Wolf, Fred L. (1877-1957)

  • By Laura Arksey
  • Posted 6/06/2006
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 7775
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No one better deserves the title “leading citizen” than newspaperman Fred L. Wolf (1877-1957) of Newport, county seat of Pend Oreille County. From the time of his purchase of the Newport Miner in 1907 until his death in 1957, he was the prime mover behind projects crucial to the development of his town, county, state, and the region. Chief among them were the formation of Pend Oreille County, the improvement of early roads, the building of the bridge linking northeastern Washington with northern Idaho, and the construction of Albeni Falls Dam. He also found time for politics, serving three terms (beginning in 1919, 1921 and 1931) as a Republican in the Washington State House of Representatives.

Early Years

Fred Wolf was born on June 14, 1877, of German immigrant parents in Elkader, Iowa. During the Civil War, his father, a saddle and harness maker, was company saddler for the Fifth Iowa Cavalry, then resumed his trade in Iowa.  Fred’s brother Oscar recalls:  “We boys all had a chance at the menial task of washing and oiling harnesses, which was a big job every spring before farm work got under way.”  Fred graduated from the local high school, where he was captain of the baseball team.  “His early sand lot days were handicapped by having to be a baby sitter for a squalling brother [Oscar, 14 years younger] parked in a baby buggy on the side lines” (Oscar Wolf).

Even as a very young man, Fred was involved in civic causes.  He fostered a farmers’ institute and organized the local farmers to drag the roads along their farms after each rain with the split log method, an effort that presaged his later work in Washington with the Good Roads Movement. 

Newport's Newspaper Man

Fred Wolf had begun work as a printer in Elkader 1891 and was publisher of the Elkader Argus from 1901 to 1907.  He came to Newport in 1907 and purchased the Newport Miner, from which he retired in 1945.  Definitely a hands-on newspaperman, Wolf functioned equally as owner, publisher, editor, and writer.  Photographs even show him setting type on the linotype machine acquired in 1918.

A leader in his profession, he was an associate of the Sigma Delta Chi, national newspaper fraternity, a member of the Spokane Press Club and, in 1926, president of the Washington Press Association.  Wolf was a thoughtful employer with a loyal cadre of workers.  Ralph Braddock, printer and newspaperman, worked with him for over 38 years.  Wolf’s brother Oscar was publisher of the Metaline Falls News and Ione Gazette. 

In 1910, after his move to Newport, Fred Wolf married Maude (Beaton) Ainsworth, the widow of Dr. Fred Ainsworth. She had moved to Newport with her husband in 1903, from West Union, Iowa, her place of birth. She and Fred Wolf were married in Spokane by the mayor of that city, the Reverend J. W. Henley.

Upon his arrival in Newport, Wolf lost no time in becoming active in community affairs. A declaration of his attitude toward civic activism and his devotion to Newport was reprinted in the 1986 special edition of the Newport Miner celebrating the “Diamond Jubilee” of the formation of Pend Oreille County:

“Next to a man’s family, his personal friends and his business, nothing should arouse his energy in its behalf more thoroughly than the town in which he lives.  It is his home.  It is the place in which he earns his competence and educates his family.  If  he wants to make it as populous, as thrifty and as widely known as possible, he cannot afford to be indifferent to anything which will further these ends. ... If a town is worth anything, it is worthy of our greatest energy”  (June 11, 1986, p. 4).

Pend Oreille County

Wolf’s first major cause was the creation of a separate county from the eastern portion of huge Stevens County.  With Ione attorney Fred Trumbull, he circulated petitions and lobbied the Washington State Legislature, with the result that Pend Oreille County was created on June 10, 1911.  In 1912, Newport defeated rival towns by popular vote to become county seat.

During World War I, Wolf was chairman of the Pend Oreille County Council of Defense and of the liberty loan drives in Newport.  From World War II until his death, he served on the Selective Service Board.

Good Roads and a Good Bridge

Recognizing the importance of roads for farmers and merchants, as well as for future tourists, Wolf was an early leader in the Good Roads Movement on state and regional levels. He served as president of the Washington State Good Roads Association and as a member of the State Highway Advisory Commission.  In 1920 he was active in promoting a cross-country American Automobile Association “pathfinder” automobile tour (and ensuring that the route would pass through Newport) on the National Parks to Parks Highway from Chicago to Puget Sound.  Fred Wolf was among the “two auto loads of Newport men ... to meet them at the top of Laclede Hill and escort them to Newport” (Newport Miner, July 15, 1920).

One of his most significant achievements was replacing the old ferry with a bridge connecting Newport and Eastern Washington with Northern Idaho.  As early as 1916, Wolf wrote:

“F. W. Guilbert, secretary of the Spokane County Good Roads Association, and one of the leaders of the movement in the state for good roads, has pledged himself to work for a state bridge across the river at Newport in 1919.  The bridge could perhaps have been realized next year had it not been for the necessity of asking the legislature for $40,000 to complete the Newport-Spokane road.  The completion of the state road will in itself be a big argument for the bridge”  (Newport Miner, July 13, 1916).
Although Wolf and others worked tirelessly on the project, the Interstate Bridge did not open to traffic until June 15, 1927.  Geographic and cost factors dictated its placement just over the border in Idaho, but this was no problem for Wolf: The bridge would benefit both states equally.  He had been instrumental in procuring $600,000 of Washington State money toward its construction. The Newport Miner of July 7 declared: “So far as known it is the first time that two states, two counties and the Federal Bureau of Public Roads have all participated in the financing and construction of one bridge” (Bamonte, 214). 

Fred Wolf’s efforts had been crucial in bringing these entities together to achieve the project.  In addition, he was chairman of the dedication committee and presided at the ceremony.  As a highlight of the festivities, Spokane’s Major John T. Fancher of the National Air Derby Association arranged for a fly-over of military planes. 

A purely utilitarian structure, dedicated on November 16, 1988, replaced the beautiful 1927 bridge.

Albeni Falls Dam

Wolf was far from idle after his retirement from newspaper work in 1945.  The project that most consumed his time and interest was realization of the Albeni Falls Dam on the Pend Oreille River. 

The Army Corps of Engineers made the first public announcement of the possibility for a dam at the site in December, 1947.  Seasonal high water had always been a problem, and the disastrous 1948 flood demonstrated once more the need for flood control.  Wolf spent years giving speeches and writing letters, as well as making three trips to Washington, D.C., to lobby for the project. 

Placement just across the border in Idaho was not a problem for Wolf.  The important thing was the generation of hydroelectric power for both sides of the state border as well as flood control downstream in Pend Oreille County.

On January 26, 1951, Fred Wolf closed the switch that detonated the charge for the first blast at the dam site.  During construction he was an almost daily visitor, a hard hat and a special pass giving him the liberty of the site. Wolf was chairman of the committee that planned the celebrations to open Albeni Falls Dam, and presided as master of ceremonies at the dedication on June 24, 1955.

For the Community

Amidst all of this public activity, Fred Wolf was also involved in fraternal and other organizations.  He was master of the Newport Masonic lodge and a member of the Knights of Pythias.  He also was in charge of the Newport opera house and “was successful in bringing to our small community some of the big-time vaudeville circuit attractions”  (Oscar Wolf).   He served from 1951 to 1954 on the Board of Curators of the Washington State Historical Society in Tacoma. At the time he was the only person from Northeastern Washington so honored. 

Fred Wolf was a small-town newspaperman who operated on a larger stage for the good of his community.  His voluminous correspondence over the years show him on a first-name basis with a succession of Washington governors as well as leaders on the national level, such as Senators Clarence Dill and Warren Magnuson.  In the words of a Newport resident well acquainted with his legacy, Wolf “was a man of vision, a tireless worker for Newport and the county, a problem solver and a leader of men” (McClenny, email, May 18, 2006).  Without a doubt, no one in Pend Oreille County or Eastern Washington has brought about more improvement to the region than Fred Wolf of Newport.

Sources: Tony and Suzanne Bamonte, History of Pend Oreille County (Spokane: Tornado Creek Publications, 1996), 212-214; “Albeni Built, Fred Wolf ‘Out of a Job,’ ” Spokane Daily Chronicle, June 24, 1955; “Fred Wolf, Newport Pioneer, Is Taken,” Spokesman-Review, October 30, 1957; “Fred L. Wolf Says:” Newport Miner, The Diamond Jubilee, Wednesday, June 11, 1911-1986, 4; Newport Miner, July 13, 1916;  Newport Miner, various issues, 1920; Shirley Dallas, Washington State Library, email regarding Fred Wolf’s terms in legislature to Laura Arksey, May 2, 2006; Faith McClenny, Pend Oreille County Historical Society, conversations with and emails to Laura Arksey, May 2006; Clipping files, Pend Oreille County Historical Society; Clipping files and Fred L. Wolf collection of correspondence, MsSC 132, Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture; Oscar Wolf, undated report, Pend Oreille County Historical Society.

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