Paul E. Newport opened Benewah Creamery in St. Maries in 1917. He moved to Spokane in 1922 and set up a processing plant at First Avenue and Washington Street. He bought raw milk from local farmers to produce milk products, cheeses and ice cream.
Newport opened retail stalls in downtown markets, which were usually groups of independent vendors housed in a single building. His products were premium quality, high in butterfat and milk flavor. His plant used modern sanitary practices and milk was pasteurized.
Newport may be best remembered for two Spokane buildings shaped like milk bottles, one on Garland Avenue and another on South Cedar Street downtown. These eye-catching buildings, designed by the firm of Whitehouse and Price, were retail outlets for Benewah Creamery products. The first was completed in 1935, and Newport planned a chain of six bottle-shaped stores. He also ran soda fountains.
In 1938, the Creamery opened a new production facility at 408 E. Sprague Ave. The front of the building housed Benewah Market, a full-service grocery store. Instead of independent vendors for each product, Newport sold dairy products, bakery and dry goods, meats, vegetables and fruit. He also introduced paper containers for milk.
There was also tragedy and controversy. His oldest child, Paul Newport Jr., took his own life at age 18 at the edge of the Manito golf course in 1934. The authorities ruled it a suicide, but the grieving father disputed that and sued the life insurance company for refusing to pay on a $2,000 policy.
Newport was sued for libel in 1941 for hinting that the local dairy association officers got a better deal than their members. In the late 1940s, he pushed back against stricter sanitation codes for small dairies that supplied his milk. His wife, Arley, sued for divorce in 1952, saying he was overly critical.
Newport ran for City Council in 1960 but withdrew at the last minute. He was sued later in 1960 for causing a scene when he accused a shopper of taking a pound of butter. And he scuffled with a dairy inspector who accused him of falsifying paperwork on a cream shipment.
Newport operated his dairy business until 1969, when his son, Richard, and son-in-law, O.W. Rathbun, took over. “Forty years is too long a time for any man to be in the same job,” he told The Spokesman-Review. “I don’t like that word ‘retire.’ I’m not retiring. I’m just going to take it easy for awhile to make up for a lot of years working like a beaver.”
Newport died in 1970 at age 80. Benewah Creamery’s last location closed in 1978.
– Jesse Tinsley
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