-story building featured 3 commercial real estate fronts housing through the years grocery, equipment and hardware stores.  The second floor contained 6 two room office suites, housing a variety of professional services.  Two large ballrooms were used for various activities including the public library, the local newspaper, a meeting place for the National Guard and many other public uses.

Willis eventually turned the office spaces into living quarters for all his children when they married.  They rented the ~400 sq ft two room suites for $5-$6 a month.  As Grandpa Milt later would say, the price was right!  They were very popular with the family.  Willis maintained ownership until his death in 1941 when the building was sold by his estate.

Today the Mercer family is still an integral part of Prosser and the south central agricultural community.  The Mercer Building is truly a family heirloom!  In recent years it has housed the Walter Clore Wine and Culinary offices; Mercer Estates Winery offices (rumor has it the winery got its start over a poker game in one of the ballrooms); animation studios; photography studio; gourmet restaurant; Alexandria Nicole Cellars and Coyote Canyon wineries; and currently houses a gym, WSU international visiting faculty and doctoral students and one of Willis’s great-great granddaughters and her husband as they start their marriage.

There’s more on the history of the building and the family in a couple little books we’ve left in each suite. Please enjoy!

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