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Artifacts enrich tale of gardens’ founders

Wed., Aug. 25, 2010

Lynn Mandyke, director of the Corbin Art Center, reviews appointment papers Tuesday from Ulysses S. Grant to George Turner. The effects were part of the estate of Turner’s widow.  (Dan Pelle)
Lynn Mandyke, director of the Corbin Art Center, reviews appointment papers Tuesday from Ulysses S. Grant to George Turner. The effects were part of the estate of Turner’s widow. (Dan Pelle)

Aging papers give details about Turners

Lynn Mandyke on Tuesday gingerly leafed through two boxes of aging documents, black-and-white photographs and personal effects, some more than 130 years old.

They tell the history of Judge George W. Turner, a former U.S. senator from Spokane, and his wife, Bertha, renowned as a society hostess and plant lover.

Together, they were instrumental in expanding an estate landscape for their 1889 mansion that is now a public garden on the lower South Hill.

“I was thrilled, absolutely thrilled,” said Mandyke, director of the Corbin Art Center, about receiving the records.

Mandyke, of the city parks department, spearheaded restoration and reconstruction several years ago of what are now the Moore-Turner Heritage Gardens adjacent to the arts center.

The dusty records were recently donated by a descendant of Bertha Turner’s brother, the late George Dreher, to help the city parks department preserve and retell the history to visitors.

Located in Pioneer Park at Seventh Avenue and Howard Street, the gardens were initially developed in 1889 as part of a Kirtland Cutter-designed mansion for F. Rockwood Moore, the first president of Washington Water Power Co., which is now Avista Corp.

After Moore died, the Turners purchased the property and expanded the landscape.

In bringing the site back from a tangle of overgrowth and broken mortar, the city restored what was left of its original structures, including a 70-foot concrete pond, retaining walls and reflecting pool.

Records and photos donated years ago by Bertha Turner to Washington State University were the key to rebuilding arbors, formal gardens, a tea house and walkways.

A $1.2 million private donation made reconstruction possible. It came from Spokane businesswoman Myrtle Woldson, who also gave money to restoration of the Martin Woldson Theater at The Fox in honor of her father.

Some undocumented ruins remain where they fell.

The newly acquired photos “have been helpful to us in understanding the front, the lawn part of the garden,” Mandyke said.

The donation also includes personal effects such as Judge Turner’s briefcase from his term as a U.S. senator from Washington starting in 1897.

President Theodore Roosevelt visited the Turner home during a swing through the West in 1903. Roosevelt appointed Turner to the Alaska Boundary Tribunal that year, and Turner traveled to Europe on other diplomatic missions.

Among the formal documents in the boxes are Turner’s license to practice law in Alabama in 1874; an appointment by President Ulysses S. Grant to serve as a U.S. marshal in Alabama in 1876; and an appointment by President Chester Arthur to serve as associate justice on the Supreme Court of Washington Territory in 1884.

A photograph from the front of the mansion shows Turner and members of a Belgian Food Commission on a visit to Spokane during World War I.

Turner died in 1932 at age 81. His wife died in 1939 at age 79. The mansion was demolished in 1940, and the property was folded into Pioneer Park along with the adjacent D.C. Corbin estate. The gardens fell to ruins.

Mandyke said the information contained in the boxes provides further proof of “who the Turners were and why they spent so much time and energy on those gardens.”

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