Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Edward Moffitt: Mining Manager, Hardware Store Operator, and University Regent [otd 8/22]

Wallace businessman Edward H. Moffitt was born August 22, 1845 in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, now a part of Pittsburgh. Around 1858, the family moved to Illinois, where Edward grew to young manhood. In January 1864, he joined the Second Illinois Cavalry.
Union Cavalry Chasing Irregulars. Harper’s Weekly Illustration.

Far from the “glamor” of major battles, Edward’s regiment still saw almost continuous marching and much fighting, from northern Florida into western Texas. Long after General Lee surrendered at Appomattox, they chased detached units of the Confederate Army and bands of irregulars. Edward mustered out at San Antonio in January, 1866, and returned home to Illinois.

Moffitt ran a grocery store for two years before heading west to try his hand in the gold fields. He prospected in the Dakotas and Utah, then spent over a decade in the Colorado mines. Then, in late 1879, Edward joined the rush into the lead-silver mines along the Wood River [blog, April 26].

In 1884, however, Moffitt decided the Coeur d’Alene mining districts had greater potential. He located first at Eagle City, on Prichard Creek, where he opened the camp’s first meat market and invested in various mining claims. However, within two years, he became associated with the new town of Murray, located about three miles to the southeast. (Eagle City soon became a ghost town.)

Then, in 1887, Edward recognized even greater potential in the mines around the new town of Wallace, and moved there. Moffitt remained heavily invested in mining properties, but it’s likely he also moved his meat market to Wallace.

At about this time, the consortium led by Amasa Campbell [blog April 6] began investing in Coeur d’Alene mines. Over the next few years, Edward joined several of their ventures. Thus, when the group acquired and re-organized the Coeur d’Alene Hardware Company, Moffitt became the firm’s Secretary-Treasurer. Campbell was Vice-President. An Illustrated History published in 1899 said, “They deal in mining and mill supplies and all kinds of general hardware and have one of the most extensive hardware stores in the west.”
Wallace, ca 1898. Illust-North.

As part of the Campbell consortium, Moffitt also owned shares in the Standard and Hecla mines. In 1899, he became General Manager for their properties throughout the Coeur d’Alene area. Two years later, his duties expanded in an unlikely way. After the timekeeper at the Standard Mine was shot and killed, Edward “gathered a posse and set put in pursuit, eventually capturing the fugitive.” (Convicted and sentenced to hang, the murderer got off with a life sentence upon appeal.)

For a time, Moffitt served as an officer of three or four mining companies, as well as a Director of the First National Bank of Wallace. In 1901, a report in the Idaho Statesman (July 20, 1901) identified him as a Delegate from Wallace to an International Mining Congress, held in Boise.

Moffit was an active member of the Masonic Lodge in Wallace, and served on the school board there for many years. In 1908, he was appointed as a Regent of the University of Idaho, becoming President of the Board in 1911. He retired from hands-on business and service activities a few years after that, and passed away in February 1920.
References: [Hawley], [Illust-North] [Illust-State]

Thursday, August 16, 2012

A. C. Gilbert: Connecting Idaho, the Olympics, Erector Sets, Model Trains, and More

Even in these days of “instant on, instant gone” news cycles, people are still talking and writing about the Olympics. So why not here? Specifically, about another Idaho connection to the Games. Coincidentally, the Olympic track & field events began on August 3rd – the same day I posted my blog on historic Idaho Olympian Clarence “Hec” Edmundson. Hec, of course, was born in Moscow and competed in several running events.
A.C. Gilbert, Champion Wrestler.

That same day, Idaho State Historian Keith Petersen sent me a very kind note about the blog. He also pointed out another historic connection to the Olympics: Alfred Carlton “A.C.” Gilbert, who also started his Olympic journey in Moscow. I knew that Gilbert, the “Erector Set Man,” had spent some time in Idaho, but not about his athletic connection. Alfred was born in Salem, Oregon on February 15, 1884.

Although Alfred did well in school, he preferred physical activities, especially sports. The physical component of stage magic – sleight-of-hand – also attracted him to that hobby. He practiced diligently. In his autobiography, A.C. noted that he finally became good enough to “astound and delight my family and my friends.”

Albert’s father, Frank N. Gilbert, was a small-town banker. The family moved to Moscow in about 1892 or 1893, and lived there for a couple years before returning to Salem. About that time, the University of Idaho greeted its first students [blog, October 3].

A robust sports tradition began almost immediately at the University. Albert was naturally drawn to the athletic fields at the school, although he was rather young during the family’s first stay in Moscow.

Naturally, when they returned to Idaho around 1896, he jumped whole-heartedly into outdoor activities, and sports. Their favorite camping spot was Priest Lake, where, A.C. said, “My mother was the first white woman ever to go up to the head of the lake.”

He and his father also visited the Nez Perc├ęs Indian Reservation. There, his father bought him an Indian pony, purported to be “quite gentle.” A.C. tried to hide the fact that the pony was actually a wild bucking bronco, which threw him several times. His father eventually found out, and sent the animal back. Still, these and other experiences fed Albert’s life-long passion for hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities.

Albert was now old enough to actually try to of emulate the athletes he saw on the fields at the University in Moscow. Although he pursued many different athletic endeavors, pole vaulting became his particular fascination: “I thought it was wonderful, soaring so high in the air just by using a pole.”
Gilbert Vaulting, 1908. Autobiography.

Still too young to take an active part at the school, Albert put together his own “Moscow Athletic Club.” Club members competed among themselves in various sports, and even initiated a boys’ Field Day in town.

They repeated the event the following year (1899) and, “The town officials, the schools and the university all got behind the Field Day, and it was a big success.”

That support was probably enhanced by the fact that his father had been appointed to the University Board of Regents (Idaho Statesman, Boise, April 28, 1899).

In the fall of 1900, Albert enrolled at the Tualatin Academy, the prep school associated with Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. The family moved to Portland shortly after that and neither Albert nor the family returned to Idaho, except for vacations and business trips.

A.C. excelled at several sports at Pacific University and, after 1904, at Yale University. But it was his ability as a pole vaulter that gave him international recognition: He set several world records in the vault and won a Gold Medal at the 1908 Olympics in London, England. He was the first, or among the first, to use a bamboo pole instead of a heavy, stiff wooden rod. He is also credited with inventing the pole vaulting box. For decades, he served as an advisor to the vaulting team at Yale University.

His later business career and many innovations are far beyond the scope of this blog: Magic kits, the famous Erector Set, model trains, chemistry sets, and other educational “toys” made him a millionaire many times over. For more, visit the A. C. Gilbert Heritage Society and A.C. Gilbert’s Discovery Museum.
J. Russell School, ca 1902. University of Idaho Archives.

One wonders, as Historian Petersen has done, whether or not A.C. and Hec Edmundson knew each other. In the fall of 1896, when both families lived in Moscow, Albert would have been twelve years old, Hec ten. Both, therefore, would have attended J. Russell School, the only elementary school in town. Given their mutual interest in sports, it seems highly likely that they did meet. However, neither mentions the other in existing records, so we’ll never really know.
References:  [Illust-North]
Rafe Gibbs, Beacon for Mountain and Plain: Story of the University of Idaho, The Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho (© The Regents of the University of Idaho, 1962).
A.C. Gilbert with Marshall McClintock, The Man Who Lives in Paradise: The Autobiography of A. C. Gilbert, Rinehart Publishing, New York (1954).
Keith Petersen, “A. C. Gilbert: Millionaire with Moscow Roots,” Latah Legacy, Vol. 8, No. 3, Latah County Historical Society, Moscow, Idaho (Summer 1979).