GEORGE W. HUNT
Portland The Rose City, Pictorial and Biographical, De Luxe Supplement, Volume 1
S. J. Clarke Publishing Co, 1911
Around the name of George W. Hunt centers much of the history of railroad building operations in the northwest. He was in a measure the victim of the greed and unprincipled activities of rival corporations, yet through it all he maintained a reputation of straightforward business dealing that has made his name an honored one. His signal service was in the vigor he lent to the pioneer era, in making this region habitable, in bringing its resources to light and in developing its transportation facilities so that the products of the northwest could be sent to the markets of the east. Such careers are too near us now for their significance to be appraised at its true value, but the future will be able to tract the tremendous effect of their labors upon the city and the institutions of their times.
His life history had its beginning on the 4th of May, 1842, his birth occurring near the town of Dewittville, on Chautauqua Lake, in Chautauqua county, New York. The mingled blood of English and Scotch ancestry flowed in his veins. His progenitors were well conditioned people of good stock, noted for their moral worth and religions activities. The Scotch strain comes through the maternal line, while on the paternal side Mr. Hunt was of English descent, although comparitively few of the family left England to become residents of the new world. His youthful days were spent upon his father's farm and he was early assigned the work of performing the chores and doing other such labor as was necessary in prosecuting the farm work.
As his years and strength increased he took up the work of the fields and it was characteristic of him even in his boyhood days that he did with all of his might and with a sense of conscientious obligation whatever his hand found to do. His nature was one that could never be content with mediocrity. Ambition spurred him on to larger effort and with the hope of obtaining larger opportunities he left home when a boy of sixteen years and in 1859 came to the northwest, which was the scene of his activities from that time until his life's labors were ended in death.
Like many a youth who sought the Pacific coast he attempted to gain wealth from the gold fields, working in the mines of Colorado for a short time. He was soon convinced, however, that his path to success lay not in that direction.
He was first employed at teaming in Denver, entering upon the work with a single span of horses and a wagon, and there remained about two years, when he removed to Oregon. His railroad operations may be said to have had their beginning in the freight line which he established between The Dalles and Boise City.
As the country became more thickly settled there was need for transportation facilities that would save time, he entered the field of railroad construction and built the section of the Oregon Shortline between Weiser and Payette, Idaho.
He then took a contract for the building of a section of the Oregon Railroad & Navigation Company's road, leading through the Pyles Canyon. After this heavy piece of work was completed he built the Corvallis & Eastern Railroad. He also built the Hunt Railroad system, which opened the great wheat country in eastern Washington and Oregon. HIs line extended from Wallula to Pendleton and from Wallula to Walla Walla, Dayton and Waitsburg and constituted a part of what is now the Northern Pacific system. He also built a section of the Northern Pacific on the Cascade division.
His name is more prominently identified with the development of southeastern Washington and that section of Oregon tributary to Pendleton and Umatilla than that of any man in the history of the Pacific northwest. He recognized what it would mean to the country to have railroad facilities whereby the products of the country could be rapidly brought to the markets of the east. After the building of what is known as the Hunt system he also planned to build a road from Centralia to Grays Harbor and it was in this venture that the large fortune which he had amassed was broken.
By this project he drew upon him the hostility of his more powerful railroad rivals who brought so much pressure to bear against the sale of his bonds and the other steps that he took in the effort to carry out the plans that he was forced to retire from railroad activities. His experience was a notable example of what may be accomplished within the letter of the law by those men, who, regardless of moral obligations, constitute the corporations that are controlling the utilities and business interests of the country, crushing out the rights of the opportunities of those who have not the capital or strength to protect individual interests.
With remarkable prescience Mr. Hunt saw the opportunities for rapid development. He planned to build the road down to the Columbia river and it is over part of the line of survey made by him that the North Bank road now operates.
In this connection the local press said of Mr. Hunt: "From a farmer's lad doing chores near Lake Chautuaqua in New York, to becoming the owner and builder of a railroad system known under his name, which was the greatest rival encountered by the Northern Pacific in its progress to the coast, was the record accomplished by this man whose endeavors in traffic lines made him a millionaire and who proved so worthy an adversary of the two large railroad companies then fighting for supremacy to the Pacific coast that they combined to force him out of the field, which later led to the impairment of his great wealth."
On retiring from the field of railroad building and management Mr. Hunt concentrated his energies upon agricultural pursuits.
On the 4th of November, 1866, Mr. Hunt was united in marriage to Miss Leonora Gaylord, of Bluff Station, Idaho, and unto them there were born six children, four of whom are now living, namely: Charles W. and Guy L., who are the owners of ranches and reside near Halfway, Oregon; C. Clyde, who resides upon a ranch near Nyssa, Oregon; and Lillie M., living with her mother in Portland.
The death of Mr. Hunt occurred on the 26th of February, 1910, following an illness covering four years. He has been characterized as "one of Oregon's pioneers and one of those ambitious comers to the west who stood prominent in the reclamation of the wilderness and in the upbuilding of an empire upon the Pacific coast." Possessing practically nothing at the outset of his career he lived to acquire almost everything that men covet as of value and all was gained by his own exertions.
He possessed a courageous spirit that was manifest under circumstances when many another man would have faltered and fell. He had a genius for organization, combined with executive force that made his work of lasting value - a factor in the development of the northwest that will work for good through all time. He stood as one of its most enlightened public-spirited and progressive citizens.