Harmon’s Histories: Celebrating Bonner’s very own Valentine H. Coombes
By Jim Harmon/Missoula Current
This week, we salute a Valentine – not the day, but the man: Valentine H. Coombes.
In the 1890s, his name was ubiquitous, appearing on dozens and dozens of legal documents, mostly timber land purchases.
But he wasn’t the buyer; he was simply a witness to each deal.
When Ernest R. Kilburn of Potomac filed a claim, Coombes served as a witness. When John C. Hammond filed a similar claim, Coombes was on the paperwork as a witness.
It was through his “noble attributes and business integrity” that he “acquired hosts of friends,” according to old newspaper accounts.
Soon after the native of New Brunswick moved to Montana, he became “part owner and resident manager of the Helena Lumber Company.” Later, he moved to Bonner.
But Valentine H. Coombes would not be remembered as much for his lumbering days as for his management of the Hotel Margaret in Bonner, a place which, in the 1890s, became “a famous Sunday resort for Missoulians.”
In 1894, the State Firemen’s Convention banquet was held at the “beautiful Hotel Margaret,” described as the most “magnificent collation of eatables and drinkables ever to grace the tables of a handsome dining parlor.”
In 1895, the hotel was the venue for a dancing and card party hosted by Mr. And Mrs. George Fenwick and “Miss Hammond.”
“The parlors and halls of the hotel were beautifully decorated with evergreens and cut flowers and never before presented such a delightful appearance.”
At midnight, “the dining hall was thrown open and the guests sat down to a sumptuous luncheon.”
“A special train, which had conveyed the Missoula guests (to the hotel), left at 3 a.m. and it was very near time for the first rays of daylight to appear when they reached home.”
That same year, the Bonner Minstrels were reported to have been rehearsing for their performance at the Margaret.
News of Valentine Coombes’ death headlined the front page of the Missoulian newspaper on December 6, 1893.
“There arrived on Sunday morning from Joplin, Mo., accompanied by a brother, Robert, the remains of Valentine H. Coombes (whose) demise was not generally known until the body arrived in Missoula.”
“Many friends of the deceased were greatly surprised to learn for the first time the sad death of the good old man.
“Inquiry has failed to ascertain the locality or the circumstances attending his death, though it is presumed old age and the enfeebled condition of the subject was the immediate cause of his taking off.
“Deceased was about 70 years of age, a native of New Brunswick, and had been a long time resident of Montana.”
“He managed in a most acceptable manner, the new hotel Margaret. It is to be regretted that the announcement of his death ... was not made public sooner, as many in Missoula and Helena would have been present to pay their last respects to the memory of this worthy character.”
So it’s appropriate, this Valentine’s week, to tip our hats to our very own Valentine, “a good old man” indeed.
Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at email@example.com. His best-selling book, “The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was,” a collection of 46 vignettes of Western Montana history, is available at harmonshistories.com.