Have you ever pulled into a place, maybe at a gas station, a grocery store, or a particular neighborhood and thought to yourself, man, everyone who lives here is a complete moron! This is not a new thing; at the turn of the 20th century that place was Molson, WA.
John W. Molson had a bunch of money. His daddy had a bunch of money. Even his daddy’s daddy had a lot of money because he founded Molson Brewery, Molson Bank, Molson Shipping, and a bunch of other billion dollar ideas with the “Molson” name attached to it in Quebec in the early 1800s. Now, the original entrepreneur of the dynasty (let’s say his name is John Molson Sr.) who starts the empire is usually a smart dude. His scion (John Molson Jr.), grows up seeing his father handle the workload like a champ always besting the competition and inventing new markets, this young man knows that he has big shoes to fill and usually has something to prove to his father. Thus, he strives to prove that he can do just as well as (if not better than) daddy. When the business is passed on to him he runs with it like a horse out of the gate and the long sting of success and wins continues. It’s the third generation that is usually the problem. The scion’s scion, if you will (in this case John W. Molson). He has a lot of money, he’s always had a lot of money. He has never known life with out money. John W. Molson spent most of his years farting around and not learning much because daddy was never there to show him how to be a man, or whatever. He always assumed that since the cash flow had always been there, that is would always be there. John W. Molson was a rich brat.
George B. Meacham was a promoter, and by “promoter” I mean a flim-flam man, a grifter, a con man. I am sure that in Meacham’s mind he was a brilliant developer well before most communities were actually planned. I am going to give him, and history, the benefit of the doubt and presume that Meacham was just plain good at separating fools from their money.
In Northeastern Washington state and South central British Columbia there is a region of mountains called The Okanogan named for the native American tribe who inhabited the area. The Okanogan is quite ancient compared to the other rocks found in Washington State. This range is a bridge between the young, volcanic Cascade Mountains to the West, and the older towering Rockies to the East. Some geologists even claim that the Okanogan is technically part of the Rocky Mountains.
The mountains of the Okanagan hug the Columbia River North of the Columbia Plateau and stretch well into British Columbia. Today, the Okanagan is home to pretty much Canada’s only viable grape vineyards as well as some awesome skiing; but in 1900 The Okanagan was only home to some pretty impressive gold mines. About forty years earlier some American soldiers fled into what is now British Columbia to escape an attacking band of Indians and discovered gold at the confluence of Rock Creek and the Kettle River. This began the Rock Creek Gold Rush of 1859. A few months later the Colville Gold Rush began on the American side of the border. On my birthday in 1896 (May 22nd) gold was discovered a mile and a half South of the Canadian border on Mary Anne Creek. The ensuing mine was named the Poland China Gold Mine; thought to be named for the origins of the first investors. Shortly thereafter, the Molson Family, along with some moneyed gentleman from Ohio, purchased the property and operated the mine under a new firm named the Molson Gold Mining Co.
The mine was high in the hills and was not a suitable location for a townsite. George Meacham, who at the time it is believed, was foreman for the mine, told investor John W. Molson that he could find a suitable site on the Canadian side of the border and make a boom town out of it. Molson was stupid enough to believe him. In March 1900 Meacham chose a site he was certain was four miles Northwest of the Poland China Mine just across the border in Canada. He chose a site four miles due West, and clearly within the confines of the United States of America. Dumbass.
Too late to worry about what country they were in; it was “If you build it, they will come” time. So Meacham spent over $75,000 that first year (about $5.6 million in 2012 dollars!) constructing the infrastructure for the newly named town of Molson. They built a drugstore, a dentist office, a law office, and the Tonasket Hotel.
The Tonasket, named for the great Okanogan chief, might have been one of the most impressive hotels in Washington at that time. Built for the cost of $8,500 ($637,000 in 2012), it was an ornate three-story structure with 34 rooms, over sixty full-height windows, and a wrap-around ballustrade that encompassed the second floor. It even had a swank two-story outhouse! The hotel was showy and gimmicky. The promotional brochures for the Tonasket pictured steamboats charging up the Baker River to dock near the Hotel. In reality, Baker Creek was nothing more than a dribble originating from a spring or two a mile South.
Within a year of Meacham founding the town of Molson the population swelled to over three hundred. Something happened between Meacham and the town’s new fathers where Meacham got the hell out of town and fled to Texas to escape harm. Someone knows why, my guess is that Meacham blew $75k building a town in the wrong spot to house personnel for a mine that was playing out. Oh yeah, the Poland China Gold Mine was running out of gold by now. D’oh!
Within a few weeks the town of Molson was down to 13 residents. The town shriveled and and John W. Molson cut off the cash flow finally, and divested his shares of the Poland China (fool me once…). The town stayed dead for several years and then homesteaders started arriving.
Ranchers and farmers started staking their 160 acre quarter sections and the town began to thrive once again. In 1904 a stone grain house was constructed. In 1905 rumors of impending railroad construction started going viral and more people came; a new mercantile even opened shop. Eight saloons sprang from the Earth seemingly overnight and a deputy was hired. Molson was back, baby!
The town was booming and lots were selling for a premium–then Old McDonald filed his homestead. J.H. McDonald’s 160 acre homestead just happened to include the 40 acres of the town of Molson including the Tonasket Hotel! Meacham had forgot to stake the land when he founded his town. Moron.
McDonald was a dick. He posted notices for everyone to vacate and lawsuits and countersuits started flooding the courthouses in the county. The owner of the Mercantile threw up his hands and bailed choosing a site a mile North of town for his store where land ownership was not in question. Hundreds followed him. New businesses, saloons, and residences blossomed around the general store. By 1906 the town of New Molson and the town of Old Molson were roughly the same size and hated each other’s guts.
Fist fights and feuds were routine. An old geezer who went by the name Sutherland, took exception to a hog farmer allowing his pigs to run wild on his land and showed up in town with two big ass .45s and offered one to his nemesis. The coward refused. The duel may have been a bust but the pigs stopped swinging by Sutherland’s place.
In 1908 a one, Mr. L.L. Work, decided to open a bank in Old Molson but was having trouble aquiring land to begin construction. Much of this was due to the fact that McDonald built a fence around most of Old Molson. Mr. Work erected his bank on the skids in the middle of Main Street. Using a tent and some card tables, Mr. Work’s bank opened for business in a new place each morning. Finally in early 1909 the bank found land and a permanent residence. The grand opening took turn for the worse when the particpants stopped to watch, and then participate in, one of the more impressive street brawls in history. More than a hundred men had a good go at bashing each others’ heads in. The one deputy was a little overworked.
The railroad also finally arrived in 1909 bringing a little more boom to New Molson as the station had been constructed there. The train station in New Molson was the highest in Washington State at 3,708ft above sea level.
1914 brought an unusual truce between the two Molsons when it was decided that the children needed some learning and an impressive three-story school was built exactly in the middle of the two rival towns. The residents who were tired of all the fighting quickly built homes near the school and a third town of Central Molson began its run.
Old Molson had the post office and New Molson wanted it. In 1920 a resident of New Molson was elected post master but Old Molson wouldn’t give up the post office. You have to remember, back during this time if your town had a post office the town was legitimate. No post office meant no town, no street cred, no respect. So when the old post master went to lunch the residents of New Molson stole the post office!
The fights continued, the grand hotels began burning down, and the fifteen year old railroad was pulled up. The three Molsons were dying again. The last store hung on until 1955 and finally shuttered. By 1970 almost everyone was gone, the school was deserted, and the only remaining folks didn’t care which Molson each other was from anymore.