"Live a good life, and in the end, it’s not the years in the life, it’s the life in the years."

Arthur Gunn: Vision and constant motion

By on May 30, 2018 in Columnist with 0 Comments

Rod MolzahnBy Rod Molzahn

Arthur Gunn had things on his mind in the spring of 1901 as he rode the Great Northern coach car from Wenatchee to Cando, North Dakota.

There was a lot riding on the trip; profit for his neighbors and himself, fine land for the “Dunkards” he was traveling to see and the possibility of adding many new families to help grow the community and valley he loved.

Gunn was a man of vision and constant motion with interests in everything that would move the valley forward; the railroad, irrigation electricity and population growth.

He was, over the 25 years he lived here, a land developer, real estate agent, railroad agent business owner, an honest and trusted man in the community and always a booster of the Wenatchee Valley. He saw what the valley could be and worked to make it happen.

Arthur Gunn had his hand in several early endeavors. Photo from the Wenatchee Valley Museum & Cultural Center 013-11-16

John Gellatly, new to town in 1900, remembered Arthur Gunn as, “Extremely enthusiastic about the future of the new town and the valley as a whole.”

Arthur Gunn was 26 when he arrived in Wenatchee in 1892. With him were his wife, Elizabeth, and their infant son, Arthur Junior. Gunn had been working for J. J. Browne at his Spokane bank when Browne sent him off to Wenatchee to start the town’s first bank, The Columbia Valley Bank.

A small, two-room board and batten structure in Old Town near the Miller/Springwater intersection housed the bank in the front room and the Gunn family in the back room.

They were barely settled when the town began the move to its new location one mile south along the Columbia and adjacent to the proposed new Great Northern tracks.

The little bank and home was loaded onto two wagons and moved to its new location at the intersection of Orondo Street and Wenatchee Avenue. The town was growing and the bank was growing with it doing strong business in construction loans and payrolls.

By 1894 Arthur Gunn was convinced that his future did not lie with the bank. He quit and opened a real estate office. His business quickly flourished as he became the local agent for the Wenatchee Development Company that developed and owned the new townsite.

Gunn was also the Wenatchee Valley agent for J. J. Hill and the Great Northern Railroad.

During this time Gunn partnered with James Keane, the father of Rock Island, in several large real estate purchases. Eventually their holdings included 50,000 acres of railroad land grants around Wenatchee on both sides of the Columbia. Much of this land they bought from the railroad on contract for 34 cents an acre.

The federal government, in an effort to spur development of trans-continental railroads, awarded the companies land grants along the rail rights of way. The companies could sell the land to raise money for construction. Perhaps Gunn and Keane’s close connection to the Great Northern and J. J. Hill helped their acquisition of railroad land.

In 1895 Arthur Gunn made his most important real estate purchase but not with James Keane.

Arthur and Elizabeth Gunn bought several adjacent homesteads known as Burch Flats from E. C. and Ellen Burch and their adult children. This would have been at least 640 acres and as much as 800 acres, land that Gunn would rename Sunnyslope.

The family moved into a rustic, small two-story house on the land. This purchase was the catalyst that began Gunn’s plan that, six years later, put him on the train to Cando, North Dakota.

Irrigation was the key.

In 1891 Jacob Shotwell built an irrigation ditch to serve his land in the Monitor area north of the Wenatchee River. From there the ditch went on to W. E. Stevens’ ranch and terminated about a quarter mile above the Wenatchee River Bridge.

This was the first effort to build a large ditch in the valley and soon Shotwell realized that his ditch could be extended to serve the lower Burch Flat area, now part of Arthur and Elizabeth Gunn’s land.

Shotwell, however, was out of money.

He went to Arthur Gunn to see if he could arrange financing for the extension and a trestle and siphon over the Wenatchee River to divert some of the water to irrigate acreage in the north Wenatchee area.

Gunn immediately saw the wisdom in the idea and arranged for necessary financing including $1,500 from J.J. Hill to build the trestle that would carry the pipe across the river.

What became known as the “Gunn Ditch” was complete and delivering water in 1898. The pipe and trestle are still in use and lie on the west side of the larger Highline Canal siphon.

Arthur Gunn had already begun platting his Sunnyslope holdings into five-acre parcels and persuading his neighbors to do the same.

In 1900, at the urging of Max Bass, the Great Northern’s immigration agent, Gunn went to Waterville to meet a group of North Dakota men of the “Dunkard” or Brethren church.

They were weary of the harsh winters on the North Dakota plains. Bass had brought them to see the Waterville plateau.

Gunn was there to tell them about better land in the Sunnyslope area of the Wenatchee Valley. Over the next year Gunn exchanged letters with Rev. Amos Peters, leader of the Cando Brethren.

In 1901 initial community meetings were held in Wenatchee to plan for the construction of the Highline Canal that would provide irrigation to most of the lower valley including the parts of Sunnyslope not already served by the Gunn Ditch. That was all it took to get Gunn on the train to Cando.

Once there he persuaded Rev. Peters and his wife, Barbara, to visit the Wenatchee Valley the following year. In 1903, along with seven other Brethren families, the Peters immigrated to Wenatchee and paid $125 – $150 per acre for their new land on Sunnyslope.

Arthur Gunn went on to bring reliable electrical service to the valley when he bought and improved L. V. Wells’ Wenatchee Electric Light and Power Company.

In 1905 he was chosen to fill the unexpired term of joint Senator for Kittitas and Chelan counties.

In 1908 he spearheaded Wenatchee’s efforts to build the YMCA saying at its completion, “We now have the best substitute on earth for saloons. A place where our young people can find more enjoyment than they ever did in saloons and where the influences are beneficial.”

Arthur Gunn’s schedule for May 24, 1917 must have been busy and full.

He said goodbye to Elizabeth and their six children at 4 a.m. that morning, crossed the pipeline bridge in his Model T and started up the dirt road towards Orondo where he owned the Ribbon Cliff Orchard.

Just below Orondo he hit a wind-blown sand bar. His car climbed the sand then rolled sideways pinning Gunn underneath the windshield. He died instantly. He was 51.

Flags in Wenatchee flew at half-mast and 1,000 people gathered in Memorial Park to remember Arthur Gunn.

Historian, actor and teacher Rod Molzahn can be reached at shake.speak@nwi.net. His third history CD, Legends & Legacies Vol. III – Stories of Wenatchee and North Central Washington, is now available at the Wenatchee Valley Museum and Cultural Center and at other locations throughout the area.

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