Known as “a hustler, a mover and a pusher” but also a man of “great personal charm”, Joseph Clarence (J.C.) White was a man of many hats. Born just south of Omaha, in the city of Wyoming, Nebraska in 1865, JC’s family moved to Colorado when he was young. He completed a BA at the University of Denver in 1888, then followed his family over to the Idaho Panhandle for work.
He began his career as a railroad construction engineer, then moved to Latah County for surveying potential road routes through. Around 1900, he became the official surveyor for Kootenai County and moved to the Rathdrum area. After that he served a term in the Idaho House of Representatives and moved to Coeur d’Alene.
White invested in transportation. He secured $30,000 in backing from a prominent timberman and co-founded the Coeur d’Alene and St. Joe Transportation Company in 1903. He then contracted to have a 147-foot side-wheeler built at a cost of $45,000 to give the current leader of the lake, the Georgie Oakes, a run for her money. The Idaho steamship’s dockside arrivals and departures were scheduled to coincide with the new electric railroad running from Spokane to Coeur d’Alene. The transportation company soon overtook its competitors, and by 1905 had bought out many of its rivals. Once a ship joined the fleet, red bands proclaiming the new ownership were placed around the boats’ smokestacks. This led to the nickname of Red Collar Line, which officially took on the name a few years later.
White was an enthusiastic and successful promoter of the business, and had a fondness for socializing and parties. He was heavily involved in local recreational activities in the Coeur d’Alene region. He helped to found, and then lead, a local Chamber of Commerce, and encouraged the creation of other societies and associations locally.
The Red Collar Line was in its heyday until the mid-1910s, when other transportation options became readily available. In his zeal to promote the area, he weakened some of his own transportation lines. As a chairman of a commission on roads around 1920, he was instrumental in the decision to construct the first concrete-paved road in Idaho, which connected Spokane and Coeur d’Alene. The steamship line was forced into receivership in 1922, with a new owner just barely keeping it afloat until 1929 when it was sold as a log transport operation.
JC White still found ways to keep afloat after moving on from transportation activities. He continued to run a smaller boat for lake traffic until around 1930. Numerous investments in other trades also kept him busy: silver mines and banking (as an officer in a few). He was appointed to the Idaho Bureau of Highways as the maintenance supervisor for all of Northern Idaho at age 66.
White passed away April 5th, 1953 at age 88 from heart disease, and is buried in the Forest Cemetery in central Coeur d’Alene. His famous “White House” has been transformed into a living relic and will be home to the new Museum of North Idaho. Built in 1904, it is one of the last remaining original homes in Coeur d’Alene. It was one of the first buildings to grace Sherman Avenue, and has recently found a new home at the foot of Tubbs Hill, directly behind McEuen Park.