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James Monaghan - Early Pioneer, Developer, Pacific Northwest, USA

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James Monaghan - Early Pioneer, Developer, Pacific Northwest, USA

Posted: 27 Oct 2000 6:00AM GMT
Classification: Biography
Edited: 22 Jun 2001 11:38AM GMT
Surnames: Monaghan, McCool, LaPray
BIO: James Monaghan was born in Beltubet on September 22, 1839, the youngest of three children. He was orphaned at the age of three and raised by his maternal grandparents. By age 17, young James sought adventure and joined his older brother in NY. Two years later, he made his way to the PNW. The state of Washington had just recently become a territory and gold discovered in its northern regions, the Hudson's Bay Fort Colville was still active near the Kettle Falls on the Columbia River, settlement was sparse and established businesses were still a hope of the future. Growing tensions between the Indians and the newcomers to the area had festered and, with the military's attempt to subdue the agitation, soon erupted into bloody battles near the future town of Spokane. This was the environment into which young James Monaghan placed himself in 1858, when he arrived. Over the next 58 years, Monaghan, who acquired the nickname "Spokane Jim," left his mark far and wide throughout the Inland Northwest, especially Spokane.

Jim first worked on a ferry on the Deschutes River in Oregon and gained employment on the riverboats on the Columbia River. In 1859, he became a crew member on the maiden voyage of the "Colonel Wright," the first steamboat to ply the waters of the Columbia between Celilo and Wallula. During this time period, the main activity in the Inland Northwest was related to the military. Construction of the Mullan military road between Fort Walla in Washington and Fort Benton in Montana was underway as were governmental surveys of the Canadian-US boundary. The military Fort Colville, about three miles NE of present-day Colville, was being built and the Colville Road, following an old Indian and pioneer trail, was developed into a military road between Wallula (n the Columbia River near the WA-OR state line) and Fort Colville. In 1860, Monaghan was hired by the owners of the toll ferry at the government crossing on the Spokane River, about 21 miles below the Spokane Falls, along the Colville Road. He soon bought out the owners of the ferry and in 1865 replaced it with a toll bridge, which subsequently became known as the LaPray Bridge for Joseph LaPray, who purchased it from Monaghan and operated it for a number of years thereafter. Monaghan claimed to have planted the first apple trees in Spokane County while living at this location.

Monaghan was active in the freight hauling and trading businesses in Walla Walla, WA, and married Margaret McCool, who had come with her parents from Ireland, on November 30, 1871, and they immediately moved to what became the town of Chewelah on land purchased from the Indians. Monaghan began farming and opened a trading post, helping to found the town of Chewelah. The first of their six children, John Robert Monaghan was born at this location on March 26, 1873.

Monaghan estabished himself as a merchant at Fort Colville in 1873, securing the contract to furnish supplies to the troops. He also contracted to carry the mail from Spokane Bridge, near the WA-ID state line) to Colville. Having moved his family to Colville, their child, Margaret Mary was born on January 31, 1876. In this location Monaghan served as Stevens County school superintendent, county commissioner and justice of the peace.

Monaghan was involved in numerous successful ventures in Walla Walla, WA, in Coeur d'Alene, ID, and in Spokane Falls (Spokane), WA, where their third child, Ellen Rosanna, was born at Ft. Spokane on November 12, 1885. Although he made Spokane his home for the rest of his life, his business pursuits continued to place him in varying locations through the Inland Northwest. He helped to organize the Spokane Falls and Northern Railroad and installed the water works and electric systems in the growing town of Coeur d'Alene, ID, and involved in the CDA Steam Navigation and Transport Co.

In 1889, the year of Spokane's horrendous Great Fire, the Monaghan home was spared by a distance of only 1-1/2 blocks. Hundreds of persons made homeless and hungry by the great fire benefited by his generosity; to aid the suffering he founded the St. Vincent de Paul Society there. Thirty children and four Sisters of St. Francis were taken by him into his home until an orphanage could be established. Monaghan's family had prospered from his initiative and hard work during the 1880s and 1890s, and after moving to Spokane their three youngest children had been born: James Hugh, November 10, 1888, Agnes Isabel, November 9, 1891, and Charles Francis, August 12, 1894. Monaghan was one of 15 freeholders to draft Spokane's new city charter in 1891 and was elected as a city commissioner.

A series of unfortunate events took place in Monaghan's life that might have ruined a lesser man. The panic of 1893 crept upon the nation, robbing many, including James, of their fortunes. His wife Margaret died April 22, 1895, at age 42, leaving him with four children under the age of 10. Their son, Ensign John Robert Monaghan was killed in action on April 1, 1899, while serving his country in Samoa. His wife and son are laid to rest in a beautiful mausoleum at Fairmount Cemetery, in Spokane. Despite these hardships, James Monaghan had the determination and ability to get back on his feet, and with good investments in real estate, the railroad and a gold mine, a story in an issue of the "Spokane Chronicle, in December, 1909 listed him among Spokane's millionaires.

It is said that this ruddy-cheeked, self-made Irishmen, in spite of his many accomplishments, remained a humble, unassuming individual. Close friends never heard him speak unkindly about anyone or use profanity. Business associates spoke respectfully of his honesty, fairness and positive outlook. In 1903, during President Theodore Roosevelt's visit to Spokane, Monaghan's new home on Boone Avenue (now a "Historic Home), was a stop along his route.

With a throng of 10,000 gathered on October 25, 1906, a statue of his son, John Robert, was unveiled, a gift of the people of Spokane reflecting the high regard in which they held Monaghan and his son - his son having been the first appointee to the US Naval Academy from the state of Washington and Spokane proud of the family's many accomplishments.

In 1911, Monaghan took members of his family on a tour of Europe that included a visit to his birthplace in Co. Cavan, and on St. Patrick's Day he had an audience with the Pope. Monaghan was a religious man and faithful to St. Aloysius Church, Spokane, of which he was a founder. He died at home on Janury 12, 1916, at age 75, surrounded by his family and friends. The funeral procession to Fairmount Cemetery was one of the largest ever seen in Spokane, consisting of over 100 cars, and a tribute was paid to this Irishman at the overflowing church services where many generous acts of kindness by Mr. Monaghan were brought to light.

-- "Nostalgia Magazine"

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