James M. Comstock

James M. Comstock

Durham, N. N. "Spokane and the Inland Empire; History of the City of Spokane and Spokane County Washington." Vol. 2. S. J. Clarke Publishing Co., 1912.


James M. Comstock, whose life history constitutes a most creditable chapter in the trade annals of Spokane, is now well known in business circles here, as vice president of the Spokane Dry Goods Company and president of the Dry Goods Realty Company. It may seem trite to those familiar with his life history to say that he has advanced from a humble position to one of prominence in the business world, but it is only just to record in a history that will descend to future generations, that his has been a record which any man might be proud to possess. He has never made engagements that he has not kept, nor incurred obligations that he has not met, and his record at all times commands the admiration and respect of colleagues and contemporaries.

Mr. Comstock is numbered among the worthy citizens that New York has furnished to the state of Washington, his birth occurring in Rome, September 6, 1838, and in 1846, he accompanied his parents, George and Eliza (Paine) Comstock, on their removal to Wisconsin, which at that time was largely an undeveloped wilderness. The family settled in Summit township, Waukesha county, and there amid the usual scenes and conditions of pioneer life James M. Comstock was reared, pursuing his early education in the district schools and aiding in the work of the home farm through the summer months. He later had the advantage of educational training in Carroll College at Waukesha and when the Civil war broke out he enlisted in the First Wisconsin Cavalry, which he joined on the 11th of August, 1861, his service covering three and one-half years. He went to the front as a private and was mustered out with the rank of captain. He did duty as provost marshal on the staff of General E. M. McCook, of the First Division Cavalry Corps, Army of the Cumberland, at the battle of Chickamauga. Later he participated in the winter campaign in eastern Tennessee, in which fighting occurred nearly every day. In February, 1861, he was sent with about two hundred and fifty men from east Tennessee over the Blue Ridge mountains into the valley of the Hiwassee river to the town of Murphy, located in the southwestern part of North Carolina, and from there he was sent to old Fort Hembries for the purpose of gathering up Confederates on furlough. The command then returned to east Tennessee and joined Shermans army on the campaign to Atlanta and remained with that command until the surrender of Atlanta. During this campaign he participated in the battles of Buzzards Roost, Resaca, Dallas, Kenesaw Mountain and Peach Tree Creek. He accompanied General McCook on his raid to the rear of Atlanta and after that movement was commissioned by General George H. Thomas to return to Nashville, Tennessee, and reorganize, mount and equip all of the dismounted cavalry to be found in that locality. He had succeeded in getting about two hundred men when the Confederate general, Joe Wheeler, came up to a point within six miles of Nashville and for a period of twenty days kept the whole northern force chasing him until they finally succeeded in driving him across the Tennessee river. Mr. Comstock's command then returned to Nashville but shortly afterward the Confederates, under the command of General Forrest, made another raid into the southern portion of the state and again the Union troops drove them back into Alabama. Mr. Comstock next rejoined his regiment at Cartersville, Georgia, whence he was sent to Louisville, Kentucky, where the term of his enlistment expired in December, 1864. He then returned to his Wisconsin home and in January, 1865, reenlisted and was recommissioned captain of Company F of the First Wisconsin Cavalry. He then went to Nashville but was unable to join his regiment, which was on campaign duty in Alabama and Georgia.

When mustered out at the close of the war Captain Comstock settled at Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, where he carried on general merchandising until 1872. He then removed to Algona, Iowa, and continued in that business for eighteen years, during which period he took a very prominent part in the affairs of the city, serving for a number of years as a member of its council, while for one term he filled the office of mayor. He also acted as a member of the school board until he left Iowa, about 1890, and was for years president of the Northern Iowa Normal school, which was located at Algona.

Mr. Comstock first visited Spokane in 1884 as the guest of A. M. Horton, who was then editor of The Chronicle. In January, 1889, he again reached this city, arriving at about 11 o'clock in the morning. Before 4 o'clock in the afternoon of the same day he had purchased property on Main street, having determined to locate permanently. In July of the same year he returned here, bringing with him R. B. Patterson, with whom he had formed a partnership under the firm style of Comstock & Patterson. They opened a retail dry-goods store, renting a room in the Crescent building, on Riverside avenue, just east of the Review building. Their entire stock was placed in the new building on the evening of August 3, 1889, and on the next day the entire business section of the city was destroyed by fire. The flames advanced to within a block of their new store and were there checked, leaving the establishment of Comstock & Patterson as the only dry-goods store in the city. The business grew very rapidly, the firm prospering in their undertakings, and as the country developed they extended the scope of their activities by the establishment of a wholesale department. In 1904 the Spokane Dry Goods Company was organized and took over the entire business, Mr. Comstock remaining as vice president of the company. The retail branch is conducted under the name of The Crescent and is one of the most complete department stores in the west. From the beginning the project has proven a remunerative one and at the present writing they are erecting a large addition to the retail store. The Spokane Dry Goods Company also has a mammoth wholesale building of its own on the railroad tracks, erected a few years ago. The labors of Mr. Comstock have constituted a most important element in the growth and expansion of the trade, for his judgment is sound, his sagacity keen, and his industry and enterprise unfaltering. The officers of the Spokane Dry Goods Company are also the owners of the Dry Goods Realty Company, which owns and controls all of the property and buildings of the former organization.

On the 29th of March, 1866, Mr. Comstock was united in marriage to Miss Elizabeth Annis, a daughter of Chauncy L. and Lydia (Allen) Annis, of Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. They have two children : Josie, the wife of Eugene A. Shadle, of Spokane, and May, at home. Mr. Comstock finds pleasure and recreation in several fraternal associations. He is a past commander of Sedgwick Post, G. A. R., and was assistant acting adjutant general of the department of Washington and Alaska, under Commander Norman Buck, in 1896. He is also president of the Northwestern Veteran's Association and he belongs to Tyrian Lodge, No. 96, F. & A. M. His religious faith is that of the First Unitarian church, in which he has served as a trustee for more than twenty years. The worth and value of his public services in Spokane are widely acknowledged. He served as a member of Spokane city council from May, 1894, to May, 1899 and during that time was president of the council for three years. Mr. Comstock was a persistant advocate of the use of water meters from the time he entered the city council to the close of his administration as mayor, in fact was almost absolutely alone in the advocacy of the use of meters for a number of years. At the present time the city council have adopted what Mr. Comstock advocated at that time and have come to see the wisdom and ad vantages of installing such a system. In May, 1899, he was elected mayor for a term of two years, during which period he instigated and, through his intelligent and persistent efforts, completed many improvements, such as paving Sprague and First avenues and the following streets from the Northern Pacific right of way to the river: Monroe, Lincoln, Post, Wall and Stevens, Riverside avenue having been paved while he was president of the council. The water system was greatly improved and enlarged during this period.

In 1910, accompanied by Mrs. Comstock and their daughter, he spent three months in Japan, studying the agricultural, economic, manufacturing and financial interests of the empire. During that time they visited all of the leading cities from Nagasaki on the south to Nike on the north. In his travels through Japan, Mr. Comstock noted especially the great advancement that nation is making, particularly in their economic, manufacturing, railroad and ship building interests. He found the Japanese a peaceful people and their history during the past four hundred years shows that they have had only two wars with foreign nations, one with China and one with Russia. In Mr. Comstock's opinion should trouble occur between the United States and Japan, it will be the fault of the United States government, as Japan's slogan is: "Peaceful commercial relation with all nations."

The family residence is at No. 1106 Ninth Avenue and one of its attractive features is its large and well selected library. Mr. Comstock is a man of scholarly attainments and of much literary ability, and has delivered and prepared many lectures and readings. One in particular, a comparison between General Grant and Frederick the Great, has been delivered on many occasions and has awakened widespread attention throughout the country. He has also been a close student of Shakespeare for many years, devoting much time not only to the reading of the plays but to everything bearing upon the subject, and he claims, with many others, that Shakespeare never wrote what is accredited to him. His reading and study has at all times covered a wide range and on the social, political and economic questions of the day he keeps abreast with the best thinking men of the age. He finds his companionship among people of kindred tastes and interests. His career has been remarkably successful, chiefly by reason of his natural ability and his thorough interest in a business in which as a young tradesman he embarked. There is one point in his career, covering twenty-two years in Spokane, to which all the old settlers refer, and that is whether as a wholesale merchant or in other relations of life, Mr. Comstock has always been the same genial, courteous gentleman, whose ways are those of refinement and whose word no man can question.

Submitted to the Washington Biographies Project in December 2015 by Diane Wright. Submitter has no additional information about the person(s) or family mentioned above.

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