1917: Wobblies, War, and Walkouts

By mid-March 1917, as the winter snow melted gradually into spring, the people of Sandpoint opened their weekly newspaper to find a few glimmers of good news. Local barbers reassured customers that the recent 10 cent price increase applied only to shaves; a haircut remained just 35 cents. The threatened railroad strike was avoided when workers got a pay raise, retroactive to January 1. And the Reverend Charles MacCaughey of the Methodist Church defended the community’s reputation, claiming that it was not a bad place. “I have never seen a town of its size,” he said, “where there were more good citizens and God-fearing people than in Sandpoint.”

While the railroad strike was averted, the threat of a major lumber strike still hung over the region. The Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) had been actively organizing in lumber camps throughout North Idaho for the past year, with similar activities throughout the Pacific Northwest. The radical union found support among loggers who worked long hours for little pay, living in remote, often squalid camps for months at a time. In March, officials from the IWW and two other labor organizations agreed to stage a coordinated lumber strike across the Pacific Northwest on July 16.

Wobblies, while not entirely welcome, were generally tolerated in logging towns like Sandpoint in early 1917. The community had filled the Rink Opera House in February to hear Elizabeth Gurley Flynn, the radical Wobby firebrand. One of the local newspapers wrote favorably about the IWW helping a destitute family in need, paying for rent and groceries until the father was able to find work.

The tolerant atmosphere changed suddenly in early April when the United States declared war on Germany and entered the conflict in Europe. Bonner County residents once again packed the Rink Opera House, this time to hear patriotic speeches and learn how they could support the war effort. Citizens bought Liberty bonds and donated money to the Red Cross, while women of the local Red Cross auxiliary prepared supplies for military hospitals. President Woodrow Wilson instituted a nationwide draft and announced that all men aged 21-30 had to register on June 5. Idaho Governor Moses Alexander urged towns to organize a home guard of patriotic citizens to “occasionally march up and down the main streets of the communities in which they live,” carrying American flags, however, instead of rifles.

An undercurrent of coercion lurked behind these patriotic efforts. The draft was, by definition, coercive. Bonner County registered 1,148 men, including 254 immigrants who intended to apply for citizenship. The local press praised men who enlisted in the military and branded any who failed to register for the draft as “slackers.” Donations to the Red Cross were theoretically voluntary but before the end of 1917 the local chapter published a list of those who refused to donate despite having the financial resources to do so. When public schools opened in the fall of 1917, the high school offered French and Spanish classes in place of German, following a nationwide trend to end instruction in the language of an enemy.

Wartime seemed to create a general wariness as well. Frank Yocam noticed a “skulking figure” tacking a small poster up near the Northern Pacific depot in May 1917. He investigated and found a placard that read, “Politicians, capitalists, preachers, newspaper editors and other stay-at-home patriots are never found in the battlefield. Why should workingmen?” Local authorities branded this as treason and began watching for the perpetrator.

It was during this time of intense patriotism that the timber strike was scheduled. Early in the spring, many lumber companies in the Idaho Panhandle wanted to get a sense of just how many IWW members were working in their camps. They asked employees to fill out cards with their personal information, along with an assurance that they were not Wobblies. Angry loggers refused to sign and many walked out instead. Tensions in the region increased in late April after an unknown person shot a soldier guarding a railroad bridge near Spokane, wounding him in the leg. The incident was blamed on Wobblies, and two days later soldiers stormed the IWW hall in Spokane. A riot ensued. Far from the city, short wildcat strikes hit isolated logging camps and river drives. The Inland Northwest was a tinderbox, ready to explode.

The spark came in the afternoon of June 14 when 144 men at Humbird Lumber Company’s Camp 6 laid down their tools and walked off the job. Word of the strike spread like wildfire to other isolated camps and before the end of that day, there were 500 striking Wobblies on the streets of Sandpoint. They laid out the familiar IWW demands: an 8-hour day, instead of the current 10 hours; minimum pay of $60 per month, including board; smaller bunkhouses designed for a maximum of 12 men instead of the current ones which often were large enough for 80, or even as many as 150 men; bathing facilities; and, of course, better food.

Pend d’Oreille Review, 22 June 1917, 1:3.

The local newspaper correctly predicted that the strike might “eventually prove to affect the lumber industry of the entire northwest.” In just one week’s time, 2,400 loggers had joined the strike in North Idaho, and it soon engulfed most of the logging camps east of the Cascade Mountains. When workers on the coast joined the strike in mid-July, on the previously scheduled date, logging across the entire Pacific Northwest essentially shut down.

As soon as the scope of the strike became apparent, Humbird Lumber Company turned draft horse teams out to pasture, closed up the camps, and settled in for the long haul. Since the IWW strike affected only logging crews and not the more skilled sawmill workers, company officials were not too worried. They had enough logs in the mill pond to keep both the Sandpoint and Kootenai mills running through most of the summer. Because sawmills were forced to limit production, companies were able to reduce their excess inventory of lumber in their yards and avoid further price reductions.

State and local officials reacted with concern as the IWW strike neared the end of its first month. Governor Alexander came to Coeur d’Alene in early July to assess the situation personally, and he remained until the end of the month to meet with local officials, owners of lumber companies, and members of the IWW. He spent an hour and a half at the IWW hall in Sandpoint, in the basement of the Abbott building, talking with the men there and gathering copies of their literature. The governor kept his sense of humor during the verbal exchange, listening to the men while dispensing advice about their activities. He noted that although it was illegal to hand out revolutionary literature, picket, or commit sabotage, he believed they had the right to strike. Furthermore, Alexander had become so concerned about the poor living conditions in camps that he had directed state health officials to investigate. He warned an incoming state official not to give the owners of lumber companies “any more of the deal than you give the poor devil with overalls on.” Then Alexander observed, “The timber companies were too fast for me.”

Throughout the strike, Governor Alexander resisted calls to bring in federal troops, preferring instead to use recently passed Idaho laws aimed at the IWW. Local officials took a more confrontational approach. A few days before the governor came to Sandpoint, Bonner County Sheriff Remer went to the IWW hall with newspaper reporters, other county officials, and three American flags. In what seemed like a deliberate provocation, the sheriff asked the IWW men gathered to hang one of the flags outside the entrance “so we will know where you are at.” The other two flags were hung on the walls, and the Wobblies promised their visitors that the flags would be treated with respect.

Just a few days after Governor Alexander’s visit, however, the sheriff returned to the IWW hall to close it down, claiming that it was violating state laws. After hours of discussion with members, the local IWW voted to close only under protest.

The sheriff tightened his grip on the Wobblies in late August by arresting three local leaders under Idaho’s criminal syndicalism law against advocating “crime, sabotage, violence, or other unlawful methods of terrorism as a means of accomplishing industrial or political reform.” A search warrant helped turn up IWW literature at the Wisconsin Hotel during the arrest of John Wright, former secretary of the local IWW, and William Deneke, an active member. The third man, John Currie, was arrested for picketing. Similar arrests across the Panhandle put hundreds of men in jail. The jail in St. Maries became so crowded that officials had to build a stockade to hold the overflow of Wobblies awaiting trial.

By late August, regional lumbermen began expressing interest in settling the strike. At a meeting in Seattle, they stressed the importance of getting the mills running again to serve the war effort and asked loggers return to work on a 10-hour day to finish important government contracts. Once these were fulfilled, the owners promised that employees could vote to continue on either a 10-hour or 8-hour basis.

Although this offer was a non-starter, both sides in the Inland Northwest were fatigued by early September. Striking workers, who had been without pay all summer, met in Spokane at the Finlanders Hall and voted to return to work on September 10. Lumber company owners met at the Loggers’ Club in Spokane to discuss their proposal. Company owners across the Pacific Northwest agreed to support an 8-hour day but said that it wouldn’t go into effect until this became an industry standard nationwide. To reach this goal, they agreed to push for congressional action to mandate an 8-hour day for all logging and lumber mill workers. Equally important, regional operators voted to standardize the design of logging camps to include well lighted and ventilated quarters with showers.

Striking loggers began straggling back to distant camps, carrying small packs with clothes, bedroll, and tools. When asked about membership in the IWW, the men all denied belonging to the union even though many were well known Wobblies. For their part the companies, desperate to restart their operations, accepted the denials and offered work to all who came. By the end of September, F.C. Culver of Sandpoint Lumber & Pole Company told the local newspaper, “Our camps are filled, our mill is running and we are happy.”

Culver’s celebration might have been premature. Yes, loggers were back at work, sawmills were turning out boards once again, but many issues remained unresolved. And the Wobblies were not yet ready to give up their fight.

This is the second of  three blogs on the lumber strike of 1917. I hope to have the final installment by early fall.

Sources Cited

Barbers’ Statement of Prices, Pend d’Oreille Review, 23 March 1917, 1:2; Strike Situation Cleared Up, Pend d’Oreille Review, 23 March 1917, 1:4; Says Sandpoint Isn’t Bad Town, Pend d’Oreille Review, 23 March 1917, 1:6; Robert C. Ficken, “The Wobbly Horrors: Pacific Northwest Lumbermen and the Industrial Workers of the World, 1917-1918,” Labor History 24 (Summer 1918), 326, 328-329; Destitute Family Cared For By I. W. W., Northern Idaho News, 6 February 1917, 5:3; Patriotic Meeting Fills Opera House, Northern Idaho News, 3 April 1917, Second Section, 1:5; First Red Cross Shipment Ready, Pend d’Oreille Review, 18 May 1917, 1:5; Features of Conscription Bill, Pend d’Oreille Review, 11 May 1917, 1:3-4; How To Answer Questions On Registration Day, Northern Idaho News, 29 May 1917, 1:5-6; Urge Home Guard In Every Village, Northern Idaho News, 15 May 1917, 1:6; Registration in Bonner is 1148, Pend d’Oreille Review, 8 June 1917, 1:1; Draft Returns Of County Complete, Northern Idaho News, 12 June 1917, 1:4; County Over-Subscribes To Red Cross Fund, Northern Idaho News, 26 June 1917, 1:5-6; Slacker Nabbed, Northern Idaho News, 17 July 1917, 8:4; Red Cross Drive Slacker List, Northern Idaho News, 18 December 1917, Second Section, 1:5; City Schools Will Open Sep. 4, Pend d’Oreille Review, 17 August 1917, 1:6; A Treasonable Utterance, Pend d’Oreille Review, 11 May 1917, 1:4; Robert Anthony Perrin Jr., “Two Decades of Turbulence: A Study of the Great Lumber Strikes in Northern Idaho (1916-1936)” (M.A. thesis, University of Idaho, 1961), 74-77; Two Camps Strike For Better “Chuck,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 15 June 1917, 1:3; Timber Workers Go On Strike, Northern Idaho News, 19 June 1917, 1:4; 2400 North Idaho Loggers Walk Out, Pend d’Oreille Review, 22 June 1917, 1:3; J.P. Weyerhaeuser to Tom Humbird, 1 August 1917:2, file 45, box 28, P930 Weyerhaeuser Family Papers, Minnesota Historical Society; Council Of Defense Are In Session, Northern Idaho News, 10 July 1917, 1:1; Gov. Alexander Visits Sandpoint, Northern Idaho News, 24 July 1917, 1:6; Flags in I. W. W. Hall, Northern Idaho News, 17 July 1917, 1:6; Stars And Stripes Over I.W.W. Hall, Pend d’Oreille Review, 20 July 1917, 1:3-4; I. W. W. Hall Closed Yesterday, Northern Idaho News, 24 July 1917, 1:1; I.W.W. “Cowed” By Governor, Pend d’Oreille Review, 3 August 1917, 1:3-4; Three I.W.W.’s Arrested Under Syndicalism Law, Pend d’Oreille Review, 24 August 1917, 1:2; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criminal_syndicalism, accessed 12 June 2017; Lumbermen Make Strike Offer, Northern Idaho News, 21 August 1917, 3:3; Stockade for St. Maries, Northern Idaho News, 28 August 1917, 8:4; I. W. W. Men To Stand District Trial, Northern Idaho News, 28 August 1917, 1:2; I.W.W.’s Bound Over In Probate Court, Pend d’Oreille Review, 31 August 1917, 1:3-4; The Inland Empire, The Timberman, September 1917:66; 8-Hour Day Sticker In Lumber Camps, Pend d’Oreille Review, 14 September 1917, 1:5; Lumberjacks Returning To Their Jobs In The Woods, Pend d’Oreille Review, 28 September 1917, 1:5; I.W.W. History Project, http://depts.washington.edu/iww/.

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Entertaining Sandpoint: They “seemed to be having an awful good time”

“A Cycling Club Dance,” Scribner’s, February 1880.

It was the highlight of the 1892 social calendar: a Washington’s birthday dance at the Spinks Hotel. Mr. Spinks, the genial proprietor and “champion yarn-spinner of the Panhandle,” issued an open invitation to Sandpoint residents. All were welcome, he announced in the newspaper, as long as they promised to stay sober.

That, apparently, was a tall order.

Pend d’Oreille News, 13 February 1892, 5:4-5.

The dance was a rousing success. All of the ladies were “beautiful, graceful dancers and accomplished conversationalists,” the newspaper enthusiastically reported. The music, however, was only “fair.” The lively crowd took a break around midnight for supper at the Central Hotel restaurant and then returned to the Spinks Hotel to continue dancing until 3 in the morning.

The newspaper listed the names of all of those attending the dance. They came from as far away as Spokane, Post Falls, and Granite. There were married couples, single men and women . . . but not Mr. Spinks. He apparently did not follow his own admonition about drinking and the newspaper wryly noted the absence of his name in the list of attendees, saying, “It will also be remembered that Mr. Spinks, in issuing the notice for the dance, announced that all who would keep sober could come.”

Mr. Spinks was not alone. The newspaper also gossiped that “Mrs. Long, Mrs. Spinks, and Mrs. Weil, for some reason or other, seemed to be having an awful good time.”

The enjoyable Washington’s birthday dance was not the only such event that year. In fact, the early residents of Sandpoint and the surrounding area seemed to need very little excuse to hold a party or dance. Whether a holiday, birthday, or just a vacant building with a smooth floor, these folks knew how to have fun.

The Fourth of July, of course, was a favorite holiday. Delia Holton, who arrived in town with her family in the spring of 1886, fondly recalled her first Independence Day in Sandpoint. The men helped to clean up an industrial barge used for hauling crushed limestone while the women packed up baskets of tasty food. Once everyone in town had climbed aboard, a small steamboat pulled the happy celebrants across the water. One man played his accordion while everyone else danced for hours under the sunshine of that early July. “It was Sunday, too,” Mrs. Holton recalled, “and I felt guilty. I kept wondering what my mother would say if she could see me, but there were so few ladies that if one refused, it would spoil the fun for the rest.”

Another time James Judge and his wife invited friends to their home in Priest River to celebrate their 14th wedding anniversary in April 1892. The Fred Taylor string band of Sandpoint played while couples danced in the elegant home. They paused for dinner at midnight before  resuming the fun. By then, with their initial shyness gone, everyone danced “until old Sol showed his face over the Cabinet mountains announcing that daylight had come.” A chartered steamboat returned the weary revelers to their homes in up and down the river.

Pend d’Oreille News, 28 May 1892, 5:4-5.

Vacant buildings proved irresistible for diehard dancers. A former Sandpoint post office attracted more than twenty local residents in May 1892 for a “social hop.” They gathered on short notice and danced until 2:30 in the morning, breaking only for dinner at the Central Restaurant. About a week later close to fifteen couples held a quadrille party in the same space, dancing until daylight.

Even a disastrous fire in June 1892 led to a happy outcome for the unstoppable dancers of Sandpoint. The flames broke out in the Spinks Hotel kitchen and soon spread, consuming the hotel, Harry Baldwin’s livery stable, and Ignatz Weil’s home, general store, and wholesale liquor warehouse. Fortunately the last building burned slowly enough that residents were able to salvage most of the contents. Weil rebuilt rapidly and christened his new store building with – you guessed it – a dance. The newspaper noted that guests enjoyed the “excellent music and glassy floor and all went home highly entertained.”

Sources:

“Dance at Spinks Hotel,” Pend d’Oreille News, 13 February 1892, 5:3; “The Event of the Season,” Pend d’Oreille News, 27 February 1892, 4:2; Valle Novak, “Pioneer family celebrates 100 years in Sandpoint,” Weekly Spotlight, 29 July 1986, 4; “Great Doin’s at Priest River,” Pend d’Oreille News, 23 April 1892, 4:3; “Dance In the Old Postoffice,” Pend d’Oreille News, 21 May 1892, 4:1; “A Quadrille Party,” Pend d’Oreille News, 28 May 1892, 5:1; “Disastrous Conflagration,” Pend d’Oreille News, 11 June 1892, 5:1; “Ball in Weil’s New Building,” Pend d’Oreille News, 16 July 1892, 5:3.

Top illustration: “This Victorian Life,” http://www.thisvictorianlife.com/uploads/4/3/0/9/4309858/9627533_orig.jpeg.

 

 

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An Update on the Lonely Cabin

When I write one of these history stories for my blog, I do my research, polish up my writing, and then hold my breath a moment before clicking the blue “Publish” button that will send my baby out into the world. My work may not reach much of an audience, but it provides me with an outlet for my history habit.

Occasionally, however, I get a surprise. This happened recently when, out of the blue, I received an email from a descendant of Robert and Agusta Nelson. She had stumbled across my blog (Tales from a Lonely Cabin) while researching family history. Then her sister contacted me, sending not only wonderful details of the family history but also copies of historic photos. It’s been a treat for me to make this connection.

With permission from the family, I am sharing these photos as a supplement to my earlier story. Credit for the additional family information and photos goes to Theresa Peterman.

Robert Blackwood Nelson is the man on the far left.

According to Theresa, Robert Blackwood Nelson was born on March 10, 1859, in Shubenacadie, Hants County, Nova Scotia. He was in North Idaho by 1889 when he filed a declaration of intent to become a U.S. citizen. (This was necessary for anyone planning to file a homestead claim.) He was granted citizenship on May 12, 1902.

Agusta Nelson

Agusta Wilhelmina Magnusson was born in Sweden. A family story says that they met when Agusta (also spelled Augusta) placed an advertisement in the newspaper, looking for work as a housekeeper, and Robert answered the ad. She and Robert married on January 31, 1895, at Garfield Bay.

The Nelsons had six children: Lovell (1895), Fremont (1897), Bell (1899), Archibald (1900), Maude (1902), and Florence (1904). Agusta died on her husband’s birthday, March 10, 1904, less than two weeks after the birth of their last child. She’s buried in the Hope cemetery.

Nelson children (front to back): Florence, Maude, Archibald, Bell, Fremont, and Lovell.

As I mentioned in my earlier story about the Nelson family, they had experienced tragedy even before Agusta’s death. While living in the Kootenai area late in 1903, Maude, a toddler just a year and a half old, wandered onto the Northern Pacific  tracks and was hit by a train. She survived despite her serious injuries. I had wondered about her life after this terrible accident, but there she is, cute as can be, sitting behind her little sister on the big draft horse. Maude later married and had twelve children and numerous grandchildren – including Theresa and her sisters.

Maude Nelson

Bringing things full circle, some of the Nelson family descendants are having a family reunion this summer in North Idaho. They plan to hike into the little log cabin, built so many years ago by their great-grandfather. The sunny clearing beside the Pack River will once again fill with happy Nelson voices, and the loneliness will fade for a brief time.

 

 

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1917: When the Wobblies Walked Out of the Woods

Maybe it was the lack of whiskey, harder to find now that Idaho was entering its second year as a “dry” state. Maybe it was the specter of a bloody war being fought in Europe, threatening to drag the United States into the conflict. Or maybe it was just another dreary gray winter in North Idaho.

Whatever the reason, Sandpoint started 1917 a bit on the grumpy side. The fire chief was dismissed over complaints. “Bud” Gibbs, known as “the king of bootleggers,” was arrested with twelve quarts of whiskey wrapped in his blanket. The dispute between Humbird Lumber Company and Sandpoint Water and Light Company escalated to the public utilities commission in Boise. Two employees of the local match block factory beat each other up. And the unfortunate May Hustead was arrested for mail fraud right before her wedding. And that was just the front page news.

Billy Abbott’s saloon, originally in the right hand section of this building on the corner of First and Bridge, closed after statewide prohibition went into effect. It was replaced by a soft drink parlor.

On a brighter note, two well known businessmen were opening a new soft drink parlor in the former Abbott saloon on the corner of First Avenue and Bridge Street. Although the newspaper made no mention, downstairs in the Abbott building labor organizers were busy recruiting new members and laying the groundwork for actions that transformed the logging industry.

They were members of the Industrial Workers of the World, better known as Wobblies. A small group of radical trade unionists, socialists, and anarchists met in Chicago and founded the IWW in June 1905 with the goal of organizing all workers, regardless of skills, gender, or race, into “One Big Union” in opposition to the capitalist class. For the next fifteen years, Wobblies had a large impact on national labor issues.

It didn’t take long for the IWW to arrive in North Idaho. Almost before the ink was dry on their national charter, Wobblies organized a local chapter in the town of Granite, south of Careywood, in July 1905. They kicked things into high gear in 1909 with the free speech fight in Spokane that drew hundreds of Wobblies from across the country and landed more than 500 members and supporters in jail.

While the IWW continued to stage isolated actions around the Inland Northwest, including a 1911 strike at the Cocolalla Ice and Fuel Company, they drew the most attention for a series of strikes in cities on the west coast of Oregon and Washington. They lost these early strikes and faced fierce opposition from mill owners and businessmen. Despite these setbacks, membership in the IWW increased as they led the effort for higher wages and an eight-hour day.

Tensions and violence escalated in 1916 during a strike in Everett, Washington, that left a deputy sheriff, National Guardsman, and five Wobblies dead and another fifty people seriously injured. These actions generated both anger and sympathy toward the Wobblies, and the divide only deepened when the subsequent trial of IWW men ended in acquittal.

Screen shot of Sanborn Insurance Co. map of Sandpoint, December 1915. The bowling alley in the basement of this building, on the corner of First and Bridge (labeled here as Church), housed the IWW union hall in 1917.

As the actions in Everett were playing out, IWW organizers fanned out from the Spokane headquarters into logging camps from St. Maries to Bonners Ferry. The Sandpoint chapter, Local No. 400 of the IWW, set up shop by November 1916. It initially was located on Main Street but within a short time had moved to the Abbott building on the corner of First and Bridge Street.

As the Wobblies built their organization in North Idaho, they laid out a series of demands to benefit loggers. They wanted an 8-hour day, with time and a half for overtime. The men currently had to work a full 10 hours, with only Sunday off. The IWW also asked for a raise to a minimum salary of $3 for an 8-hour day. These echoed demands made by workers across the country at this time.

Loggers had another concern, however, one that probably was more important to them even than money or hours. They had long complained about squalid living conditions and poor food in logging camps, but it often seemed that complaints fell on deaf ears. This contributed to high turnover among loggers and a simmering anger against lumber company owners and management.

During this time, most logging was done during the winter months. This meant that the men spent the dark and cold winter in the woods, living in camps run either by contractors or lumber companies. Sixty men or more slept in long, poorly ventilated bunkhouses, heated by wood burning stoves. The men had to supply their own blankets and slept on hard wooden bunks, stacked two high, with only a pile of loose hay or straw to cushion their tired bodies. There were no bathing or laundry facilities, only a basin or wooden trough to hold water heated on the stove. The smell became unbearable at the end of a 10-hour day when dozens of exhausted and sweaty men removed their boots and hung their wet socks and shirts to dry. Even Ferdinand Silcox, Regional Forester for the US Forest Service, sympathized with loggers. He noted that horses were treated better than men in many camps since barns were better ventilated than bunkhouses.

It was these conditions that made loggers across the Pacific Northwest receptive to IWW organizing efforts. The first results locally came in early February 1917 when close to 100 men walked off work at Carlson’s logging camp to protest bad food and camp accommodations. The newspaper identified them as members of the IWW.

At the same time, Humbird Lumber Company experienced its first strike when approximately 100 skilled men quit work to protest a mandatory hospital fee that was taken from their paychecks. The sawmill men apparently were not Wobblies and the company was anxious to settle their strike quickly. They soon returned to work following satisfactory negotiations.

Elizabeth Gurley Flynn. Photo from Library of Congress, 3a48983r.

About a week later, the local IWW union brought a well-known firebrand to Sandpoint to speak. Elizabeth Gurley Flynn was a dark haired young woman, just 26 years old, but already she was nationally known as a rousing orator and IWW organizer. Her presence in Sandpoint drew nearly 700 people to the Rink Opera House [see previous post] in early February where she championed labor’s cause. She didn’t disappoint her audience who frequently interrupted her talk with loud applause. And it wasn’t just rough and rowdy loggers who listened. The crowd also included a cross-section of the local community, with businessmen, clergy, and farmers who seemed supportive of the important labor issues of the day.

Protests continued later in February when another 32 loggers, identified as members of the IWW, walked out of Humbird’s Camp No. 2. These initial strikes seemed isolated but similar actions were taking place across the Pacific Northwest as loggers, angry and fed up, went on strike to protest long hours, low wages, and bad living conditions. Most of these labor actions were short lived but they were the opening skirmishes in a much larger confrontation that erupted a few months later.

1917 had only just begun.

(This is the first part of what I hope will be a three-part blog on the IWW’s 1917 lumber strike. Look for the next installment by late spring. Thanks!)

 

Sources cited:

“Fire Chief Is Dismissed,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 5 January 1917, 1:1; “King of Bootleggers Languishes In Jail,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 5 January 1917, 1:2; “Water Company Appeals To Boise,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 5 January 1917, 1:3; “Axe Used In Encounter,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 5 January 1917, 1:4; “No Wedding Bells Will Ring For Her,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 5 January 1917, 1:6; Map of Sandpoint, Idaho (New York: Sanborn Map Company, December 1915), p. 8; Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States: 1492 to Present (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001), 329-376; “Industrial Workers of the World Charter, Granite Lumbermens Union No. 118,” 7 July 1905, document on file at Bonner County Historical Society; Ross Reider, “IWW formally begins Spokane free-speech fight on November 2, 1909,” HistoryLink.org Essay 7357, http://historylink.org/File/7357, posted 6/22/2005, accessed 1 March 2017; Jim Kershner, “A fight for free speech,” Spokesman-Review, 1 November 2009, http://www.spokesman.com/stories/2009/nov/01/a-fight-for-free-speech/, accessed 1 March 2017; “I.W.W. Ice Workers Wanted Higher Wages,” Northern Idaho News, 14 February 1911, 1:4; John McClelland Jr., Wobbly War: The Centralia Story (Tacoma: Washington State Historical Society, 1987), 1-21; “I.W.W.’s Coming,” Northern Idaho News, 11 April 1916, 1:3; “8-Hour Day Is Asked of R.R’s,” Northern Idaho News, 22 August 1916, 1:6; “Railroad Strike Is Called Off,” Northern Idaho News, 5 September 1916, 1:6; “I.W.W. Queries City Council,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 10 November 1916, 1:6; “I.W.W. On Trail Of The Lumbermen,” Pend d’Oreile Review, 8 December 1916, 1:5; Nancy Foster Renk, A Glorious Field for Sawmills: Humbird Lumber Company, 1900-1948 (Boise: Idaho Department of Transportation, 2014), 55-59, 76-78; “I.W.W. Woods Crew Quits Job At Carlson’s Camp,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 2 February 1917, 4:2; “Mill Men Will Return To Work,” Northern Idaho News, 13 February 1917, 1:6; “Speaks On Labor Question At Rink,” Northern Idaho News, 13 February 1917, 5:1-2; no title, Northern Idaho News, 27 February 1917, 1:1. Photo of Elizabeth Gurley Flynn from Library of Congress, http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2005686058/.

 

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Entertaining Sandpoint: From Roller Skates to Moving Pictures

from-library-of-congress-page-see-source-in-notes

Women skating circa 1905. Library of Congress website reference cited below.

A roller skating fad swept the nation in the early 1900s, starting in eastern cities in 1905 and working its way to the west coast a year later. Seattle had three skating rinks by September 1906 and a fourth one was due to open later that month. The sport’s popularity had definite health benefits but it also was just plain fun.

img_4113

The Princess skating rink operated briefly on the second floor of the Star Market, where Evergreen Realty is today.

Sandpoint residents caught the skating bug when the Princess rink opened in the large room above the Star Market on First Avenue in early February 1907. It operated afternoons and evenings, and “ladies and children especially” were encouraged to skate at the earlier time. Admission was 10 cents and skate rental another 25 cents. Alas, the Princess had a short life —just two weeks, in fact. D.G. Lorenzi, owner of the neighboring building, got an injunction to stop the skating, declaring it a nuisance and damaging to his interests as a landlord. The district court eventually ruled in his favor, long after the Princess came to an end.

The same day that the newspaper noted the closure of the Princess rink, three well known businessmen (Thomas Martin, C.A. Olson, and J.H.C. Scurlock) announced their plans to build a large amusement center that would host roller skating, theatrical productions, and dances. Plans called for a frame building measuring 60 x 142, fronting on Church Street and extending to the alley at the rear. It was located just west of Second Avenue, approximately where the west half of the Kochava building is today.

img_4116

The Rink Opera House on Church Street stood approximately where the right half of this building is today.

Close to 800 people turned out for the gala opening of the new Rink Opera House on June 12, 1907. The hall was decorated with American flags and the five-piece Tucker orchestra provided music for the dance, hosted by the Eagles Lodge. Happy couples stayed until nearly 3 in the morning, fueled by the lemonade, cake, and ice cream served in the refreshment room.

1909-january-p10-rink

Rink Opera House as shown on Sanborn map from January 1909.

Roller skating became a seasonal activity at the Rink, popular during the fall, winter, and early spring. The management usually announced the season opening in mid-September, often noting that the skates had all been repaired and were ready for the season. Once in a while the Rink hosted special skating events such as the masquerade skating carnival in December 1911 when 200 people wore fanciful and comic costumes while circling the rink. Not long after that, Claude Langworth and Aubrey Finley competed in three heats to be the champion racer in Sandpoint. Langworth was declared the winner when Finley lost a skate in the twelfth lap of the final three-mile race.

With the advent of warm weather in the spring, skates were once again put away and replaced with a regular schedule of summer dances on Saturday nights. Other more formal dances were held throughout the year as well, usually sponsored by a community organization. For instance, the local Company A of the Idaho National Guard put on two dances over the Christmas holidays in 1911, with music provided by the Apollo Orchestra. The Rink military band, the “newest thing in musical wonders,” played for a dance in January 1908. The local newspaper noted that it was “a little bit loud but the time is absolutely perfect.”

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Pend d’Oreille Review, 23 September 1910, 5:3-5.

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Pend d’Oreille Review, 28 April 1911, 5:5-6.

The Rink Opera House was used for much more than skating and dances, however. The 24×42 foot stage, with drop curtains, scenery, and four dressing rooms, provided space for touring vaudeville companies. Sandpoint’s location along three rail lines (two transcontinental and one regional) enabled the Rink management to book occasional touring vaudeville acts. Small venues like the Rink joined together in theatrical circuits to increase their clout with national touring companies. During the early part of the twentieth century, theaters throughout the Pacific Northwest worked with John Cort of Seattle who was affiliated with the New York booking agency of Klaw and Erlanger. The Rink had its new curtains and scenery, with artwork done by the Twin City Scenic Company of St. Paul, all ready for its first play, “The Black Hand,” which debuted on October 3, 1907. Later that month, a local production of “The Texas Steer” pleased the audience with “a very creditable” performance while raising money for the public school library. Such amateur plays proved popular over the years.

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Pend d’Oreille Review, 26 September 1913, 5:5.

There were frequent musical events at the Rink that brought a wide variety of music to Sandpoint patrons. The Kellogg-Haines Singing Party performed in October 1907, with a variety of musical numbers including scenes from the light opera, “Dolly Varden.” A group of African American musicians, known as the Tennessee Jubilee Singers, combined humor with music to entertain the Rink audience in April 1908. Another time Swiss bell ringers demonstrated their skills with 120 Swiss bells, 64 musical glasses, 24 musical rattles, 81 triple-toned aluminum chimes, a silver quintette, a 5-octave steel marimbaphone, and more. (Phew!)

The Rink also provided a venue for a lectures and talks on wide ranging topics. Dr. Bancroft promised to scientifically explain various supernatural phenomena based on his interviews with “numerous spirits, spooks and phantasms.” The newspaper suggested, “Bring your rabbit’s foot.” A debate over prohibition drew raucous crowds in the saloon-heavy town in 1910. Henry George, Jr., was scheduled to speak on his theories of land taxation in March 1911 but did not make his appointment because his train was late; it is not known how many people had shown up at the Rink to hear him. Booker T. Washington, on the other hand, drew a large audience in March 1913 when he told the story of the famed Tuskegee Institute.

The Rink Opera House hosted numerous political speakers as well over the years. Former President Theodore Roosevelt packed the hall in 1911 and entertained the crowd with tales of his early experiences in North Idaho. Both Republican and Democratic speakers rallied supporters at the Rink from time to time, and Socialist orators proved very popular as well. When the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) pushed to organize lumber workers around 1917, the fiery IWW speaker Elizabeth Gurley Flynn drew nearly 800 people to the Rink where she spoke passionately about labor issues. Just a month later, the Rink filled to overflowing with citizens who turned out to demonstrate their patriotism after the United States entered the war against Germany.

While musical and dramatic productions drew many Sandpoint citizens to the Rink, others came to watch a variety of sporting events like wrestling and boxing matches. One such match, between boxers Tim Hurley and Ed Cuff, did not end well when the crowd and referee recognized the fight as “a pure and unadulterated fake.” It was called after four rounds and the Rink refunded the ticket price.

Probably the most popular sport nationwide in the early twentieth century was baseball and Sandpoint was no exception. It was, however, a seasonal sport — that is, until the Rink opened its space to indoor baseball in 1915. Local men formed four teams, selected captains, and worked out a schedule of two games to be played every Sunday. They followed the rules established by large indoor leagues in eastern cities which called for a second shortstop to make ten players on each team. They also used a large soft ball and smaller bat to accommodate the restrictions of the indoor space. The men had to learn to adjust to the limited space, especially as the ball rebounded unexpectedly from the large rafters. The newspaper suggested that the low ceiling in the Rink accounted for larger than expected scores. The indoor league played again in 1916 but apparently stopped the following year.

Things were changing at the Rink by 1917. The skating fad had diminished, young men were leaving town to join the military, and the lumber industry was hit with a massive strike that paralyzed mills throughout the Northwest. Probably the biggest factor in its decline was competition from the two other theaters in Sandpoint which showed movies. In June 1917, the Rink’s manager asked the city council for permission to open a movie theater in the building, repeating his request from a year earlier. Evidently the council finally approved of the change.

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Pend d’Oreille Review, 12 May 1911, 8:4-5.

Despite the implication that movies would be a new feature for the business, the Rink had been showing occasional moving pictures since 1908. That year, the management marked the opening of skating season in September with an hour of movies preceding the skating. The Rink offered two nights of cameraphone pictures in April 1910, “pictures that talk, sing and act.” Billed as the first of its kind showing in Sandpoint, patrons were treated to David Warfield in “The Music Master” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” A few years later, the Hewitt Moving Picture Company played to large audiences in April 1913 with films on a variety of subjects including the ever-popular Buffalo Bill.

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Liberty Theater, formerly Rink Opera House, as shown on Sanborn map from August 1921.

After these early forays into moving pictures, the old Rink was totally remodeled and transformed into the Liberty Theater in the summer of 1917. Seven boxes, fitted with comfortable rocking chairs, were built in the former gallery. New equipment promised patrons that movies would be seen without the flickering that was common during that period. The theater planned to show movies regularly, with occasional dances or “first-class road shows.” The grand opening of the Liberty featured the film, “The Last Man,” starring Mary Anderson.

Even this transformation could not save the Rink. The theater began losing money by at least 1917 and later was mortgaged. Then an early morning fire in mid-September 1922 spread from the frame building on the corner of Second and Church (the former Northwest Business College) to a nearby house, sheds, and the Liberty Theater. Despite the best efforts of the fire department, the buildings were a total loss. Owners of the Liberty estimated their loss at $13,000, with just $5,000 covered by insurance.

No trace remains of the once grand Rink Opera House where events entertained the people of Sandpoint for fifteen years. Today’s venues are larger and grander, from the 1927 Panida Theater to the open air Festival at Sandpoint. Despite the change in look and scale, the spirit and intention of the Rink Opera House remain, bringing people together through the arts.

 

Note: It’s true: Great minds think alike. When I started researching this post in December, I had no idea that Cameron Murray, curator at the Bonner County Historical Society, was also gathering information on the Rink Opera House. I tip my hat to Cameron for her good article on the Rink, recently published in the Co-Op Country Round Up newspaper. The museum is planning its annual History Mystery fundraiser, “A Vaudeville Review,” based on the Rink. If you want a good time, plan to attend on February 25. Call the museum at 263-2344 for more information.

Sources cited:

“Latest Fad Is The Roller Skate Two Step,” Seattle Star, 1 September 1906, 1:4-5; https://www.loc.gov/rr/news/topics/rollerskating.html; “Princess Rink,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 7 February 1907, 8:2; “The Princess Rink,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 7 February 1907, 8:4; “Judge Woods Finds For Lorenzi,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 18 December 1908, 16:3; “Big Rink Is Opened,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 13 June 1907, 1:5; Pend d’Oreille Review, 18 September 1908, 5:2; Pend d’Oreille Review, 29 September 1911, 5:1; “Many Attend Skating Carnival,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 22 December 1911, 10:2; “Decide Championship Saturday,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 19 January 1912, 5:4; “Langworth Wins Skating Race,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 26 January 1912, 1:5; Pend d’Oreille Review, 28 April 1911, 5:3; Pend d’Oreille Review, 29 September 1911, 5:1; Pend d’Oreille Review, 10 January 1908, 5:2; Holly George, Show Town: Theater and Culture in the Pacific Northwest, 1890-1920 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2016), 115-123; Pend d’Oreille Review, 26 September 1907, 5:3; “Twas a Fine ‘Texas Steer,’” Pend d’Oreille Review, 17 October 1907, 1:2; “Kellogg-Haines Singing Party,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 17 October 1907, 1:4; “The Tennessee Jubilee Singers,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 17 April 1908, 1:6; Pend d’Oreille Review, 30 April 1909, 2:4; “Hoodoos,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 23 April 1909, 3:3; “And the Greatest of These Is Charity,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 27 May 1910, 2:2; “Sam Small Debates,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 27 May 1910, 6:1-5; “Henry George, Jr., To Lecture,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 3 March 1911, 1:4; “Henry George, Jr., Fails to Arrive,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 17 March 1911, 4:5; “Negro Educator To Lecture,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 7 March 1913, 3:3-4; “Solving Of Negro Problem,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 14 March 1913, 3:4; “Bonner County Greets Roosevelt With Mammoth Crowd,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 14 April 1911, 1:1-6; “Senator Borah Tonight,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 28 October 1910, 1:2; “Eugene Debs to Lecture Here,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 12 May 1911, 1:4; Pend d’Oreille Review, 9 June 1911, 10:2; “I.W.W. Bring Their Big Drawing Card,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 9 February 1917, 1:5; “Community Responds to Country’s Call to Arms, Pend d’Oreille Review, 30 March 1917, 1:1-6; “Tim Hurley and Ed Cuff to Box,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 17 April 1908, 1:3; “Bum Fight A Fake,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 24 April 1908, 1:1; “Miller Wins The Bout,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 20 February 1914, 3:1; “Will Play Indoor Baseball,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 15 January 1915, 1:6; “Arrange Indoor Schedule,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 22 January 1915, 1:4; “Panhandles Step Into Lead,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 19 February 1915, 3:4; “Panhandles Cinch Pennant,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 5 March 1915, 1:1; “First Games Next Sunday,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 29 October 1915, 1:6; “City Council Gets Through Some Important Business,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 21 July 1916, 8:3; “Council’s Stroke of Economy To Do Away With Crosswalks,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 22 June 1917, 8:1; Pend d’Oreille Review, 18 September 1908, 5:2; Pend d’Oreille Review, 15 April 1910, 7:4; “Special At Rink Opera House,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 15 April 1910, 12:3; “Good Picture Show Coming,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 12 May 1911, 8:2; Pend d’Oreille Review, 18 April 1913, 5:3;   “New Show House Opens Next Tuesday,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 21 September 1917, 1:6; “Old Landmarks Are Destroyed By Fire,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 15 September 1922, 1:1; https://www.loc.gov/rr/news/topics/rollerskating.html; maps of Sanpoint, Idaho, Sanborn Map Company (New York: New York City), January 1909:10, August 1921:17.

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Tales from a Lonely Cabin

img_3651The cabin has seen better days for sure. In fact, with the roof collapsed and windows gone, I doubt if even mice live there any more. The setting is beautiful, however, in an open field between the base of a forested mountain and the banks of the Pack River. On a sunny day in late summer, it seemed like an ideal place to be.

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Looking into cabin through front door.

I’ve wondered about this cabin for years. If you look to the east at just the right spot on the Lower Pack River Road, when the leaves are off the trees, you can catch a glimpse of the tiny cabin set at the base of the distant hill on the far side of the river.

As I set out to write about this cabin, however, I kept getting bogged down. I finally realized that I see this particular story in multiple layers. There’s the just-the-facts-m’am research into the family that lived there; there’s the story about making assumptions based on too few of these facts; and there’s the story of “institutional memory,” how research for one project can apply to a totally different one decades later. I’ll wander through these layers in reverse.

img_3660Back in 1977, while researching old homesteads on the Sagle Peninsula, Robert Newington told us that a man named Bob Nelson had built the two small log cabins on his parents’ homestead. Nelson was from Nova Scotia and was “a wizard with an axe and broadaxe,” Newington wrote. After selling his homestead right to Newington’s father, Nelson and his young wife moved to the Pack River neighborhood sometime in the 1890s. Bob Nelson’s name stuck in my mind and I thought of him occasionally when I noticed the lonely cabin in the distance.

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Part of General Land Office map, surveyed in 1901, printed in 1903.

 

After seeing the little log cabin in person, I wanted to know if this was really Bob Nelson’s home. A search through land records showed Robert B. Nelson did indeed homestead a nice piece of land along the Pack River, just south of the confluence with Trout Creek. His claim for nearly 160 acres, approved in July 1905, included not only the field where the cabin and log outbuilding are located but also a large open field across the river.

I also delved into census and marriage records available at the LDS Family History Center on Schweitzer Cutoff Road. I learned that Robert and Agusta Nelson married at Garfield Bay on January 31, 1895, when she was just 20 and he was 35. Their first child, Lovell, arrived before the end of the year and others followed in quick succession: Fremont (1897), Bell (1899), Archie (1900), Maude (1902), and Florence (1904). Most likely complications set in after this last birth and Agusta died on March 10, 1904, when Florence was less than two weeks old. She was buried in the Hope cemetery.

img_3620Now here’s where my assumptions initially led to the wrong conclusions. When I looked at the small log cabin and thought about a family with six children there, I assumed that they must have been poor. In fact, I couldn’t even imagine how they could all fit in such a small building. Following my incorrect assumption, I went to the Hope cemetery thinking that I might have trouble finding Agusta’s grave. Instead of a modest marker, however, I found a large granite monument, larger than those on the surrounding graves. Clearly this family was not poor.

That’s when I began to look for evidence of a larger home on the property. I could find no written records, but newspaper articles did describe Bob Nelson as a “well to do farmer near Hope.” A.J. Helgenberg at the Forest Service office in Sandpoint dug out aerial photos of the lower Pack River area taken in the mid-1930s, and these at least partially solved my question. A careful look shows that there was a large L-shaped building near the cabin, most likely the home where the Nelson family lived. There is no way to know, of course, just when this house was constructed but I like to think that the Nelson family lived in some comfort.

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Part of 1913 Forest Atlas map showing highway crossing Pack River just below Nelson home in Sec. 31.

Looking at the remote location of the Nelson’s cabin, accessible today only by a trail along the river, it’s easy to make the assumption that this was always the case. Once again, a bit of research into old maps shows that this was definitely not true. The original highway connecting Sandpoint and Clark Fork crossed the Pack River just a short distance south of the cabin. While the bridge is long gone, there is a small dock on the east bank at the original crossing. Standing there, you can still see some of the pilings in the river.

Setting aside incorrect assumptions, the facts show that the Nelsons had experienced tragedy even before Agusta died. While living near Kootenai late in 1903, little Maude, then just 18 months old, wandered onto the railroad tracks and was hit by a train. While seriously injured, the little girl survived. Bob Nelson later sued the Northern Pacific but I did not find any resolution of the case.

Three years after Agusta died, Bob Nelson married Matilda McLaughlin, a widow from Rawlins, Wyoming. She was close to Nelson’s age and may have brought at least one of her four children into the large blended family. The marriage did not last, however, and Bob and Matilda were living separately by 1910, Bob with his six children at the farm on Pack River and Matilda in a rented home in Hope.

Robert Nelson filed for divorce in 1916 but for some reason this was not finalized until 1923. Nelson sold his farm in 1919 to Edmund W. Wheelan for $2,175, subject to a $2,000 mortgage to the Federal Land Bank. Wheelan resold the property just over a month later for $3,000. Bob Nelson returned to Canada with three of his children in 1919. He died five years later in Pouce Coupe in the Peace River region of British Columbia. He was 64.

Bob Nelson left Bonner County nearly 100 years ago but his lonely cabin reminds me that real people lived and died here, men and women worked hard on this land to support their families, children played in the sunshine and the snow. I also am confident that there is much more to the Nelson story that I will never know.

 

Sources:  Robert Newington to Thomas Renk, 27 March 1977, pp. 6-8, on file, Flume Creek Historical Services; Map of Township No. 58 North, Range No. 1 East of the Boise Meridian, Idaho (Boise City: Surveyor General’s Office, 26 January 1903); Bonner County, U.S. Patent Homestead, Book 1:451; Western States Marriage Records Index, Marriage #7794, recorded in Kootenai County, Book B:268; Lovell B. Nelson, Idaho Death Index 1890-1964, Certificate No. 114652; Fremont Sevell Nelson, Idaho Birth Index 1861-1914, Certificate No. D60-0195; Bell Emeleme Nelson, Idaho Birth Index 1861-1914, Certificate No. D54-0528; Archie Nelson, Obituary Daily Times Index, 1995-Current; Maude Nelson, Idaho Birth Index 1861-1914, Certificate No. D54-0975; Florence Nelson, Idaho Birth Index 1861-1914, Certificate No. D70-0260; “Mrs. Robert Nelson Dead,” Northern Idaho News, 11 March 1904, 3:3; “Hope Brevities,” Northern Idaho News, 8 December 1905, 4:1; Forest Atlas, Sheet 12 (Missoula: US Forest Service, 1913); “Little Child Is Struck By An Engine,” Northern Idaho News, 6 November 1903, 1:3-4; “District Court Term To Be Extended One,” Northern Idaho News, 3 February 1904, 7:1-4; Idaho, County Marriages, 1864-1950, 004533535, frame 275 of 702; Twelfth Census of the United States, 1900, Wyoming, Fremont County, Split Rock, Roll 1826, page 7A, Enumeration District 0029; Thirteenth Census of the United States, 1910, Idaho, Bonner County, Hope Precinct, Sheet 2A and 8A; Robert Nelson v. Matilda Nelson, Divorce Suit 1761, 1916; “Many Cases Disposed Of In District Court,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 4 October 1923, 1:6; Bonner County, Deed Record, Book 35:45, Book 36:164-165; Border Crossings: From U.S. to Canada, 1908-1935, Roll T-15313; British Columbia, Canada, Death Index, 1872-1990, GSU No. 1927302.

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Entertaining Sandpoint: The Old Maids’ Convention of 1902

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The “new” Knights of Pythias hall, completed in 1915, replaced the earlier frame K.P. hall that had been on the same site since ca. 1901. The Old Maids’ Convention was held there in the upstairs meeting room in 1902.

My interest was piqued by a small news item on the front page of the newspaper inviting “widowers and bachelors” to attend the first convention of the Old Maids’ Association. While single men were the target audience, the public also was welcome to attend the meeting on October 25, 1902, at the Knights of Pythias hall, a large frame building on the corner of Second and Main in Sandpoint.

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Portion of map of Sandpoint, September 1904 (Sanborn Map Company). The Knights of Pythias hall was the frame building labeled on the map as “Opera Ho[use].”

One week later a larger article provided more information on the upcoming event. The 16 women in the Old Maids’ Association, ranging in age from 14 to 24, hoped to correspond with eligible bachelors and widowers “between the ages of 16 and 90 with a view to matrimony.” They claimed that they were all “exceptionally handsome women” and were perplexed that their beauty had yet to be recognized “by the sterner sex.” They offered to exchange tin types and locks of hair but asked that “the latter be returned for future use.” The notice was signed by Rebecca Petrace, secretary and treasurer of the association.

The day before the big event another article revealed the truth: The Old Maid’s Convention was a one-act comedy and most of those depicting the “old maids” were actually married women. The cast of creatively named characters included Minty Clovertop, Desire A. Mann, Hepalbah Odelia Olds, May Haverman, Petunia Pickles, Charity Hopegood, Serena Hasben, Anxiety Doherty, Eliza Hooker, and Prof. Makeover. The play hoped to depict the real lives of “old maids,” including “their true aim and ambition in life.” General admission for the public was fifty cents, with children under 12 at half price.

The play was well attended and, judging by the laughter, was deemed a huge success. The women were complimented especially on their makeup, and the newspaper suggested that their acting showed excellent training for their roles. Rev. J.C. Reed also was pleased since the entertainment raised $84.50 to benefit him and the Methodist Episcopal Church in Sandpoint.

Did Desire ever find her man? More than 100 years later, inquiring minds still want to know!

 

Sources cited:

“Local Brevities,” Kootenai County Republican, 10 October 1902, 1:3; “Notice to Widowers and Bachelors,” Kootenai County Republican, 17 October 1902, 1:5; “The Old Maids’ Convention,” Kootenai County Republican, 24 October 1902, 1:5; “Old Maids’ Convention,” Kootenai County Republican, 31 October 1902, 1:5-6; Map of Sandpoint, Idaho (New York: Sanborn Map Company, September 1904), 4.

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