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Moxee Company, The (Yakima County)

HistoryLink.org Essay 9218 : Printer-Friendly Format

Established in 1886 and located in the Moxee Valley east of the burgeoning town of North Yakima, the Moxee Company was an experimental farm that tested crops for their viability in this area, raised livestock, irrigated some 7,000 acres of land, built a community, and offered land for sale. Articles of Incorporation establishing the company were signed by Gardiner Greene Hubbard (1822-1897), the first president of the National Geographic Society and father-in-law of Alexander Graham Bell; Charles James Bell (1858-1929); William Ker (1852-1925); Samuel Hubbard Jr. (1863-1944), and James Stuart.The corporation operated until June 9, 1955, when the remaining stockholders dissolved it.

It’s All Relative  

The main product of the Moxee Company, according to one writer, was jobs for various family members. In Bell: Alexander Graham Bell and the Conquest of Solitude, Robert V. Bruce writes, “In the 1880s ... the Bells joined Hubbard in financing a large diversified farming operation at Moxee, Washington, which was a losing venture for many years. Its chief yield for the Bells was of jobs for various Bell and Hubbard relatives” (Bruce, 294).

The Bell and Hubbard families were greatly intertwined. Charles James Bell (a first cousin to Alexander Graham Bell) married first Roberta Wolcott Hubbard (1859-1885), a daughter of Gardiner Green Hubbard; then upon her passing, he married her sister, Grace Blatchford Hubbard (1861-1948). Alexander Graham Bell was married to their sister, Mabel Gardiner Hubbard (1857-1923).  Charles James Bell’s sister, Lily Florence Bell (1854-1924) was married to William Ker. Samuel Hubbard Jr. was the son of Samuel Hubbard, a half-brother of Gardiner Greene Hubbard. William Ker had been the general manager of the Pennsylvania Telephone Company and served on the board with Charles J. Bell, before coming to Moxee.

Numerous other relatives were employed and took up residence in the Moxee, including George Ker, brother of William Ker, who took charge of the cattle. William and George Ker were the sons of Reverend John Kerr (1824-1907), mathematical lecturer at the Free Church Training College in Glasgow and best known for a discovery in physics now called the Kerr Effect.   

Beginings

The first freight car belonging to the Northern Pacific Railroad arrived in Yakima City on December 23, 1884, delivering six barrels of whiskey and beer. The new depot in North Yakima, originally in a converted railroad boxcar, was officially dedicated on January 14, 1885. Gardiner Hubbard traveled through Yakima Valley, most likely around this time, and was “forcibly struck by its climate and soil” (Hart).

The Moxee Company was incorporated on June 28, 1886. Gardiner Greene Hubbard became the primary stockholder with 750 shares, Charles J. Bell with 245, William Ker and Samuel Hubbard with two each, and James Stuart with one.   

The Home Farm  

William Ker was named general manager of the company, establishing a residence on what would become known as the "Home Farm."  These 160 acres were established to “test the adaptability of crops not ordinarily raised in this latitude, such as tobacco, cotton, sorghum, broom corn, sugar beets, etc” (The Northwest Magazine).  Home Farm amenities included a “postoffice, store, blacksmith shops and necessary farm buildings. A free library is maintained for the use of the men, of whom there are thirty, and some form of entertainment and refreshments are provided for them on Sundays.  Religious services are held there every two weeks” (The West Shore). The post office, originally named Moxie, was commissioned on March 8, 1887, with Samuel Hubbard Jr. as postmaster.  

In total, the entire Moxee Company operation originally consisted of “6400 acres, 2900 of which are in the valley proper and 3500 in the ranges” (The Northwest Magazine).  On these ranges could be seen thoroughbred Black Angus, Durham Shorthorn and Hereford cattle. Both riding horses and workhorses were used, and the “Moxee Plantation” boasted its use of English Shire Draught horses.

Hogs were brought in. A Chester White boar, listed as the “monarch of the pens” (The Yakima Herald, September 27, 1889) was a gift from president Thomas F. Oakes of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Hops, which became a primary crop in the Moxee Valley, were already growing by 1887, and by 1889 the company had 150 acres of alfalfa under cultivation, "fifteen acres of tobacco, 200 acres of barley, 100 acres of oats, twenty acres of corn ... and three acres are in grapes, including 200 cuttings of the Johannisberg-Riesling variety. 500 cuttings of the Old Mission grape ...” (The Northwest Magazine).

Growing and Curing Tobacco

To William Ker, the most important crop the farm was introducing to this area was tobacco. He began this venture due to a suggestion by Joseph Jorgensen (1844-1888), a member of Congress from Petersburg, Virginia, and later a land officer in Walla Walla. He and Governor Miles Moore told Ker that a sample of the soil from the Moxee Valley was sent to Professor Henry at the Smithsonian, and he had determined that it was “peculiarly adapted to raising tobacco” (Report on the Internal Commerce). In an article to The Northwest Magazine Ker stated “this is where the money can be made. We can raise 1,000 pounds to the acre.” 

While visiting Moxee, Mabel Hubbard Bell writes how Mr. Ker took her on a visit to the cigar factory. 

“[W]e went to the cigar factory. In the shed adjoining thousands of tobacco leaves are hanging to dry, pretty well shrunk and shriveled now but evidently long and broad handsome leaves in their time ... . In the factory six or seven men were busily engaged some preparing the leaf, others making and rolling the cigars” (Letter to Alexander Graham Bell). 

The cigars produced by the Moxee Company’s factory were marketed under various names including “The Yakima Cigar,” “Flor de Moxee,” “Flor de Yakima,” and “Seal of Washington.” Tobacco ceased to be grown in the early 1900s, possibly due to blight. But primarily the failure of the crop was due to the use of irrigation. The technical advisors the Moxee Company had hired from Kentucky were familiar with dry land farming, not with irrigated tobacco.

Irrigating for Settlers 

In anticipation of future settlement, the Moxee Company irrigated some 7,000 acres.  The Moxee Company Canal was constructed in 1888. It was fed by water from the Yakima River and crossed the valley from the north to the south, joining together with the Moxee Company’s Hubbard Ditch to irrigate 7,000 acres. “The ditch was eighteen feet wide, contained three feet of water and supplied thousands of acres” (The Washington Historical Quarterly).

The well-irrigated land and the success of particular crops was a great advertisement for the company. “These facts suggest what an industrious, intelligent man can accomplish in a farm of fifty acres, with a sufficient supply of water” (The West Shore).    

Luring Settlers 

Once the land was well irrigated and crops were tested, the objective of the Moxee Company was to sell parcels of land. The company worked in tandem with the Northern Pacific Railroad to promote settlement. In the 1893 edition of the Official Northern Pacific Railroad Guide, travelers were advised to visit the Moxee farm to see "irrigation farming on a large scale":

“This farm embraces about two thousand acres under ditch and cultivation, and with an extensive stock range of many thousand acres.  It is owned by a company in which Gardner Hubbard, of the Bell Telephone Company, is the principal stockholder” (Official Northern Pacific Guide).

Advertising in tandem with the Northern Pacific Railroad, the Moxee Company sold off land to new settlers.  In the 1890s, the company sold 50-acre farms for $750 each, and charged “$75.00 per year for water, or $1.50 per acre” (The West Shore).  

William Ker helped form the Yakima Commercial Club, which supplemented advertising campaigns conducted by the Northern Pacific to entice people to the area. The Yakima Commercial Club produced a brochure for the 1901 Pan American Exhibition in Buffalo that first interested Joseph LaFramboise in establishing a home and blacksmith shop in Moxee. LaFramboise was one of many French-Canadian families that emigrated from Crookston, Minnesota, to the Yakima Valley, enticed by these advertisements.  

The response from the exposition in Buffalo was so successful that the Yakima Commercial Club produced 25,000 brochures for the St. Louis World’s Fair in 1904.   

The End of an Era   

William Ker served as General Manager of the Moxee Company until December 31, 1891. He was replaced by Daniel Everett Lesh (1853-1924), who was also a member of the Washington State Legislature and had previously served as sheriff of Yakima County (1886-1890).  Lesh remained general manager until his wife passed away in 1896. Henry B. Scudder (1844-1917), son of Alicia Harriet Blatchford Scudder (a stepsister to Gardiner Green Hubbard), took the position in 1897 and held it until his death. He had originally invested in land in the Moxee with Charles Eustis Hubbard, brother of Samuel Hubbard.

The final General Manager was Scudder’s son-in-law, Charles A. Marsh. After his death, his widow, Bessie P. Marsh, and the remaining stockholders officially dissolved the corporation on June 9, 1955.    

One outcome of the Moxee Company was the introduction of hops to the Moxee Valley. In 2009 Washington state grows more than 75 percent of all hops grown in the United States, and 80 percent of the Washington crop is grown in Yakima County.  Another legacy of the Moxee company is that descendants of the French-Canadian and Dutch families who emigrated due to Moxee Company and Northern Pacific Railroad advertisements still live in the Moxee Valley.

Sources:
The Northwest Magazine, May 1889; Annual Report of the Secretary of Internal Affairs of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Part IV, Railroad, Canal, Navigation and Telegraph Companies (Lane S. Hart, State Printer/Binder, 1885), 286; S. G. Brock, Chief of the Bureau of Statistics, Treasury Department, Report on the Internal Commerce for the United States for the year 1890. Part II of Commerce and Navigation: The Commercial, Industrial, Transportation, and Other Interests of Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, and Washington (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1891), 1026; The West Shore, October 1887, pp. 718, 721-722; Letter from Mabel Hubbard Bell to Alexander Graham Bell, December 9, 1889, Series: Family Papers, Folder: Mabel Hubbard Bell, Family Correspondence, Alexander Graham Bell, 1889, The Alexander Graham Bell Family Papers at the Library of Congress, 1862-1939, available on the Library of Congress American Memory site (type specific letter into search box) (http://memory.loc.gov); David Lynx telephone conversation with Brian Wood, Curator at the Bell Homestead National Historic Site, Brantford, Ontario; Articles of Incorporation of the Moxee Company, Filed and Recorded in the office of the Secretary of the Territory of Washington, July 16, 1886, Book “G,” p. 456; “Dan Lesh Dies Sunday After Heart Attack,” Yakima Daily Republic, November 10, 1924;  Christine Pfaff, Harvests of Plenty: A History of the Yakima Irrigation Project (Washington, D.C.: United States Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation, June 2002), 11;  Dean Boyer, "The Moxee Plantation: Experimental Farm Drew Early Settlers to Yakima County," Neighbors, Fall/Winter 2005, p. 20; “Moxee Once Came Within a Blight of Being Known as Tobacco King,” Yakima Herald-Republic, October 16, 1966; W. D. C. Spike & Company, Spike’s Illustrated Description of the City of North Yakima, 1890; Robert V. Bruce, Bell: Alexander Graham Bell and the Conquest of Solitude (Boston: Little, Brown, 1973), 194; Official Northern Pacific Railroad Guide, for the use of Tourists and Travelers over the lines of the Northern Pacific Railroad, its Branches and Allied Lines (W.C. Riley, Publisher, 1892), 333;  An illustrated history of Klickitat, Yakima and Kittitas Counties with an outline of the Early History of the State of Washington (Chicago: Interstate Publishing Company, 1904), 213; Wallace G. Lewis, "Resettlement of French-Canadian Emigrants from Northern Minnesota to Washington's Yakima Valley in the late 19th and Early 20th Centuries," paper given to the 28th Annual Northern Great Plains History conference, St. Paul, Minnesota, October 1, 1994; Rose M. Boening, "History of Irrigation in the State of Washington," The Washington Historical Quarterly, Vol. 9, 1918, p. 268; Henry Robert Addison et al., Who's Who 1906: An Annual Biographic Dictionary (London: Adams and Charles Black, ca. 1906); Resolution of Dissolution, Moxee Company, County of Yakima, State of Washington, June 9, 1955; David Lynx, phone conversation with Ann George, Administrator, Hop Growers of America, Yakima, Washington.


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Sophie Hunt Hubbard, Charlie Hubbard, Gardiner Hubbard, Moxee Plantation, n.d.
Courtesy Yakima Valley Museum


George Ker, Samuel Hubbard, Will Hubbard, Moxee Plantation, n.d.
Courtesy Yakima Valley Museum


William Ker home, Moxee Plantation, n.d.
Courtesy Yakima Valley Museum


William Ker and Sam Hubbard, Moxee Plantation, n.d.
Courtesy Yakima Valley Museum


Etching, scenes from Moxee Company operations, Moxee Plantation, n.d.
Courtesy History of the Pacific Northwest: Oregon and Washington


 
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