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Amber

men pose with school buses in front of Amber School

The community was born from a school consolidation and a railroad depot.

Map showing the location of Amber
Amber, south of Tyler and Cheney

In 1862, Captain John Mullan completed the military road from Walla Walla Washington to Fort Benton Montana.  The Mullan road passed just south of the lake that would become Amber, 13 miles southwest of Cheney, 16 miles northeast of Sprague.

Map showing location of Amber Lake
Mulan Trail monument
Mullan Trail Marker near Amber

One of the earliest settlers is thought to be Jack McElroy who was in the area in 1866.  In 1869, Josiah “Si” Graves homesteaded land near the Mullan Road.  He opened a blacksmith shop and helped families traveling through on the road.  Johnny Williams, for whom Williams Lake is named is said to have arrived shortly after Mr. Graves.

Other early pioneer families in the district included James Monroe Mason, T.V. Reed, Henry Jones, Rudolf Miller, Lorenz Franz, Olav Falk, John Mullinex, Adam Scroggie, and the five Calvert brothers: John, Joe, Dave, Eliaph and Sam.  The area came to be known as Calvert or Calvert Crossing.

The early farmers raised grain, hay, cattle and timber.  Many settlers planted box elder trees in order to sell the lumber to the government.

Advertisement for SP&S railway
SP&S Railway advertisement, 1909

In March of 1908 the Spokane, Portland & Seattle (SP&S) Railway completed its Spokane to Portland leg which passed on the north side of the lake known as Calvert Lake at the time.  A depot which contained living quarters for the section foreman and his family was built on the north side of the track.  Regular train service was established by the following May.

There were a number of unofficial and official post offices out in the countryside where mail was collected from and forwarded on to Sprague or Cheney.  But on 16 April 1908 the post office of Calvert was established in the home of bachelor Bartley Costello.  Calvert Crossing began to develop some businesses in support of the railroad stop. 

The Amber consolidated district school was built in the summer of 1910. By 1911, F.M. Mortiece had the Calvert Crossing Warehouse. 

Louis Houck of Cheney was a major promoter of developing a town at the site.  He built a livery and feed stable.  Alva Briner opened a blacksmith shop.  A hotel was built by the lake and soon a store and restaurant were added.

Albert J. Falk had a store two blocks north of the railroad depot from 1917 until it burned in 1940.

Bartley Costello found that mail delivery for Calvert was being confused with the town of Colbert north of Spokane.  The story goes that he chose the name Amber after his favorite brand of tea.

In 1912, James Monroe Mason and Ross Erlandsen bought the first automobile in Amber, a model-T Ford, from F.L. ‘Bud’ Ratcliffe, of C.A. Ratcliffe Company in Cheney.  Bud Ratcliffe delivered the automobile and stayed with the men for a few days to teach them how to drive it.

Portrait of Albert Falk
Albert J. Falk, 1941

The Amber Grange was first organized in 1916 but was disbanded during the first World War. It was re-organized by Ira Shea in 1928.

Amber grange parade float in Cheney
Amber Grange float in Cheney parade, 1947

Wid Harper ran the hotel for a time and then Frank S. Bunker took it over for his resort on Amber Lake.  Dances were often held at the hotel or in the nearby Millman’s or Chamber’s barn.

Up through the 1930s religious camp revival meetings were held in the area, as well as at Mason Lake, just north of Amber. The lake water was used to baptize the converted.

Also, in the 1930s, the Arthur Studeman family lived at the railroad depot where their father was the section foreman for the SP&S.  Daughter, Arlene, was born in the depot.

The Amber school was one of the first consolidated school districts in Spokane County giving children the opportunity to attend high school.  The first graduating class was in 1915. The last student to graduate from Amber High School was Caroline Rizzi in 1945. 

While the district merged into Cheney in 1959, the school continued to be used for the elementary grades through 1968.  The old school building continued to be used for a time by the community and Amber Grange for several years.

Cars and bus in front of school
Amber school, 1938

At the end of 1974 the Amber Post Office closed having been operated by Martha Ellen Reed, who later became Mrs. Ivan Calvert, from her home since 1944.

Finally, in November of 1979 the railroad ceased operation. The tracks and depot were later torn out and the track bed became part of the Columbia Plateau Trail.  The trail head parking lot uses the space where the hotel and resort once were located. If you stand facing the trailhead sign, you are looking toward the spot where the depot once stood.

Amber has reverted back to a collection of houses and farms next to the quiet and beautiful lake.

Amber Lake with barn in the distance
Looking west from the Amber Lake boat launch
Image of Gerald the Museum Mouse

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