Three Castles: Congdon, Carmichael and Carbonneau

The historic Congdon Castle in West Valley is seen in this 1920 photograph. (courtesy of the Yakima Valley Museum)
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Congdon Castle remains shrouded by trees, mystery

Located south of Nob Hill Boulevard just a stone's throw from the busy West Valley Wal-Mart is a nearly century-old mansion known as Congdon Castle.

Largely hidden by orchards and shrouded in mystery, the castle was built in 1914-1915 by industrialist Chester A. Congdon, an attorney and mining magnate from Duluth, Minn., and builder of the Yakima Valley Canal.

Congdon first came to Yakima in 1889 with his younger brother, Albert. By the mid-1890s, they had built the canal, also known as the Congdon ditch, and had also bought vast tracts of land that now form Yakima and parts of the West Valley. The castle apparently was intended as a summer home for the Congdon family, which remained based in Duluth and lived in a beautiful mansion on Lake Superior called Glensheen.

Known to the family as Westhome, the Yakima castle is built of local rocks quarried near the Painted Rocks, which was once owned by Congdon's Yakima Valley Canal Co.

Like all castles, fanciful or for-real, the mansion has a tower and a turret.

It also is said to have more than 80 rooms, including 18 bedrooms, a Great Room with a huge fireplace, a formal dining room (also with a fireplace) and an indoor swimming pool that would temporarily drain all the water from the well when it was filled.

Although he visited Yakima often during his career, Chester Congdon died Nov. 21, 1916, just a year after the mansion was completed. He may never have even seen it when it was finished.

Today, Congdon Castle is a bit of a mystery to most residents of Yakima, as it remains in the hands of the very private Congdon family and is rarely opened to the public.

For many years, however, it was the center of a thriving orchard operation, one of the biggest in the region, and was no mystery to the farm's employees and their children.

In 1976, as part of the city of Yakima's bicentennial project, an old trolley line was restored and tourists flocked to the city to ride out to the castle.

But the Congdon line shut down in 1987, and the once-huge Congdon empire, over 900 acres, became the subject of a zoning battle over annexation and redevelopment.

Your best bet today is a quick glimpse as you pass by on your way to Wal-Mart, once a Congdon orchard. The occasional tree-thinning operation makes it easier to see, temporarily.

— By Chris Bristol

The Carmichael house in Union Gap was built in the early 20th century by Elizabeth Carmichael. Carmichael started the Yakima City Creamery in 1902 that was eventually transformed into the Maid O'Clover Dairy Store. Maid O'Clover eventually become a chain of stores. (by Gordon King)
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From castle to creamery, Carmichael family left its mark on Valley

Because it's located on a quiet side street of Union Gap, the Carmichael Castle too often goes unnoticed.

And that's too bad, because the rough-hewn rock home, complete with a turret, has rightfully earned itself a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

The house, at 108. W Pine St., was built by Elizabeth Loudon Carmichael, who in 1884 immigrated from New Zealand with her husband and three children to a Cowiche-area farm. But shortly after their fourth child was born, her husband died, prompting her to move to what was then Yakima. (This was a few years before Yakima famously hauled its buildings several miles to the north in order to re-establish itself at the railroad stop.)

There, in what is now Union Gap, she opened a general store. It was a success, but she closed it to move to California with her second husband. But after he died within a year, Carmichael moved back and reopened the business.

With an entrepreneurial spirit, Carmichael founded Yakima City Creamery in 1902. She began by making cream and butter, but expanded to making Carmichael Ice Cream, according to the Yakima Herald-Republic's archives.

It was about that time that she ordered rock cut from a Selah-area quarry and had it hauled to the Union Gap site by her four sons.

Over the years, her business grew. It was managed by family members who expanded operations into the Maid O'Clover Dairy Store, which eventually became a chain.

Carmichael's business became so profitable that she had two homes - the castle on Pine Street and another home at 2 Chicago Ave. in Yakima. The second, more modest appearing home is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

— By Erin Snelgrove

Belinda Carbonneau built Carbonneau Castle, located on 48th Avenue just south of Tieton Drive, in 1908 after making her fortune in the Klondike gold rush. The mansion now houses a business - Findery Floral and Gift - on the first floor and serves as a residence on the upper floors. (by Sara Gettys)
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The story behind Yakima's Carbonneau Castle

If her heart had not broken, Belinda Carbonneau might not have moved to Yakima.

And had she not lived in Yakima, there would be no Carbonneau Castle - a four-story stone home now known as Findery Floral and Gift at 620 S. 48th Ave.

Born Belinda Mulrooney in Ireland, Carbonneau grew up in Pennsylvania. At an early age, she left home, living in such places as New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Juneau, Alaska. By the late 1800s, she'd moved to the Klondike to make her fortune from the miners working the Alaskan gold rush.

She sold silk and hot-water bottles at a reported profit of 600 percent, reinvesting her returns in other business ventures. She built her first hotel in Grand Forks, then constructed the fancier Fairview Hotel in Dawson City in 1898. It's said she personally accompanied a shipment of cut-glass chandeliers, silverware, china, linen, and brass bedsteads over Chilkoot Pass.

Both of her hotels catered to - or "mined" - miners. While some rumored that Carbonneau had been a madam, others say she was legitimate businesswoman who staked gold-mining claims of her own and grew wealthy. While still in her 20s, she was one of the most famous women in the Klondike, as well as one of its most successful business people.

While Carbonneau had good business sense, the same could not be said about her choice in men. According to the book Staking her Claim: The Life of Belinda Mulrooney, Carbonneau shunned the advice of her friends - and a Catholic priest - and married Charles Eugene Carbonneau, a handsome French con man posing as an aristocrat in 1900.

While their money lasted, the two lived the high life in the Yukon and France. But when it ran out, so did Charles. The couple divorced and Charles returned to France taking some of Belinda's money and jewels. Belinda, meanwhile, started a bank, amassed a new fortune, divorced her husband and moved to Yakima to be with her family.

By 1909, she had purchased a 22-acre ranch in Yakima and built the mansion on South 48th Avenue. It's now listed on the National Register of Historical Places.

Carbonneau lived here until the mid-1920s, when she moved to Seattle, giving occasional interviews about her gold rush days. She died at 95 in 1967.

In 1992, Leonard and Judy Russell purchased the home - later converting the main floor into Findery Floral and Gift. The Russells live upstairs, while Judy's daughter, Sue Goertler, manages the shop.

— By Erin Snelgrove and Adriana Janovich