Graves, Jay P. (1859-1948)

  • By Laura Arksey
  • Posted 4/01/2006
  • Essay 7721
Few entrepreneurs have been more important to the development of Spokane and the Inland Northwest or involved in a broader range of endeavors than Jay P. Graves. Arriving in Spokane from Illinois in 1887, he became modestly successful in real estate. After the Panic of 1893, he profited from the fall of others to build (and eventually lose) a major fortune in mining, railroads, and real estate. Graves put his stamp on Spokane with his urban and suburban developments, while his city and interurban railroads contributed to the growth and prosperity of Spokane and the surrounding area. His donations of land, although prompted more by self-interest than altruism, nevertheless resulted in Spokane’s Manito Park and a new campus for Whitworth College. For many years, Graves’s respite from business cares was his English-style model farm on the Little Spokane River. Although his personal fortunes eventually declined, Graves would be remembered for “his contributions for the betterment of quality of life, the business community, agriculture, mining, railroad building [which]… greatly enhanced Spokane’s stature as a city, its growth and development” (Moldovan, 54).

Early Years

Jay P. Graves was born in St. Mary’s, Illinois, in 1859, to John J. Graves and Orilla Berry Graves. He and his brothers helped on the family farm and attended local schools. In 1880, Jay graduated from nearby Carthage College, also the alma mater of his older brother Frank. Jay then engaged in the hardware business at Plymouth, Illinois. He married Amanda Cox in 1880, and they had one son, Clyde.

Frank Graves had already established himself as a lawyer in Spokane Falls, as it was then called, when Jay and his family arrived in 1887. With partner Charles F. Clough, Jay established the real estate firm of Clough & Graves, and in 1890 he became president of the Washington Abstract and Title Guarantee Company. In 1892, Graves ran for mayor, with support of the local newspapers, but was defeated by the popular Daniel M. Drumheller. The Panic of 1893, with bank failures, mortgage foreclosures, and a stock market crash, bankrupted most of Spokane’s founding fathers and long-established entrepreneurs. Because newcomer Graves’s enterprises were not large enough to be over-extended, his losses were smaller, and he would emerge from the depression in a position to profit from the fall of the titans.

The Smelter at Granby

In 1895, Graves became aware of mining opportunities in the Boundary District of British Columbia, just north of the Washington border, and soon plowed his remaining assets into copper production. He spent several years trying to convince potential investors that the processing of low-grade surface copper could be profitable. As a result of experiments by his young mining engineer, Abel B. W. Hodges, Graves finally was able to persuade wealthy Canadians and Eastern Americans to invest in what eventually became his Granby Consolidated Mining and Smelting Company. By 1899, the Granby smelter was completed above the town of Grand Forks, B.C., and on April 11, 1900, it ran its first batch -- ore delivered by wagon from Graves’s mine near Phoenix, B.C. The Granby operation became truly viable when the Canadian Pacific Railway agreed to build a spur to the Granby smelter, hauling its first ore in June 1900. (The threat of competition from James J. Hill’s [1838-1916] Great Northern helped the process along: Over the years Graves’s and Hill’s interests were intertwined and sometimes adversarial.)

The history of the Granby, with fluctuating copper prices and profits, plus the machinations of its backers, is incredibly complex, but by 1906 the Granby Mine accounted for nearly three-fourths of the mineral wealth pouring out of the Boundary District. The Granby smelter shipped its “matte” (molten copper sulfide) as far as New York and Liverpool, England, and was touted at one time as the largest copper operation in the British Empire. In 1912 it produced record tonnage and paid its investors $450,000 in dividends, while retaining a surplus. In 1913, citing health problems, Graves resigned as general manager, but continued as a director and vice president until 1916. On June 14, 1919 “the last carload of ore rattled down the mountain road [from Phoenix, B.C.] to Grand Forks” (Fahey, 86).

Real Estate and Railroads

Closer to home, Jay P. Graves had turned his interest to Spokane property development and to railroads -- both urban and interurban. A large swath of the picturesque basalt-strewn “South Hill,” the Montrose Park Addition, had long been the property of Francis H. Cook (1851-1920), owner of the Spokane & Montrose, the first motorized street railway in Spokane. With the Panic of 1983, Cook’s lenders foreclosed, and eventually land speculators, including Jay P. Graves, were able to acquire most of his original properties at bargain prices: " ... in his customary style, Graves set out to make an investment of almost nothing into an enterprise worth millions" (Fahey, 35). Graves and other partners formed the Spokane-Washington Improvement Company to develop and sell properties in their new Manito Addition, between 14th Avenue on the north, 33rd on the south, Hatch to the east, and Division to the west.

Graves purchased Cook’s Spokane & Montrose Street Railway in 1902, and on February 1, 1903, he and his partners reorganized it as the Spokane Traction Company, soon converting it from narrow- to standard-gauge track. Far more valuable than the meager rolling stock were the already established rights-of-way. Now with prime land to plat and sell and a street railway to serve new residents, Graves was in a position to prosper.

Initially the company purchased power for its electric trolleys from Washington Water Power, ironically a competitor in the street railway business. In 1909, with completion of his Nine Mile Falls Dam on the Spokane River, Graves had his own source of hydroelectric power as well as a surplus to sell.

Developing Spokane

Realizing that a park and city services would attract home seekers to buy lots, Graves and his Spokane-Washington Improvement Company struck a deal with the city: a donation of land for Manito Park in exchange for extending a water system and more roads to the area. Graves and others secured the renowned landscape architectural firm of the Olmsted Brothers of Brookline, Massachusetts, to lay out beautiful street and lot configurations in the Manito Addition and adjoining Rockwood extension, further attracting Spokane’s newly wealthy. The streetcar “rode a parklike shoulder” alongside Rockwood Boulevard” where “an address immediately identified one as a south-side brahmin” (Fahey, 48).

Graves’s street railways also extended to neighborhoods where he did not own property, such as Corbin Park to the north, Hillyard to the northeast, as well as semi-rural Lincoln Heights to the southeast. In 1908 Spokane Traction was sold to the Spokane and Inland Empire Railway (S&IE), another Graves enterprise, but continued to operate as a division of the S&IE. In 1922 Spokane Traction Company and its competitor, the Washington Water Power Company, merged their lines to form Spokane United Railways. Conversion to buses began in the 1930s, and the last electric trolley service ended in 1936.

The Interurbans

At the same time, Graves was also involved in the development of electric interurban railways that would link Spokane to other towns in Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho. Idaho lumberman Frederick A. Blackwell (1852-1922) had begun organizing what would become the Coeur d’Alene & Spokane Railway, had it in operation by 1903 and, in a partnership with Graves, gained access to Spokane through a connection with his street railway. In Coeur d’Alene, the train connected with the Red Collar Line’s steamboat service on Lake Coeur d’Alene. To increase summer and holiday ridership, Graves and Blackwell opened beaches and amusement parks on Coeur d’Alene, Hayden, and Liberty lakes.

Soon the Graves and Blackwell partnership, with additional investors, developed a line southward into the Palouse country, eventually called the Spokane and Inland Empire Railroad Company, with terminuses at Colfax, Washington, and Moscow, Idaho. For years, both of these railroads were busy hauling passengers as well as freight. The beautiful S&IE Terminal Building in Spokane served the interurbans as well as the Spokane Traction trolleys. For nine of the towns along the route, Architect Albert Held designed handsome bungalow-style depots. In 1909, major S&IE shareholder, James J. Hill, who also directed the affairs of both the Great Northern and the Northern Pacific, bought the Spokane & Inland Empire, but Graves stayed on as president. During the 1910s and 1920s it was bought and sold and changed names several times, eventually becoming unprofitable. Soon the automobile, freight trucking, and improved highways doomed the colorful and useful interurban era: The last electric passenger trains arrived at Moscow, Idaho, in April 1939, and at Coeur d’Alene in July 1940.

Whitworth College

Although a railroad man, Jay P. Graves joined, rather than fought, the automobile/road era. By 1912, he owned some 3,000 acres in a logged-over area north of Spokane. He wanted to sell it off in sizeable plots and, for this purpose, organized the Country Homes Development Company. In order to attract buyers, he proposed to connect the area to town with paved roads and bus service.

In addition, upon learning of the desire of Whitworth College, a Presbyterian institution in Tacoma, to relocate, he donated enough land for a campus and additional land to be marketed as home sites, with half the proceeds going to the college. Groundbreaking for the first Whitworth building occurred on May 22, 1914. Graves became devoted to the college, serving on its board of trustees for the rest of his life. When he died in California in 1948, his ashes were shipped to Spokane to be scattered on the campus.

Dairy Farming

It was as a gentleman farmer that Jay P. Graves probably gained the most satisfaction in his life. For some time, he had owned about 700 acres along the Little Spokane River eight miles north of Spokane. The well-watered meadows along the river were not only ideal for grazing cattle, but provided bucolic scenes rivaling paintings by the British landscape artist John Constable. Incongruously, this farm was named Waikiki, according to some sources, at the suggestion of son Clyde who enjoyed Hawaii. With proceeds from the 1909 sale of the Spokane & Inland Empire system to James J. Hill, Graves could afford to build his dream house there. He commissioned illustrious Spokane architect Kirtland Cutter to build a “dignified manor” (Fahey, 89) reminiscent of English stately homes, completed in 1912 or 1913 (sources vary). For the grounds and gardens, he engaged the same Olmsted Brothers firm whose influence was already so evident in Spokane.

Amanda Graves for some time had suffered from a heart condition that confined her largely to Waikiki. She died in 1920, and within months, Jay married an Illinois widow 20 years his junior, Mary Alice Hardin Towne. The new Mrs. Graves would become active in Spokane society.

In 1914, Graves began dairy farming in earnest when he established his prize-winning purebred Jersey herd. In its heyday, the Waikiki stock was the largest purebred Jersey operation in the West. Graves’s model farm provided stock for purchasers of small agricultural plots in another of his real estate enterprises, Milan Farms, an area of logged-over “stump farms” just north of Waikiki. With an eye to improving stock in the broader region, Graves donated hundreds of bull calves to clubs and agriculture programs through Washington State College and the University of Idaho. Considered one of the most modern dairy farms in the Pacific Northwest, Waikiki hosted annual demonstration projects for farmers and agriculture students.

Although Jay P. Graves always maintained an affluent lifestyle, at times his wealth was more apparent than real. During a general business slump following World War I, and with his “money largely tied up in real estate, Graves’s finances tottered; he wrote one mortgage to pay another” (Fahey, 95, 96). Even earlier, he had not hesitated to pay the Olmsteds for their landscape designs at Waikiki with largely worthless Spokane & Inland Empire stock. While real estate sales lagged, Graves again sought to recoup his fortunes through mining ventures. However, his “old alchemy betrayed him; he could not easily raise capital after investors’ losses in the Spokane & Inland Empire bonds” (Fahey, 99).

Last Years

During the late twenties, Graves began selling Waikiki livestock and laying off his farm help, paying some with mining stock. In 1934, he and his wife moved back into Spokane and in 1937, he sold Waikiki to settle his debts. Although most of the original stock had been dispersed, the Waikiki trademark continued as a commercial dairy operation for several decades. The house is now a retreat and conference center of Gonzaga University, and the surrounding farmlands have become part of suburbia. During the last few years of his life, Jay and Mrs. Graves lived at the Huntington Hotel in Pasadena, California, where Jay died on April 27, 1948, at the age of 88.

Sources: Tony and Suzanne Bamonte, Manito Park; a Reflection of Spokane’s Past, Centennial Edition (Spokane: Tornado Creek Publications, 2004), 38-49; Margaret Bean, “Waikiki Beauty Spot on Little Spokane,” Spokesman-Review, December 18, 1956; Timothy H. Blosser, “Early History of the Dairy Industry in the Inland Northwest,” Pacific Northwesterner, Vol. 45, No. 1 (April, 2001), pp. 11-16; John Fahey, Shaping Spokane: Jay P. Graves and His Times (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1994); Henry C. Matthews, Kirtland Cutter: Architect in the Land of Promise (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1998), 281-285; Bill Moldovan, Ag Bureau History, 1890-1990 (Spokane: Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce, 1991), 54-58; Charles V. Mutschler, Spokane’s Street Railways (Spokane: Inland Empire Railway Historical Society, 1987), 58-66. Carlos A. Schwantes, Railroad Signatures Across the Pacific Northwest (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1993), 171-176; Wilmer H. Siegert, “Spokane’s Interurban Era,” Pacific Northwesterner, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Spring, 1973), pp. 18-28.

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You