By Martin Kidston
Back in the 1930s when the Great Depression hit, Edgar Hobey Polleys and his son, Edgar Garwood Polleys, kept their lumber mill running on the edge of downtown Missoula. Despite the hard times, the two men also kept their staff employed, opting to pay wages in cash when money was hard to come by.
Standing before a crowd of 100 people in the Old Sawmill District on Thursday, descendants of the two lumbermen helped open the first building to rise on the land that once housed their family’s mill.
As history would have it, the structure bears the family name in Polleys Square. It’s the first of four new condominiums planned for the urban hub, and it marks the continuation of a larger $250 million effort to redevelop the former industrial site.
“We wanted something that was historical about this site,” said Leslie Wetherbee, a partner with the Millsite Revitalization Project. “We decided that the most fitting name would be after the person who built the very first lumber company on this site.”
While visiting friends in Colorado some years back, Ed and Leslie Wetherbee were invited to dinner. There, they shared their vision for the industrial property on the fringe of downtown Missoula.
That night, the old lumber mill came up in conversation. In a twist of fate, their hosts happened to be the descendants of the two elder Polleys. It was shortly after 1910, the Wetherbees learned, that Garwood Polleys joined his father, Hobey Polleys, in opening their namesake lumber company.
“Great Grandfather lost his thumb in a sawmill accident,” said Polleys descendant Janet McGahan. “Nevertheless, he had beautiful spidery handwriting. Mother said he used to hold his pen between his first two fingers. It fascinated me that he was a lumberman, but elegant in his dress and demeanor.”
While Jim Spittler held up a photograph of the elder Polleys, McGahan described her grandfather as a kindhearted and generous man who contributed to the early Missoula economy. He fathered two daughters – Ruth and Elizabeth.
They each had five children.
“I counted up 22 direct Polleys descendants living in Missoula, Arlee and Polson,” said McGahan. “There are dozens more in several other states.”
The same tenacity helped the developers behind the Millsite Revitalization Project see their own efforts through. The property sat vacant and neglected for nearly two decades until the City Council approved the Old Sawmill District redevelopment plan in 2007.
Cleaning up the industrial property also came with a significant and sometimes controversial public-private investment. It included the participation of a number of agencies, including the U.S Environment Protection Agency and the Missoula Redevelopment Agency.
In more recent years, the city helped lay the site’s modern infrastructure, including the completion of Wyoming Street. It also built the new 14-acre Silver Park, which opened last year, and it forged an agreement to build the new Ogren Park-Allegiance Field, home to the Missoula Osprey minor league baseball team.
What’s now rising from the old industrial site has been described as something of a village. It sits within view of downtown Missoula and, when finished, it will offer a mix of housing, commercial and office space on roughly 30 acres.
As many as three new owners have already moved into their new home in the project’s first condominium. Others are preparing to do so in the coming weeks, including Roy and Delia Campfield.
“We knew this was where we wanted to be when we downsized,” said Delia. “We’re pleased to be down here in this community within a community, next to the river and trails, and within walking distance from downtown.”
As the ribbon cutting played out, tractors prepared an adjacent site for construction of a four-story, $25 million luxury apartment complex dubbed Cambium Place. The revitalization effort represents the largest urban infill project in the state of Montana.
Also present Thursday was Malcolm Lowe and his business partner, Megan O’Dell. The two own and operate the Loose Caboose, though they their new storefront will bear the banner of the Dog and Bicycle Bakery and Cafe when it opens in Polleys Square this year.
The cafe marks the first commercial business to open in the district.
“I have to admit, the first couple years are a little bit scary, so you all need to come down here on your bicycles and buy coffee while they build the rest of their field of dreams,” Lowe told the crowd.
Leslie Wetherbee said a number of local lending institutions, including First Interstate Bank, Commercial Bank and Stockman Bank, provided in-house loans to help residents purchase their units on speculation.
A number of architects, law firms and designers also aided in the project, which is being built by Quality Construction.
“Millsite Revitalization Project started this 15 years ago,” said project partner Ed Wetherbee. “It’s pretty darned exciting for us right now to see the first building built and people able to move in.”
Contact reporter Martin Kidston at firstname.lastname@example.org