Author Theresa L. Goodrich presents an excerpt from Two Lane Gems, Vol. 2: Bison are Giant and Other Observations from an American Road Trip. Enjoy!
The day before had been a much-needed respite. We didn’t sightsee; we didn’t hike. We napped. Napping is glorious. Napping on a cushioned swing at the shores of a lake while water softly laps the pebbled beach is glorious with whipped cream on top. It’s enough to make you never want to leave. So, we didn’t.
At least, not that day.
That day, we relaxed, took another spin in the boat while my sister-in-law water skied, and decided that we really didn’t need to leave the next morning. It wasn’t like we had a home waiting for us, and we figured we could extend our rental of Jeannie the Jeep for a couple more days. It was important to rest, but it was even more important to spend time with family. While the rest of the year my brother- and sister-in-law live only three hours from our (former) home, Jim’s parents are on the other side of the country. So, we stayed. We napped. And on our 23rd day we explored.
Jim’s parents joined us for a day in Spokane. We began our tour by returning to the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, and when we pulled up we encountered a Virgin Mary statue made out of license plates reclining on a flatbed hitched to a white GMC pickup topped with a gold shell.
We had no idea what to make of that, so we shrugged, parked, and entered the museum. All of the galleries are below-ground and their contents change frequently. When we visited, one gallery detailed items from Spokane’s history. Another featured origami. These were no simple swans. These creations were complex sculptures, and it was hard to believe they were made of paper.
In the largest gallery we studied the works of Edward Curtis. The late 19th-, early 20th-century photographer spent thirty years capturing what he considered a vanishing people. During that time, Curtis visited more than eighty Native American tribes and took thousands and thousands of photos. The result was an encyclopedic collection, and he published twenty volumes of “The North American Indian.” The compilation is a glimpse of a time and a people that no longer exist – except it’s not quite real, and they’re still here.
Many critics think Curtis had the right intentions, and to have access to that many tribes indicated that he’d earned some level of trust. The downside was that Curtis painted with a romanticized brush. His subjects became caricatures, like characters in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West shows. Native costumes were props, and modern conveniences like alarm clocks were edited out. It was a semi-journalistic, semi-fictional accounting of native peoples who, despite the myth of the “vanishing indian,” did not actually disappear.
I could have studied his images for hours. Despite their flaws, the photos were of real people from more than a century before, and they were fascinating. A tour was about to begin next door at a restored Tudor-style home, however, so we walked over to join a small group gathered in the carriage house. We read the displays about life in the early 1900s until the docent led us to the Campbell House mansion.
Amasa Campbell was an Ohio investor who struck silver and lead in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. He was a wealthy, wealthy man, what today we’d call a one percenter, and his home was a public display of his riches. His wife, Grace, received callers every Tuesday, for only fifteen minutes at a time, in a gilded room near the entrance. Amasa had a Victorian-era man cave in the basement. There were suits of armor in the foyer, servants’ quarters, red-flocked walls, and a dining room fireplace framed with blue and white Delft tiles.
Poppies positively littered several walls of the house, making one wonder if there was some sort of hidden meaning in the wallpaper, especially when learning the original was enhanced with flecks of glinting, gaudy mica.
Jim’s dad remembered visiting the Campbell House when he was a child, but what he saw back then was very different. Amasa died in 1912, and after Grace passed away in 1924, their daughter, Helen, donated the home to the Eastern Washington State Historical Society.
As our docent told us, to them it wasn’t an historic home; it was just a home, so they used it as a community museum to display items that, at the time, were historical, and that’s what my father-in-law would have seen. Restoration to its original glory started in the mid-1980s, long after the Goodriches had left. Now the mansion is a telescope to its beginnings.
We made a brief stop at the Jundt Art Museum to ogle some Chihuly sculptures and paintings before visiting the Bing Crosby House. The crooner’s boyhood home was filled with glass cases containing news clippings, posters, awards, gold records, and trophies. The museum prominently displayed Crosby’s Oscar, and a child’s jukebox sat on top of a table his grandfather had built.
After a quick lunch at Taco Time we tried another visit to the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum, which had been closed on our first attempt a couple days before. The Spanish Colonial brick and stucco building is an anomaly on Sprague Avenue, a busy four-lane street that had once been lined with apple orchards instead of strip malls.
Built in 1912 as the Opportunity Township Hall, it had been the center of government for that portion of the valley until Spokane County voted to disorganize the Township in 1974. The hall changed owners a few times, and then the Spokane Valley Legacy Foundation picked up the deed in 2004 for one dollar. The next year the National Register of Historic Places added the building to its rosters, and a few months after that the Spokane Valley Heritage Museum opened.
The museum is a passion project for Jayne Singleton. As she told me, she “let go of a good corporate job so she could do something great.” It’s small but mighty, and much of its strength is behind the scenes. They’ve got an extensive database with thousands of records, maps, and primary source documents. When we told her Jim’s parents grew up nearby, she took us back to see the archivist. A quick search and she found a record for a J.A. Aeschliman, who must have been one of my mother-in-law’s ancestors.
This thrilled Jayne to no end. She said her favorite part of running the museum is connecting visitors with the past, helping them to “reminisce, recall, and rejoice in all that came before us.” A glass-fronted working telephone exchange tickled Jim’s dad. “Have you ever seen one of those before?” he asked me, with wonder in his voice. “I haven’t seen one in decades.”
None of us expected much when we parked in the tiny lot next to the small building. Boy, were we wrong.
Royal Newton Riblet.
That’s not a fancy barbecue dish made with figs, or a nickname for a baby prince or princess. That’s the actual name of an inventor who built a house on a hill.
Royal. Newton. Riblet.
Our final stop for the day before returning to the cabin was a visit to the house of an eccentric inventor (because, with a name like that, of course he was an eccentric inventor). Riblet invented a square-wheel tractor, a pattern sprinkler system, and a mechanical parking garage, according to the brochure for Arbor Crest Wine Cellars.
The winery is located on Riblet’s estate, a 1924 Italianate-style mansion built on a cliff overlooking the Spokane Valley. The inventor designed it himself and included such whimsical touches as a life-size checkerboard game, a croquet court that he’d transform into an ice skating rink in the winter, and a 6,000-gallon swimming pool carved out of the cliff. He married seven times (because, of course he did), and while he built a gate house, he was such a recluse that instead of housing a gatekeeper, he reserved it for the occasional guest.
It’s the perfect spot for a winery.
We arrived about half an hour before the grounds closed for an outdoor concert, which gave us just enough time to check out the view. I grabbed a flight of wines and Jim and I sat in one of the outdoor areas while his parents walked around. The wines were worthy, but I expected that, since winemaker Kristina van Lӧben Sels whet her whistle at Ferrari-Carano Vineyards. It was a remarkable setting, but a cabin by a lake on the side of a mountain was calling.