The Wendell Hurlbut Story
Early Lewiston Leader
Wendell Phillips Hurlbut was born in Delton, Wisconsin, in 1859, to Hiram and Minnie Hurlbut. Hiram was a lumber merchant, and it’s likely he named Wendell after Wendell Phillips, an abolitionist leader. (Wendell’s younger brother, John Charles Fremont, was likely named for the abolitionist, 1856 Republican candidate for president, and Civil War general of the same name.)
Wendell began dealing in land as a young man with a wife and son in Luverne, Minnesota. By the late 1880s, however, he had moved to Duluth, where he prospered in real estate. In 1899 he moved again, this time to Lewiston, Idaho. He was one of three men from the Duluth/Superior area to land in Lewiston at this time; the others were J.P. McCann and James Aspoas. Like many, the men were attracted to the Lewiston area’s natural resources, including land and timber, and the chance to become economic leaders and grow prosperous in the growing town. Wendell’s brother, John Charles, a physician, also moved his family to Lewiston.
In Lewiston Wendell established a series of banks, the last of which, the Commercial Trust Company, prospered. Aspoas became cashier of the Commercial Trust, and other investors included Gaylord Thompson. The Commercial Trust was located at 326 Main St. in downtown Lewiston, in an elegant storefront that exists to this day.
At the time, Lewiston was still a young town. The state capitol had been moved downstate to Boise only a generation before. The Lewiston State Normal School had been established in 1893, and the campus was still growing, along with the Normal Hill neighborhood around it. What commercial buildings the town had were clustered downtown, by the confluence of the Snake and Clearwater Rivers.
The Commercial Trust financed the construction of the Blanchard Heights neighborhood in Lewiston, a previously undeveloped area southeast of Normal Hill and downtown. James Nave, a celebrated Lewiston architect, designed many of the more prominent homes in the 16-block development, including Wendell’s own at 1822 18th Avenue, as well as houses for James Aspoas and Gaylord Thompson, among others.
Historian Daniel Miller describes the neighborhood in his book, “Little Patch of Idaho”: “The land at the time was open, with homes spread out over an area about a half mile square. It was grassland and the roads were primitive. The homeowners enjoyed the benefits of country living, as they were allowed to raise cattle and horses (but not pigs). The city had reached a level of stability and maturation, and Blanchard Heights allowed a combination of space and urban convenience … There was an air of quiet isolation steeped in status.”
In 1905 Wendell commissioned a house built just down the street from his own. He built it for his eldest son, Harold, and Harold’s wife, Maude. Maude was from New York City’s Blanchard family, with its connections to high finance. Wendell presumably named the neighborhood Blanchard Heights in tribute to his daughter-in-law’s family. When the 1905 house burned down, Wendell doubled down, commissioning acclaimed architect Kirtland Cutter to build a new, Colonial Revival mansion, for the then-princely sum of $26,000. This elegant house is the building we know as Hurlbut Mansion today. It is the last Colonial Revival-style building Kirtland Cutter designed, and it is the last Cutter building of that style remaining in Idhao. The mansion’s four Ionic columns, wraparound balustrades, third-floor skylight, and grand central staircase make it one of the most unique pieces of architecture in the region.
For unknown reasons, Harold and Maude only lived in the mansion for a year. It might be that Harold did not want to join the family banking business (Harold went on to become a successful voice coach in New York City and California), or it might be that the Commercial Trust was already experiencing some financial turmoil. For in 1909, Wendell Hurlbut left his position at the Commercial Trust, and moved the family to New York, where he resumed a career in banking. His brother, John Charles, remained in Lewiston, dying here in 1912; his daughter, Jessie, went on to be a teacher in logging towns such as McCall and Weippe. The Commercial Trust Company was absorbed by another institution and liquidated in 1912. Hurlbut died in Glendale, California, in 1934. His legacy in Lewiston is manifest in the beautiful buildings he left behind, and in the now fully grown neighborhood whose development he spurred.
J.P. McCann bought Hurlbut’s house on 18th Ave., and his descendants lived there for many years. McCann’s descendants also acquired the Gaylord Thompson House, after its stint as Friendship Hall, an extension of the Children’s Home. As for Hurlbut Mansion, it likely proved too much house for potential buyers in Lewiston. The Children’s Home Finding and Aid Society — the Children’s Home — purchased it in 1912, for the much-reduced price of $14,000, funded partly by donations from Idaho’s ten northern counties, as well as area individuals, organizations, and businesses.
And the rest, as they say, is history …