Yakima architect Newton C. Gauntt made a profound impact on the built environment in central and western Washington, as well as the Portland area during the early part of the 20th century. Records indicate that Gauntt was born in 1862 in Indiana, however details about his training and early career are unknown.
Documentation shows that by the late 1890s Gauntt had developed an expertise in the development and construction of educational facilities. Among his earliest known projects is a design for a school in Ellsworth, Indiana (1898), which was featured in the School Board Journal, a national publication of school construction and development. Gauntt also provided stock plans to the State School Superintendents in both Indiana and Illinois, but it is unknown at this time how many schools were actually constructed using his model plans. One article notes that the State of Illinois constructed a model school based on Gauntt's plans for the 1904 St. Louis Exposition.
Other later school projects included a high school in La Grande, Oregon (1911); a 5-room frame school in Aurora, OR (1912); a high school in Hillsboro (1912); Plainview School (1912) outside of Portland; Hawthorne-Buckman School (1921) also outside of Portland; and Oakville High School (1921) in Oakville, WA.
Before he came to Washington state, Gauntt had already received fair amount of press at the national level. The National Builder magazine featured several Late Queen Anne and Classical Revival home designs by Gauntt. Called “The Rosalle” (Nov.1902); “The Johnson” (Feb.1903); “The McRoy” (Feb.1904); and “The Wentachee” (Feb.1905), the various articles featured a comprehensive list of materials and estimated costs for construction of the homes.
Gauntt had also developed an interest in Courthouse design. His projects include the Yakima County Courthouse (1906); the Douglas County Courthouse (1907) in Waterville; as well as the Fergus County Courthouse in Lewiston, Montana (1908); an addition to the Washington County Courthouse (1913) in Hillsboro, OR; and the Wahkiakum County Courthouse (1921) in Cathlamet. He provided plans for the Chehalis County Courthouse (1906) and the Franklin County Courthouse in Pasco (1910) but neither were constructed. His design for the Chehalis County Courthouse (to be located in Montesano before it became part of Grays Harbor County) became embroiled in a State Supreme Court Case when Gauntt took the County to court for the lack of what he thought was adequate payment for a set of plans he provided to the County Commissioners. The plan was an exact copy of the Yakima Courthouse, and the commissioners entered into a contract with Gauntt that stated should a courthouse be built, he was to receive a certain fee. He argued that the contract did not specify that his design had to be used. Gauntt lost his case and the eventual the design was awarded to Aberdeen architect, Watson Vernon.
Despite such high profile cases Gauntt continued to receive commissions around the state. Other notable projects included the stone North Yakima Baptist Church (1907-09); the YMCA in Yakima (1908); the Empire Bank & Trust (1907) in Lewiston, Montana; and an additional story to hotel owned by E.M. Ford in North Yakima (1905).
Gauntt also had a keen interest in the possibilities of the horseless carriage and he owned one of the first automobiles in the Yakima region, a 24 horse-power Cadillac touring car (1907). Seeing large profits to be made he made plans to start an automobile manufacturing plant and in 1907 he bought the Perfection Automobile Co. in South Bend, Indiana. He planned to move all the machinery to Spokane but these plans never came to fruition. Gauntt did design a car, which he called the “Flying Dutchman.” It was described as “a kind of convertible house car, having a sleeping room, and a kitchen.”
In 1906 Gauntt moved to Seattle, however at this time projects in the city are unkown and he continued to work primarily in the Yakima Valley. While reports indicate he moved his Seattle office from the Henry Building to the Chamber of Commerce Building in 1912, he moved to Hillsboro, Oregon in 1913 and then to Portland, shortly thereafter (1913-1915).
Besides the aforementioned schools, his known projects while in the Portland area are limited to the Dr. Tamisier House (1912) in Portland; and the Tillamook County Hotel & Bank (1912).
A renaissance man, Gauntt also owned 700 acre ranch near Othello which included 60 acre orchard run by the Green Briar Orchard Company. He also held a patent on a collapsible book holder (US Patent #1269925 A, June 18, 1918).
Gaunt passed away in Yakima on November 24, 1938 and is buried at the Tahoma Cemetery.
By Michael Houser, State Architectural Historian - March 2015