If you’ve ever floated down the Little Spokane River between St. George’s School and the Rutter Parkway Bridge, you’ve probably seen the Montvale Farm house. It’s the tall white home along the bend of the river, on your right, just before you get to the bridge.
Listed on the Spokane Register of Historic Places, the Montvale Farm was home to some of the area’s most famous citizens, and it continues today as a family legacy – though it nearly didn’t.
In 1897-98 Judge John W. Binkley purchased the original 300 acres of land. An avid outdoorsman, he built a four-room cabin on the north shore of the river, where he held hunting and fishing expeditions and summer barbecues with such notables as Louis Davenport, John Finch and Royal Riblet. He called this getaway location the Montvale Farm.
In 1914, the building was greatly enlarged and remodeled, turning it into a six-bedroom single-family home in the Colonial Revival style, featuring multipaned windows and French doors, prominent granite stone chimneys and a gabled front roof with multiple cross-gables. The Binkley family used it as their primary residence from 1914-1928.
Judge Binkley was president of North Pacific Loan & Trust Co., which loaned more than $1 million in mortgage money for the development of Spokane. He was influential in establishing the Fort George Wright military base and in 1899 did one thing that will probably have more resonance for contemporary Spokane than anything else. That was the year he built a three-story hotel on the southwest corner of First Avenue and Monroe Street in downtown Spokane, naming it the Montvale Hotel, which today is a landmark listed on Spokane, state and national registers of historic places.
In 1928, Binkley gave the farm to his daughter Ethelyn and her husband, Aubrey L. White, and they lived there until 1943. White is heralded as the leader of Spokane’s system of parks and city beautification programs. His list of accomplishments is huge, but to pick just three – he brought the nationally renowned Olmstead Brothers Landscape Architects of Massachusetts to Spokane to plan parks and parkways for the region; he helped acquire land at Mount Spokane for conservation as a state park; and he donated land for Manito Park on Spokane’s South Hill.
The Montvale Farm land, which had been sold in the 1940s, was divided in 1986, with a large portion given to the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission. The remaining 25 acres were bought in 2004 by Michael C. Weaver, a descendant of the family that purchased the land in the 1940s, and his wife, Ronda. They moved onto the southern 12.5-acre section at 5821 W. Rutter Parkway, access to which is on a long driveway lined with stately Douglas firs, and his parents live on the other section.
The Weavers were living in Santa Barbara, Calif., when they heard that the property was about to be sold. Weaver, who had fond memories of visiting there in the summers as a boy, had just two weeks to decide what to do or the property would move out of the family.
“We were crazy enough to do it,” he said.
“We had the equity in our house in Santa Barbara to facilitate the purchase and I work from home. So, we went for it, and it has turned out to be a great experiment in remote commuting.”
They have since added an extensive patio and are working on removing decades of floor coverings to restore the original planked floors. However, the first challenge was the 10,000 bats that had taken up residence in the attic.
“We became known as the bat people,” said Weaver, a certified public accountant for Bartlett, Pringle and Wolf LLP of Santa Barbara.
“We were quite a sight as we ran around with our butterfly nets.”
After sealing up access holes and building a massive “bat condominium” outdoors, they are pretty much bat-free, except for the occasional one that flies by in a darkened room as they watch a movie on television.
But, said Weaver, that’s part of country life, which also includes blue heron, bald eagles, moose and a host of other animal life – not to mention the gentle Little Spokane River that flows by. The Weavers’ side porch is filled with rafts and other river toys, and the Montvale Farm is now a place where they and their sons enjoy the outdoors, just the way Judge Binkley had in mind more than a century ago.