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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Monday, March 30, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Then and Now: Riblet Mansion

Brothers Walter and Royal Riblet, natives of Osage, Iowa, followed their brother Byron, a mechanical engineer, to the Northwest more than a century ago.

In British Columbia in the 1880s, Byron worked for the railroads, then turned to streetcars and tramways in 1896. Walter, the oldest brother, would run the manufacturing side of the business in Canada, then in Spokane.

The youngest brother, Royal, would join the business in 1904 after years working in Aberdeen, South Dakota. Royal traveled the world selling the company’s tram systems. Byron gave Royal a 40% stake in the enterprise for his sales work.

Byron established the Riblet Tramway Co. in Spokane in 1911, designing and building trams for mining. He also worked for Washington Water Power Co. and helped design the Upriver Dam.

The flamboyant Royal also fancied himself an inventor; he would acquire 30 patents in his lifetime.

Royal built himself a showplace home on a rocky promontory overlooking the Spokane River in 1924. The three-story home, visible for miles along the Spokane River valley, is in Italian Renaissance style and surrounded by a swimming pool, a cliffside croquet court, a stone gatehouse and other landscaping features.

The signature amenity was a five-person enclosed tram car that traveled from the south bank of the river up to the house, a trip of 1,600 feet. The cable car operated until 1945 and was dismantled in the 1950s.

Riblet lost his first wife, Gertrude, during childbirth and went on to marry six more times.

With little public explanation, he was ousted from Riblet Tramway in 1933. In 1939, the firm produced its first chairlift for skiing. Its ski lifts are still used at many mountains.

Royal continued inventing at his home until his death in 1960 at age 88. His seventh wife, Mildred, lived there until her death in 1978. Byron Riblet died in 1952.

Harold and Marcia Mielke, who started making wine as Arbor Crest Wine Cellars in 1982, bought the Riblet estate in 1984. The winery is now operated by the Mielkes’ daughter, Kristina van Loben Sels, and her husband, Jim. The owners rebuilt the mansion after a fire gutted the house in 2009.

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