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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Monument honors Byron Riblet, tramway builder and one of early Spokane’s prominent citizens

Spokane Historic Monuments Committee members Ty Brown, left, and Chuck King reveal Byron Riblet’s historic monument during a dedication ceremony, Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021, in Fairmount Memorial Park.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)
By Garrett Cabeza The Spokesman-Review

A monument recognizing a famous tramway builder and “one of Spokane’s earliest prominent citizens,” according to a proclamation by Mayor Nadine Woodward, was unveiled Saturday at Fairmount Memorial Park in northwest Spokane.

Byron Riblet (1865-1952) started Riblet Tramway Co. in Spokane, and he and his business partner, John Strack, laid out many of the original plats for the city and surrounding area.

“Byron didn’t get credit for all that he did for our city, for Mount Spokane, Canada and other places worldwide building tramways for mines, ski lifts, et cetera,” said Sue Walker, a member of several of the entities who helped erect the monument. “Today, that’s going to change thanks to a team of historians who want to honor his memory and contribution to society.”

Fairmount Memorial Association, in cooperation with the Spokane Regional Law Enforcement Museum, Spokane Historical Monuments Committee, Jonas Babcock Chapter of Daughters of the American Revolution and the Westerners Spokane Corral, dedicated the monument honoring Riblet, his wife, Hallie Chapman Riblet, and their daughter, Josephine Riblet, in front of about 40 people Saturday.

Strack is buried next to the monument.

“They formed a close friendship and worked closely together for many years,” Walker said of Byron Riblet and Strack.

To Spokane residents, Riblet might mean a mansion on a cliff above the Spokane Rivernorth of Millwood off Upriver Drive. But that was the home of Byron Riblet’s younger brother, Royal Riblet, who built the fancy home in 1924. The estate is now the headquarters for Arbor Crest Wine Cellars.

Byron Riblet’s home was just north of Spokane near the Wandermere Golf Course.

Ken Pfaff, a fellow engineer who bought Byron Riblet’s former property in 1987, was in attendance for Saturday’s dedication.

“It’s just fun to know the history and what happened there way back when,” said Pfaff, who still lives on the property.

He said he did not know the historical significance of the property when he bought it, but spent a great deal of time researching more than three decades ago.

Dan Carpenter, a lifelong Spokane Valley resident and Royal Riblet’s great-grandson, and Doug Sowder, president of Riblet Tramway Co., also attended Saturday’s unveiling.

Sowder said he has been president of the company since the 1990s and has worked full- time for the company since 1971. He said his father was president of the company before him and also worked for the company in the 1940s while Byron Riblet was still alive.

Byron Riblet’s experience with railroad surveying brought him to Spokane in 1886.

Among his lifetime achievements, he was responsible for surveying the route for the steam-powered Spokane and Montrose Park Railway Line, the first motorized street railway in Spokane.

He served as designing engineer for Spokane’s Upriver Dam.

He also designed 40 miles of electric rail lines throughout the city for the Washington Water Power Co.

In 1896, he became chief engineer for the Noble Five Mining Co. at Sandon, B.C., installing a hydroelectric plant and his first aerial tramway.

By the 1920s, Riblet Tramway Co. landed contracts with mines in the Andes Mountains of South America. There, it constructed the highest tramway in the world at 16,000 feet, and another that was the longest at 34 miles.

In 1945, the company helped the Mount Spokane Ski Club erect Washington’s first chairlift on the mountain. It was considered the first double chairlift in the world.