top of page

Rainier Valley Investment Co.

RVHS Photo 1993.001.0012

This 1908 photo shows the office of the Rainier Valley Investment Co. at 4870 Rainier Avenue. The office was located next to the present location of the Rainier Office Supply in the center of Historic Columbia City. 

The man on the left, according to the writing on the back of the photo, is a Mr. Watson, probably an employee. The man in the center was my grandfather, D. W. “Will” Brown and on the right is J. A. Kelso. They were probably owners as both their names appear on the left front window of the office. 

We have some of the company’s stock certificates and Mr. Kelso had signed them as secretary of the firm. The president’s signature was also on the certificate and his name was H. A. Gardner.

The stock certificates we have were owned by Will Brown. One of them was certificate number 700, amounting to 16 2/3 shares of common stock with each share valued at $10.00. The certificates listed the capitol stock of the R. V. Investment Company at $15,000 and was dated the 2nd of June, 1920. The date of 1908 on the photo indicates the firm was in business for at least twelve years. 

The company might have been a sideline for some the men as Mr. Gardner, its president, was one of Columbia City’s barbers, in business with his son-in-law, Menzo Laporte. Also, Will Brown, during those years, was the superintendent of the Seattle Renton & Southern Ry. street car line until 1916 when the line declared bankruptcy and was reorganized as the Seattle & Rainier Valley Co.

The signs in the investment company’s window give us the impression that their business activities were mainly real estate sales and housing rentals. Looking closely at the messages on the signs gives us an idea of the prices at the time the photo was taken. One sign is advertising a four room furnished house for rent at $10 per month. Another offers view lots for sale, close in, 40 x 102, for $550. One stated they had money to loan on Rainier Valley Property. The Rainier Valley Investment Co. was also in the insurance business, made investments and was a notary public according to the lettering on the window just to the right of Mr. Watson.

One of their investments, in 1913, was the construction of the two story brick building on the northwest corner of Rainier Avenue and Ferdinand Street, diagonally across Rainier Avenue from the historic Columbia Hotel. Their building had businesses on the street level and apartments on the second floor.

 The Rainier Lions Club has been the owner since about 1969 when they contracted with the state to house people attending the State’s training facility for the blind a few blocks away on Alaska Street. That contract was recently terminated. The Lions club have used the majority of the main floor as their meeting hall with the front section leased to Matthiesen’s Flowers.

This building has had a variety of tenants over the years. Some of them were: Green’s Dry Goods store in 1915, the office for the Rainier Valley Times and W.D. Mosely, Jeweler , both in 1917, in 1926 the Beehive Marketerias, Inc. sold groceries there and then it became the Piggly Wiggly Grocery. The small office space on the Ferdinand Street side, at the rear of the building, was occupied by the Christian Science reading room for several years.

I believe it was in the early forties that Ernst Hardware moved into the building.. They had originally opened a store on the east side of Rainier Avenue in the same building once occupied by the Rainier Valley Investment Co. After a few years in the new location, Ernst sold the business to an investor whose regular job was  driving a milk delivery truck. The new owner hired the Ernst Store’s ex-manager, Fred Mc Bride to run the business for him and they remained in business for several years.

Rainier Valley Investment Co. also made an investment in property in south west Washington. I didn’t know about that until 1998 when my wife and I were in the town of Goldendale, close to the Columbia River, checking on some vacation property that my grandparents had acquired about 1914. I was curious as to the location of their property and to see if their cabin, shown in a photo we have, might still be there.

In those days it was an all day drive on gravel roads to get there. We have a photo of them leaving town in their open touring car, grandpa Brown with his derby hat and goggles and grandma Brown with her wide brimmed fancy hat held in place with a scarf over her head and tied under her chin. 

I located the property on a map at the local Historical Society in Goldendale. They had owned about ten acres of land on the north side of Section 32. It was on the slope that rises up from the Columbia River about four miles north of Goldendale. It has a sweeping southerly view of the Columbia River and the mountains beyond. 

 Then on the map, just below the Brown’s property in that same section of land, I noticed a large parcel of land, about 120 acres, with the name of “Mountain View Orchard Estates.” The interesting thing about that parcel was the name of the owner. It was listed as the Rainier Valley Investment Company. 

We tried to find the property and ended up at the town cemetery. We then realized we lacked sufficient information to locate it. Being a holiday when we were there, the assessor’s office was closed but we hope to go back and do some more research to find how to get to the property, what is on the property now and when they bought and sold it. We have no idea why they bought it.

While these men of Columbia City that owned the Investment Company were doing their thing, buying and selling property and building buildings, their wives and some of the other women from Columbia apparently decided they also wanted part of the investment action. 

They formed a women only group they named “Columbia Co-operative Investment Company.” They incorporated and sold stock just as the men had done. We also have some of the women’s stock certificates and their capitol stock was $4800.00. The shares were $1.00 each and were issued on July 14, 1910. The certificates we have had been purchased by Edith Brown, Will’s wife, on December 10, 1920, indicating the company was around for at least 10 years. I wonder what the husbands thought about this venture by their wives?

 It was very unusual in those early years for women to be involved in anything except housekeeping. It confirms what many of the old timers have claimed over the years, that those early settlers that bought the first lots in Columbia in 1891 were a hardy bunch. They formed a close knit group while setting up the town’s government and developed a community that thrived for years and even after being annexed by the City of Seattle they stuck together.

This was evidenced by their “Pioneers of Columbia City” association, (now the Rainier Valley Historical Society), that has held an annual spring meeting every year since Columbia City was formed 1891. Their membership grew to over 500 at one time. 

The only reference to this women’s cooperative group that we can find was an article written in the local newspaper’s “Rainier Valley Citizen Annual” and published in 1915. Following is that article.


“Though not generally known, there exists in Rainier Valley a women’s organization of a very unique character. There is not known to be another one of the kind in existence in this city or elsewhere: and, indeed, the Federal Department that has charge of tabulating the businesses and corporations of the country, has made public that it has no record of any other.

This organization is one of Rainier Valley housekeepers, incorporated for business and investment purposes only, and is well known as the Columbia Co-operative Investment Company.

The company was organized in March, 1907, and incorporated four years later with twenty-four Columbia women as members. It has made a business of loans and dealings in Rainier Valley property. Its holdings are confined to Rainier Valley. It now has $3000 invested in property and loans, but the value of its holdings is understood to much exceed this amount, as the women have shown excellent judgment in buying and selling and conducting the business along profitable lines.

The members now holding office are: President, Annie Hyde;  Secretary, Minnie Hastings;  Treasurer, Clara Brown;  Board of Trustees, Agnes Pearson, chairman;  Eva Harris, Vinnie Sims, Edith Brown, and Alma Lawrence.”

It sounds like these ladies were way ahead of their time.


Days Gone By 

South District Journal 3/22/2000

By Buzz Anderson


bottom of page