James Henry Towles of Hope, Idaho

James Henry Towles, ca. 1910.
Photo courtesy of the Bonner County Historical Society

James Henry Towles has intrigued me ever since I saw his photograph at the Bonner County Historical Society many years ago. Aside from his name, all I knew about him was that he was a Black man working as a saloon keeper in Hope, Idaho, in the early twentieth century. I wanted to know more and recently decided to see what I could find. I pieced together the outlines of his story using the federal census, deed records, city directories, and old newspapers.

Hope was a relatively new town when Towles arrived at least by 1901 and possibly several years earlier. The Northern Pacific laid tracks across the Idaho Panhandle in 1881-1882 and transcontinental trains were running a year later. There was little more than a small train station in Hope at first, but the town began to grow by the late 1880s when the Northern Pacific opened Highland House, a hotel catering to tourists. Hope became a railroad division point in 1888 with a roundhouse, shops, and employee housing. More than three hundred people were living there in 1900, all White except for a cluster of sixteen Chinese, mostly railroad workers, and one Black man, a hotel porter. 

Born in Missouri around 1857, James Henry Towles, better known as Henry, was in his 40s when he came to Hope. He was educated, at least well enough to read and write, and he settled down to make a life for himself in the small lakeside town. Between 1901 and 1908, he purchased four large lots below Highland Avenue, at the northwestern end of town, and nine adjoining lots above. He had a comfortable home, garden, and orchard on this property, with enough room for some farm animals. 

In 1902, the Kootenai County Republican reported that J. H. Towles, “a southern gentleman of experience in tobacco raising,” was trying several varieties of tobacco on his property. He had started plants in hot beds in March, transplanted them in June, and grew them to a height of eighteen inches by early October, a few weeks before his planned harvest. The four varieties that he planted were Twist Bud, Iron Oker, Yellow Prior, and Long Green. There were no further references to tobacco in the newspaper, suggesting that even the mild climate at Hope was not good enough for this crop.

Henry Towles also raised chickens, hogs, and at least one cow, and problems with all of the animals garnered attention in the newspapers. In 1905, Towles and another nearby rancher, Mr. Bullivant, regularly collected slops from one of the Hope restaurants to feed to their hogs and chickens. One batch of the food waste was tainted, most likely with strong lye from the kitchen, and caused the death of two hogs and twenty chickens at Bullivant’s place. Towles had even worse luck, losing five fine hogs that he had contracted to sell, along with seventy hens. An unhappy Mr. Towles told the newspaper, “Those two buckets of swill cost me a hundred and fifteen dollars.”

The cow landed Towles in a different kind of trouble. Officer Nugent impounded the animal in November 1910 when he found it roaming loose in Hope. This action angered Towles who complained that stock belonging to businessmen and members of the city council were allowed to roam the streets at will, with no consequences to their owners. This comment, labeled as “disrespect,” led to a hefty fine of $20, a lot of money in 1910.

Street scene in Hope, Idaho, ca. 1920s. The building in the foreground is the Jeannot Hotel. Just past this is the Rainier Hotel where Henry Towles tended the bar. The Rainier Hotel was torn down in 1999.
Photo courtesy of the Bonner County Historical Society.

This small scale farming was not the main source of income for Mr. Towles. He worked as a saloon keeper, probably in more than one bar over the years. He took over the Betz saloon in the Rainier Hotel in 1910. After hiring men to renovate the building, he opened his bar on February 10. His name periodically appeared in the newspaper in connection with his business. In one instance, he broke up a fight and later was called as a witness in the trial where “his testimony provided several amusing features and he had the court and jury laughing.” The defendant, however, did not find this funny and several months later accused Towles of allowing gambling in his saloon, threatening his liquor license. The board of commissioners, after hearing from Towles, took his side and granted the license.

In November 1905, Henry Towles helped solve the problem of “box car rustlers” who had been breaking into parked train cars in Hope to steal everything from coats and watches to booze and bacon. Three men walked into a saloon one evening and offered to sell bartender, Ezra Johnston, kegs of beer and cases of eggs at absurdly low prices. Johnston told them to come back later and after they had left, Towles, who had been dozing nearby, surmised that these were stolen goods. “You think too slow, Ezra,” he told the barkeeper. “I’m going after them.” He soon ran into a local man, serving as a fence for the robbers, who offered to sell Towles hams for fifty cents apiece. He agreed to take forty hams and some bacon. When the fence left, Towles woke Judge Dooley and a couple of other men. Together they caught the crooks red handed and recovered the stolen goods. The local fence served three months in the county jail at Rathdrum while the other two robbers each got a year in the state penitentiary. 

Henry Towles was a single man when he moved to Hope and he was still listed as single in the 1910 census. He did not always live alone, however. A widowed cousin, Emma Elgin or Elligan, lived with him in 1910, along with her young son. She died in a tragic accident that August. George Davis, a Black porter at the Rainier Hotel, invited Mrs. Elligan out for a rowboat ride on a beautiful summer day. Their rented boat soon began to leak, frightening the woman so much that she stood up to move closer to Mr. Davis, tipping them both into the water. Davis tried to rescue his companion but she never resurfaced. Mrs. Elligan, known around Hope as “Henry’s cousin,” was “a quiet, modest woman well liked by her neighbors,” according to the newspaper. “The entire community regret her untimely demise.”

At the time of the accident, Henry’s mother also was living with him on an extended visit from her home in Kirksville, Missouri. Later that year, he traveled to Missouri to see his mother just before she died. He returned from the trip a married man. The Pend d’Oreille Review reported that “Mr. Towles brought home a charming young bride and he has been distributing cigars freely to all the boys.” The paper noted that he had “a comfortable home on the hill at north Hope.” Unfortunately I could find very little about Henry’s wife whose name was Martha, evidently known as Mattie. She had died by 1931. 

Undoubtedly Henry Towles experienced racism, both subtle and overt, during his life in North Idaho. The incident with his cow, where he was slapped with an exorbitant fine for showing “disrespect,” is one example. The original photograph at the museum is labeled as “N—-r Henry,” and a life long Hope resident who I interviewed in the 1970s used the same epithet.

It’s also true that the local newspapers seemed to treat Mr. Towles like other men of the time. Articles about him almost never mentioned his race, and his occasional trips to Sandpoint or Spokane were noted just like the travels of other businessmen. He supported local community activities, donated to the Red Cross, and bought Liberty bonds during World War I. When the ladies of the Greater Hope Club wanted to raise money to build a sidewalk between Hope and East Hope in 1912, they solicited prizes from local businesses; Henry Towles donated a box of candy. Some Hope citizens took the train to Sandpoint in March 1913 to hear the famous Black educator, Booker T. Washington, speak to a capacity crowd at the Rink Opera House. The group, listed in the order given by the newspaper, included Dr. Knapp, Mrs. M. Wood, Miss Ethel Larson, Mr. and Mrs. Henry Towles, and Mr. and Mrs. Jones. 

Henry Towles’ job as a saloon keeper ended by at least January 1, 1916, when statewide prohibition went into effect, and he began working for the Northern Pacific shops in Kootenai. During the 1920s intermittent mentions in the newspaper reveal that he was living in Spokane or the Seattle area, returning periodically to check on his property in Hope. He was employed in the Northern Pacific yards in Tacoma in 1926 but returned to North Idaho around 1931 when he was listed in poor health. Towles sold his Hope home and property to Arthur Croy in 1937 and bought a place in nearby Clark Fork. He apparently lived there quietly until his death on January 10, 1941, at the age of 84. Reverend A. H. Morton presided at the graveside service when Towles was buried in Pinecrest Cemetery. His grave remains unmarked.

Note: Thanks to Dale Coffelt of Coffelt Funeral Services for information on the location of Henry Towles’ grave. Thanks also to Hannah Combs and Heather Upton for their assistance with the photograph collection and archives at the Bonner County Historical Society. 

Sources Cited:

Hope News Items, Kootenai County Republican, 25 April 1902, 1:5; Hope News Items, Kootenai County Republican, 3 October 1902, 1:5; Hope Brevities, Northern Idaho News, 14 November 1905, 4:3; Big Summer Resort, Pend d’Oreille Review, 17 November 1905, 4:3; Car Thieves At Hope, Pend d’Oreille Review, 24 November 1905, 1:1; Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of the Census, Twelfth Census Of The United States, Schedule No. 1.– Population, Idaho, Kootenai County, Hope Precinct, June 1900; Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of the Census, Thirteenth Census Of The United States: 1910 Population, Idaho, Bonner County, Village of Hope, 18 April 1910, Sheet 2A; No title, Pend d’Oreille Review, 28 January 1910, 6:1; Hope, Pend d’Oreille Review, 4 February 1910, 6:2; Hope, Pend d’Oreille Review, 22 April 1910, 4:3; Leaky Boat; Woman Drowned, Pend d’Oreille Review, 26 August 1910, 9:1; Young Colored Woman Drowned At Hope, Northern Idaho News, 23 August 1910, 6:1; No title, Northern Idaho News, 22 November 1910, 6:2; No title, Northern Idaho News, 20 December 1910, 17:2; Hope, Pend d’Oreille Review, 6 January 1911, 7:4; Hope, Pend d’Oreille Review, 23 February 1912, 4:3; Hope, Pend d’Oreille Review, 28 June 1912, 7:1; Case From Hope, Pend d’Oreille Review, 11 October 1912, 4:3; Jury Disagrees In The Case Of A. Fullgarth, Northern Idaho News, 15 October 1912, 1:5; [Democratic Nominations,] Justices of the Peace, Northern Idaho News, 15 October 1912, 6:3; Here And Around About, Pend d’Oreille Review, 10 January 1913, 5:2; No title, Pend d’Oreille Review, 21 March 1913, 4:2; Liquor Licenses Issued, Pend d’Oreille Review, 4 July 1913, 3:4; No title, Pend d’Oreille Review, 18 July 1913, 5:5; No Saloons At Lakeview, Pend d’Oreille Review, 15 August 1913, 1:2; 1914 Bonner County Directory, p. 474; Bonner County Subscribers to Red Cross Army Fund, Pend d’Oreille Review, 29 June 1917, 7:4; No title, Northern Idaho News, 26 March 1918, 4:3; Honor List Subscriptions to Liberty Bonds, Pend d’Oreille Review, 11 October 1918, 4:1; News From Our Neighbors, Hope, Pend d’Oreille Review, 16 July 1920, 6:1; Hope, Pend d’Oreille Review, 19 December 1920, 3:1; Neighbor’s News, Pend d’Oreille Review, 25 February 1921, 6:1; No title, Northern Idaho News, 30 March 1926, 3:2; Hope, Northern Idaho News, 10 February 1931, 3:1; Rites For James Towles To Be Held Tomorrow, Northern Idaho News, 17 January 1941, 5:2; Clarksfork Resident Summoned By Death, Sandpoint Bulletin, 16 January 1941, 8:1; Notice Of Sale Of Real Estate, Northern Idaho News, 7 February 1941, 4:4; Certificate Of Death, State Of Idaho, File No. 122725; Bonner County Deed Records, Book 4:327-328 and 384, Book 9:580-581, Book 10:390, Book 14:477-478, Book 15:108-109, Book 37:329-330, Book 50:432, Book 51:362, Book 57:452, Book 60:455-456, and Book 64:184-185.

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A Little Extra Help for the Holiday Season

Pend d’Oreille Review, 20 February 1930, 7:2-7.

When I went to the grocery store recently, I was greeted by a group of volunteers collecting food for our local food bank. Like many others in Yokes that day, I added a few things to my cart to deposit at the front door when I left. This is all part of a long tradition of giving here in North Idaho. We collect money for Toys for Tots, canned goods for the various food banks, and coats to give to children in need.

I don’t know when this started in an organized way, but I suspect that people have been giving to others for longer than anyone can count. A little research shows that even in the dark days of the 1930s, local people worked hard to make sure that no needy family went without at least some gifts at Christmas.

The stock market crash in late October 1929 caused financial ruin for many investors and a sharp economic downturn for the country. Despite President Herbert Hoover’s efforts to stimulate the flagging economy and stem rising unemployment, things went from bad to worse. Nationwide unemployment rose from 3.2 percent in 1929 to almost 16 percent two years later. By the time Franklin D. Roosevelt was inaugurated in 1933, unemployment peaked at nearly 25 percent.

Here in North Idaho, Humbird Lumber Company, the largest employer in Bonner County, began cutting losses. It closed the sawmill in Kootenai in August 1930, the Newport/Oldtown mill a year later, and most of the operations at the huge Sandpoint sawmill by the end of 1931.  Hundreds of loggers, millworkers, and support staff were out of work.

Various organizations spearheaded local relief efforts in late 1930. The Chamber of Commerce offered to register unemployed people looking for work, promising to divide up available jobs among those needing help. The list grew to 81 names by early December and reached 90 a week later. Jobs were scarce, with just 11 men finding permanent work in the woods while others found only temporary jobs.

Members of two local clubs, Onward Sandpoint and Good Fellows, worked with the Chamber to identify needy families. In late November 1930, the Good Fellows launched a citywide drive to collect food, clothing, and bedding. Two days before Thanksgiving, the men canvased the community and found a “hearty” response, with everything from food and clothing to fuel and cash. Two local companies donated space in their refrigerated plants to store perishable foods. Local hunters donated game and a dairy products company promised 200 gallons of buttermilk each week, asking only that individuals bring containers. The Good Fellows were able to provide assistance to 40 families over Thanksgiving but reported that much more was needed.

With Christmas rapidly approaching, and looking rather bleak for so many, the Chamber of Commerce erected a community Christmas tree at the corner of First and Cedar, lighting it every night before Christmas. Additional decorations included “ropes” or swags of cedar boughs and lighted decorations at intersections. Unemployed men were given work collecting trees and branches to help make the downtown festive.

As the holiday plans proceeded, the Good Fellows realized a growing need for money as more families applied for assistance. Onward Sandpoint put on a benefit program December 16 featuring Mme. Bouley and “a peppy, beautiful group of dancers, all professionals,” who promised to amaze the patrons of the club with their “terpsichorean ability.” Two hundred people attended, pronounced it “the social success of the year,” and raised $100 for charity.

Sandpoint residents in 1930 also helped Santa bring presents to local children. Members of the Elks Club gave out candy and oranges to the kids who came to the Christmas Eve carol sing around the community tree. Over at the fire station, Chief Walter Keuhl had been repairing donated toys to put them in shape to give to children whose parents were unable to afford such gifts.

Pend d’Oreille Review, 1 January 1931, 1:3-5.

A year later, in 1931, the economic outlook was bleak but, once again, local citizens rallied to help needy families. Sandpoint firemen spearheaded the drive to gather used toys and food for those in need. They repaired the toys to “pristine newness” so children could have a surprise on Christmas morning. Their work was supplemented by a benefit event at the Panida Theater that gathered not only toys but more than 100 quarts of fruit and vegetables. Others in the community donated food and various organizations, including the Elks Club, Rebekahs, American Legion Auxiliary, and Civic Club, put together baskets with fresh fruit, meat, and canned goods. More than 70 families received these welcome gifts.

A committee in Sandpoint gathered in late 1933 to make Christmas a bit more cheerful for those less fortunate. A local newspaper suggested the motto, “Give not from the top of your purse but from the bottom of your heart.” Once again the Panida Theater hosted a charity event, and organizers stressed the need for practical items like food and clothes. The Red Cross and the local relief association distributed these to local families.

This pattern of local assistance continued through the 1930s, with an annual benefit at the Panida collecting donations of food, clothing, and cash while local firemen gathered, repaired, and distributed toys to children. Officials assured the newspaper in December 1934 that “No one was forgotten.” This included the residents at the county poor farm in 1935 when local merchants donated nuts, fruit, candy, and cigars, “. . . everything for a fine Christmas” for the 26 men living there.

Year after difficult year in the Great Depression, local residents reached out to help their neighbors who had fallen on hard times. If they could do it, there’s no reason that we cannot carry on this worthy tradition. If you’re able, drop off a few items for the food bank or send a check to Toys for Tots. There are lots of other wonderful organizations, too, from Angels Over Sandpoint and Kinderhaven to the Sandpoint Senior Center. Let’s give “from the bottom of our hearts” to make this a “fine Christmas” for everyone. And remember — while toys are needed at Christmas time, food is needed all year round!

To donate, send checks to:

Toys for Tots, Sandpoint Lions Club, PO Box 414, Sandpoint, ID 83864.

Bonner Community Food Bank, 1707 Culvers Drive, Sandpoint, ID 83864.



“Will Provide Work Service,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 20 November 1930, 1:6; “Relief Work By Men’s Club,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 20 November 1930, 1:2; “Good Fellows Drive Success,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 27 November 1930, 1:7; “Give Deer To Poor Families,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 4 December 1930, 1:1; “Public Tree Now Assured,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 4 December 1930, 1:4; “City Echoes Xmas Spirit,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 11 December 1930, 1:2; “Relief Work Is Real Job,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 11 December 1930, 1:5; “Chamber Acts On Tree Plan,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 11 December 1930, 1:1; “Organize For Decorations,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 11 December 1930, 1:4; “Charity Club Date Is Set,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 11 December 1930, 1:6; “Charity Club Huge Success,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 18 December 1930, 1:6; “Toy Service Is Work Of Chief,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 18 December 1930, 2:7; “Christmas Quiet In Sandpoint,” Northern Idaho News, 29 December 1931, 1:6; “Annual Charity Event At Theatre Tomorrow,” Northern Idaho News, 16 December 1932, 1:2; “Many Benefitted By Relief Work,” Northern Idaho News, 6 January 1933, 1:3, 5:4; “Christmas Party Tonight,” Northern Idaho News, 15 December 1933, 1:5; “Charity Matinee Attracts Largest Crowd In History,” Northern Idaho News, 22 December 1933, 1:5; “None Forgotten At Yule Time,” Northern Idaho News, 28 December 1934, 1:3; “Gay Christmas At County Poor Farm,” Northern Idaho News, 27 December 1935, 1:6; “Inmates of County Farm Enjoying Holiday,” Northern Idaho News, 31 December 1937, 1:4.

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Billy Abbott’s Saloon

Abbott Building on the corner of First Avenue and Bridge Street, Sandpoint, March 2017.

Two buildings went up in smoke on that cold winter night. Working under difficult conditions, fire fighters managed to keep the flames from reaching a neighboring building but they were unable to save the two structures. By morning, the ruins still smoldered at the corner of First Avenue and Bridge Street.

While eerily similar, this was not the recent fire on February 11 that destroyed five businesses on that same corner. Instead, the fire broke out early in the morning of March 18,1912. It spread quickly in the wooden buildings and consumed the California poolroom and lodging house as well as the Sandpoint Hotel, cafe, and poolroom. An earlier fire on January 22 had destroyed four buildings in the same block of First Avenue, including C.F. Moody’s feed store, the Idaho rooming house, Silver Club Cafe, Denver Barber Shop, Eagle rooming house, Eagle soft drink parlor, Doyle’s clothing store, and George M. Walker’s clothing store.

Although the Sandpoint Hotel building was owned by Ignatz Weil, it had long been the home of William Abbott’s saloon. Abbott, better known as Billy, was a well known businessman in Sandpoint. He was in his early thirties when he came to town around 1903. Within a short time, Billy joined forces with Mr. Branson to open a restaurant and saloon in the recently completed Sandpoint Hotel.

Pend d’Oreille Review, 21 June 1906, 5:5-6.

Although the firm of Abbott & Branson failed by early 1905, Abbott continued the business on his own. He occasionally got creative with his advertising. For instance, in late 1905 he installed an outdoor sign depicting a camel carrying a jug of whiskey, standing in front of pyramids. “A camel can go eight days without drinking,” the sign read, “but who wants to be a camel?”

Billy clearly was a popular man about Sandpoint. When he returned from a trip in September 1907 with his bride, Helena, friends gave them an enthusiastic reception and the local band serenaded them at the Sandpoint Hotel well into the night. It didn’t hurt Billy’s popularity when he dusted the cobwebs off several old bottles of liquor that had been stored in his cellar and generously shared them with the well-wishers.

Portion of Sanborn Fire Map from January 1909 showing the east side of First Avenue between Main and Bridge Street. Note the 8 saloons (designated Sal. on the map) in just one block. Abbott’s was the one on the corner of First and Bridge.

Despite his success and popularity, it wasn’t a smooth road for Billy Abbott. During the early 1900s, moral crusaders throughout the nation, including Sandpoint, targeted saloons and their associated vices of gambling and prostitution. Abbott was one of several local saloon operators accused of running gambling establishments, first in 1903 and again in 1908; they were acquitted both times.

It was harder to counter the forces pushing for prohibition. In a hotly debated special election in May 1910, Bonner County voters approved a local option to end the sale of alcoholic beverages. Although Sandpoint voted 729 to 654 to remain “wet,” the final tally was 2,168 “dry” to 1,832 “wet.” (At that time, Bonner County included all of what is now Boundary County.) Before the new law went into effect on August 23, 1910, Billy Abbott held a sale on the remainder of his booze.

This law, of course, did not end the sale and consumption of illicit alcohol. Just two years later residents revoked the local option, voting 2,092 “wet” to 1,511 “dry” to end Bonner County’s first experiment with prohibition.

The timing was perfect for Billy Abbott’s plans. The two fires during the winter of 1912 had left a large gap on the east side of First Avenue between Church and Bridge Streets. Abbott began making plans to buy several of the lots so he could build a large brick building. There was one catch, however: he needed to be assured of a liquor license. With a limit of just six licenses in Sandpoint, down from twenty-one just two years earlier, competition was stiff. The city council granted five in late June, with the sixth to be given either to Abbott or Chris Peterson. At first it looked like Peterson would win but then Abbott’s supporters argued that he had purchased the lots on First Avenue with the assurance that he would be granted a liquor license. By late July 1912, the city council approved Abbott’s license.

As soon as he got the good news, Billy Abbott announced plans to build a large brick building on the corner of First and Bridge. Local architect S. Willis Foster designed the building with a full basement and three storefronts on the First Avenue level. The corner space was to be Abbott’s new saloon, with the other two spaces a restaurant and a movie theater. Work continued into 1913.

The new saloon held its grand opening on February 1, showing off the barrels of wines and liquors along the north wall, opposite the forty-foot oak bar that was salvaged and refurbished from the fire. There was a well-stocked wine cellar in the basement. Shortly after Abbott opened his saloon, a restaurant opened in the center portion of the new building. It was followed by the Gem Theater’s grand opening in March when throngs of patrons lined up to see the two-reel thriller, “The Vengeance of Durand,” along with a shorter comedy.

Billy Abbott had just a short run in his new saloon. Idaho voters decided to institute statewide prohibition starting the first day of 1916. Facing the inevitable, Abbott posted a sign in the window of his bar reading, “Don’t ask us what we’re going to do after January 1; what in —— are you going to do?” Less than two months later, Abbott sold his local holdings and moved to Astoria, Oregon, to run another movie theater. Nationwide prohibition was in effect from 1920-1933.

Remains of Abbott building after the fire on 11 February 2019.

Billy Abbott’s building has seen many different businesses over the last century, but the ones that matter the most right now are those that were destroyed in the recent February 11 blaze. The flames on that cold winter night burned Headlines Salon and The Hound Pizza, both in the former Abbott saloon; Sandpoint Chocolate Bear, in the former Grill Restaurant; China Kitchen, in the former Gem Theater; and Sandpoint Tattoo and Body Piercing, downstairs in the Abbott building.

While the Abbott building is now gone, we’re all waiting to see what takes its place, continuing the rich history on that busy corner of Sandpoint.

Sources Cited:

Kootenai County Republican, 10 April 1903, 4:2; “Charge of Gambling Is Not Sustained,” Kootenai County Republican, 7 October 1903, 1:6; Kootenai County Republican, 17 October 1903, 3:2; “They Enter Into Combine,” Northern Idaho News, 3 June 1904, 1:1-2; Northern Idaho News, 6 January 1905, 8:1-3; Ad, Pend d’Oreille Review, 15 September 1905, 5:5-6; Pend d’Oreille Review, 28 December 1905, 5:3; Pend d’Oreille Review, 1 February 1906, 5:3; Ad, Pend d’Oreille Review, 21 June 1906, 5:5-6; “Abbott-Biever,” Northern Idaho News, 12 September 1907, 4:3; “Brings A Bride Back With Him,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 12 September 1907, 1:5; “Tiger Again Captive,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 17 January 1908, 1:3; “Many Gambling Cases Have Been Commenced,” Northern Idaho News, 21 January 1908, 1:4-5; Department of Commerce and Labor, Bureau of the Census, Thirteenth Census of the United States: 1910—Population. Sandpoint City, Sheet 10-A; “Shake Dice Or Draw Straws,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 11 March 1910, 7:3-4; No title, Pend d’Oreille Review, 5 August 1910, 7:4; “Four Business Blocks Are Destroyed By Fire,” Northern Idaho News, 23 January 1912, 1:1-2; “Fire Destroys Two Buildings,” Northern Idaho News, 19 March 1912, 1:3; “Made The Gap Bigger,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 22 March 1912, 1:6; “Grant Many Licenses,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 28 June 1912, 1:5; “Rumblings Of Storm,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 28 June 1912, 1:3; “Abbott To Put Up A Brick,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 5 July 1912, 1:5; “Prolong License Row,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 5 July 1912, 3:1-2; “No Decision On Sixth License,” Northern Idaho News, 16 July 1912, 1:4-5; “Abbott Gets Sixth License,” Northern Idaho News, 23 July 1912, 1:5; “Abbott And Walker To Build,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 26 July 1912, 1:4; No title, Pend d’Oreille Review, 9 August 1912, 5:3; “Abbott Building Is Going Up,” Northern Idaho News, 8 October 1912, 1:6; “New Moving Picture Show,” Northern Idaho News, 24 December 1912, 1:3; “Abbott Building Nearly Completed,” Northern Idaho News, 28 January 1913, 1:3; “Abbott Building About Ready,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 31 January 1913, 1:5; “Three States Will Go Dry One Week From Tonight,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 24 December 1915, 1:5; “Picture Houses Change Hands,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 11 February 1916, 1:5; “Local Paragraphs,” Northern Idaho News, 6 June 1916, 3:4; “Abbott Corner Is Occupied,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 5 January 1917, 1:4.

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November 1918: Celebration and Sorrow

The telephone rang in the Humbird Lumber Company offices on the mid-morning of November 7, 1918, bringing the unexpected but joyful news that Germany had signed the armistice agreement with the Allies. Word spread fast as the raucous sounds of sawmill whistles, fire bells, and car horns filled the air. The Great War was over at last!

Towns and cities across the nation celebrated the Allied victory that day. In Sandpoint, businesses closed and residents poured into the downtown area. People decorated their cars for an impromptu parade, honking horns loudly as onlookers waved flags. The city’s fire trucks joined in and soon the parade had massed to two blocks long, moving noisily along Cedar Street and First Avenue. “Bedlam broke loose,” noted the local newspaper. “Staid old business men hopped upon motor trucks and blew whistles, threw confetti and yelled themselves into [a] state of hoarseness which will take days to mend.”

Alas, the celebratory spirit was dampened by evening when news arrived that the armistice had not yet been signed. In fact, the German delegation had not even been given the terms of agreement. Evidently the misinformation had been spread by an unconfirmed story from United Press. Nonetheless, local residents went to bed that night happy to have had an excuse to celebrate.

Less than a week later, Sandpoint, the nation, and indeed the whole world, had reason to cheer when the armistice was signed in France on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. The news arrived in Sandpoint just after midnight on November 11, prompting a few blasts of the fire whistle to let residents know. Another celebration began at daylight, with more whistles and horns making sure that everyone knew that “Germany had really acknowledged defeat, and no mistake this time.” The crowds downtown swelled as hundreds of people poured in from neighboring towns and nearby logging camps for a celebration that lasted well into the night.

In anticipation of this news, city officials and a group of citizens had organized a more formal program to commemorate the end of fighting. In the morning, a nine-piece band led the parade of cars decorated with American flags as well as the flags of all of the Allied nations. A large truck was parked at the intersection of Second Avenue and Main Street to make a platform which not only held the speakers but also several veterans of the Civil War. The formal program continued with speeches, patriotic songs, and band numbers. By evening, a large bonfire was burning on a vacant lot at Cedar and Second where an orchestra provided music for a street dance.

Nobody seemed to mind that Sandpoint had celebrated the end of the Great War twice in less than a week. As one local newspaper noted, the first celebration “was of hilarious joy, the last of a more sensible appreciation of the tremendous meaning of the occasion.”

The November 11 armistice ended the bloody fighting that had ravaged Europe for more than four years. The losses from this conflict are almost incomprehensible today: an estimated 9 million combatants and 7 million civilians killed, with an additional 23 million soldiers and an unknown number of civilians left wounded.

American casualties were considerably lower than other Allied countries since the United States did not enter the fighting until April 1917. Nonetheless, the approximately 117,000 soldiers who died came from every state, spreading the pain—and pride—nationwide, including right here in Bonner County.

William D. Martin was the first Bonner County man to die in the war, killed in France on July 26, 1918. He was also the first in his regiment to die and all of his comrades gathered as he was buried on a hillside in France. His parents did not receive word of his death until nearly two months later when an official letter finally reached them. The chaplain of the 146th Field Artillery said that their son had died a hero. According to his letter, Martin’s last words were, “I am dying. Take care of the other fellow.” The local Presbyterian Church overflowed with mourners at a memorial service for the young soldier from Sandpoint.

While Martin was the first to die, others soon followed. The plaque at War Memorial Field on Ontario Street in the south part of Sandpoint lists just twelve names of Bonner County soldiers who died during World War I. I thought it would be an easy task to track these men down in the newspapers from 1918 to learn a bit more about them and where they died. Little did I know!

Using the old Bonner County newspapers, lists of war dead compiled by the Adjutant General’s Office in 1920, and a three-volume set of American casualties, also compiled in 1920, my list grew considerably.

Official lists separated the dead into three primary categories: those killed in action, those who died later of wounds, and those who died from disease or accident while serving overseas. I soon found that the names on the monument also included young men who had died of disease or some other medical crisis while enlisted in the military but still living in the United States. This category was disproportionately large since the autumn of 1918 coincided with the terrible influenza pandemic which erupted toward the end of the war, killing an estimated 50 million people worldwide.

Using these same categories, I have updated the list of Bonner County men who died while serving in the military during World War I. Please note that some of the names are spelled differently on the monument; I took the spelling that was used most often in my sources. Another caveat: I do not consider this list to be absolutely accurate. Please feel free to send me additions and/or corrections.

Killed in action:

—John R. Anderson, Priest River
—James Brown, Sandpoint
—James L. Gale, Sawyer
—Frederick W. Hendershot, Sandpoint
—Clarence Holland, Priest River
—William D. Martin, Sandpoint
—Joseph P. Mead, Clark Fork
—Anton Moe/Carl Anton Moe, Cocolalla/Hillyard
—Edward J. Morrison, Sandpoint

Missing in action, presumed dead:
—William Pierce, Bonner County

Died of wounds:
—John F. Dellinger, Sandpoint
—Edward Doyle, Samuels
—Moses Fond, Sandpoint
—Alfred Klingman, Sandpoint
—Ora Long, Morton/Spokane
—Charles H. Miller, Blanchard
—Ernest L. Miller, Sandpoint (died in July 1919, apparently from complications due to war injury)
—Carl V. Whidden, Hope

Died of disease overseas:
—Ray W. Ashley, Sagle
—Clarence Billips, Hope
—Harold C. Reed, Clark Fork

Died of disease while enrolled in Student Army Training Corps at college/university or during military training in the US:

—Herman Bernthal, Matchwood/Sandpoint
—Charles Clinton, Sandpoint
—Leland Eddy, Sandpoint
—Julius Finstad, Priest River
—Clarence Halverson, Valley (Vay)
—James Jewel Joy, Kootenai
—Ray G. Kaufman, Sandpoint
—Robert M. Kittleson, Priest River
—Joseph McEvoy, Priest River

Died of unknown causes while in the military during years of World War I:
—Dan Yee Jay, Sandpoint
—Harry D. Martell, Clark Fork

Died of disease while serving as Red Cross nurse in US:
—Mary O’Brien, Kootenai

Thus the list of twelve names on the monument at War Memorial Field has grown to thirty-three, magnifying the losses felt by the families and friends left behind in Bonner County in 1918. The names from subsequent wars have mushroomed as well, now spilling over to a second monument which lists those lost in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq/Afghanistan. The names are prefaced with a dedication to “the people of Bonner County in the honor of the fallen men of the past, with the hope and prayer this field shall be for sport and games without the cloud of conflict and the threat of war, that the future participants shall play in peace forever.”

I, too, pray that this will come true.


Sources cited:

“Private Martin Dies A Hero,” Northern Idaho News, 15 October 1918, 1:1; “Bonner Boy Dead In France,” Northern Idaho News, 29 October 1918, 1:4; “Dies In France,” Northern Idaho News, 12 November 1918, 1:6; “City Celebrates Coming of Peace,” Northern Idaho News, 12 November 1918, 1:3ff; “Dies From Wounds,” Northern Idaho News, 3 December 1918, 1:4; “Another Golden Star,” Northern Idaho News, 3 December 1918, 3:6; “Bonner Boys Give Lives For Liberty,” Northern Idaho News, 3 December 1918, 5:3-4; “Experience Overseas Was Worth A Lot,” Northern Idaho News, 10 December 1918, 1:5; “Ray Kaufman Flu Victim,” Northern Idaho News, 24 December 1918, 1:2; “Priest River Boy Dies in Service,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 25 January 1918, 1:6; “Kootenai,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 29 March 1918, 18:3; “Card of Thanks,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 5 April 1918, 5:4; “Priest River Soldier Dies,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 12 July 1918, 1:6; “War Department Confirms Death of Private Wm. Martin,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 6 September 1918, 3:4; “Rossman Writes Battery C Has Received Three Citations, ” Pend d’Oreille Review, 4 October 1918, 1:6; “Influenza Takes Its Toll,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 25 October 1918, 1:5; “Nurse Dies In Spokane,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 25 October 1918, 1:6; “Clarksfork Soldier Dies in France,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 25 October 1918, 4:3; ‘Peace Flash Was A United Press Hoax,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 8 November 1918, 1:5; “Young Man Victim of Influenza,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 15 November 1918, 4:1; “Closing Days of War Take Sandpoint Boy,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 15 November 1918, 1:3; “City Celebrates Real War Victory,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 15 November 1918, 1:5-6; “Cocolalla Soldier Dies On Battlefield,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 22 November 1918, 1:3; “Bonner Boys Fall in Last Days of War,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 29 November 1918, 1:1; “Bonner’s Casualty List Increases,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 6 December 1918, 1:1; “Oden Bay Boy Dies At Portland,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 20 December 1918, 5:2; “Local Briefs,” Northern Idaho News, 27 May 1919, 7:4; “Captain Ernest Miller Dies At Presidio,” Northern Idaho News, 29 July 1919, 1:3-4; “Edward Doyle of Samuels Dies in Country’s Service,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 28 February 1919, 1:6; “City Brevities,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 3 January 1919, 5:2; “Hope Soldier Dies In Germany,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 31 March 1919, 1:4; “Captain Miller to Undergo Operation,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 23 May 1919, 1:4; “Bonner County’s Vacant Files,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 4 July 1919, 1:3-4; “To Bring Fallen Heroes Home,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 31 October 1919, 2:2; “Ora Long’s Body Laid to Rest at Westmond,” Northern Idaho News, 9 August 1921, 1:5; “To Bury Soldier Here,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 17 June 1921, 2:4; “Bury Soldier In Spokane,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 5 August 1921, 1:2; “Soldier Funeral At Westmond,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 5 August 1921, 1:3; “Remains of Young War Hero Will Be Laid to Rest Here,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 21 October 1921, 1:3; “Heroic Dead on Bronze Tablet,” Northern Idaho News, 22 July 1924, 11:4; “23 County Names on Memorial Tablet,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 17 July 1924, 1:3; “Twenty-Five Service Men Who Died, Honored,” Northern Idaho News, 9 April 1929, 4:3-4; W.M. Haulsee, comp., Soldiers of the Great War, Vol. 1 (Washington, DC: Soldiers Record, 1920), accessed through Ancestry.com; Biennial Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Idaho, 1917-1918, accessed through Ancestry.com; War Department, The Adjutant General’s Office, Compiled Data on Casualties of the American Expeditionary Forces by State or United States Possession, 1917-1919, File Unit: Idaho World War I Dead, AEF, Record Group 407: Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1905-1981, National Archives Identifier: 34389584; War Department, The Adjutant General’s Office, Commissioned and Enlisted Personnel of the Army Who Entered Service From the State of Idaho and Died While Members of the Expeditionary Forces, 27 October 1920, National Archives 1726747_Box1_Folder11-002; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I; https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/1918-pandemic-history.htm.

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Ford Day

Spring in North Idaho brings a wealth of colors, sounds, and smells that brighten our lives after the long, gray winter. Golden dandelions bloom exuberantly in lush green lawns; robins and chickadees noisily proclaim their territory; and lovely lilacs, lavender, white, and dark purple, perfume the air with their fragrance.

In Sandpoint, there’s another way we know that spring has finally arrived: the vivid colors, often loud noises, and occasional smell of exhaust from hundreds of old cars. For us, it’s the annual Lost in the 50s parade and car show that signal the official arrival of spring with its warm weather and fun and all that goes with the beautiful but all-too-short spring and summer seasons here in the Far North. We just celebrated the 33rd Lost in the 50s weekend (http://sandpoint.org/lostin50s/) when gray skies and cooler temperatures did not dampen the love of old cars for the thousands of people who flocked to town to admire the cars, model their poodle skirts, and bop to Buddy Holly blaring from speakers at the main downtown intersection.

While Lost in the 50s today features all makes and models of old cars, Fords dominated the market a century ago. The Model T, introduced in 1909, accounted for one out of every two cars in 1927, the last year that Model Ts were made. Much of the T’s success was due to rural Americans who appreciated its reliability on poor roads, the ease of repairs, and the availability of spare parts.

Sandpoint celebrated the beloved Model T in 1922 with Ford Day. The event on June 14 coincided with the Flag Day holiday and the downtown merchants’ big Sales Day. The planning committee hoped to draw large crowds to all of the events, and they lined up prizes for dozens of contests, a car parade, and a slow race. Ford day would be “the most unique celebration ever staged in the history of Sandpoint,” the Northern Idaho News promised, with a touch of hyperbole. “The flivvers will own the town that day. There will be old flivvers and new flivvers, quiet flivvers and noisy flivvers, modest flivvers and loud flivvers–all kinds of flivvers in fact–and prizes for the best of each kind.”

Weeks of advertising paid off and Wednesday, June 14, found more than 3,000 people thronging the streets of downtown Sandpoint. As the Fords chugged into town, their owners were urged to register in order to qualify for prizes to be awarded later on. Unfortunately the Sagle family with 11 members squeezed into their Model T failed to register and thus lost their chance to claim the prize for the largest family. It instead went to the Thomas Moran family of 7 who claimed their first prize — dinner at the St. James Cafe and a tire.

The parade of Fords through downtown provided a chance for their owners to claim a prize, although many of the categories might not be acceptable in today’s climate of political correctness. For instance, the oldest woman in a Ford won a sack of flour, 3 pounds of coffee, and a can of pineapple, while the oldest man got a hat. The fattest man (F.H. Rundell of Bonners Ferry, weighing in at 202 pounds) claimed his gallon of ice cream, and the fattest woman (Mrs. Hannah Folden, 230 pounds) took home a fancy cake. Mrs. Elmer Dreisbach drove a Ford with the 5 girls deemed to be prettiest, winning a box of candy for each of the girls. The noisiest car in the parade (William G. Phalon) was given a 6-month pass to the Gem Theater. Henry Samuels, owner of the oldest Ford (1911), claimed his prize of a quart of auto enamel, any color, and a pair of brushes. William Derr, from Clark Fork, with the most dilapidated Ford, won a haircut, shave, and bath at Dad’s Shop.

Following a break for lunch, people gathered for the slow race over a 75-yard course on First Avenue. The winner would be the driver who took the longest time to finish, without stopping or interfering with other drivers. The excitement was so great that bystanders crowded into the street around the cars, making it hard to see the vehicles inching their way along. Although the judges disqualified several cars for stopping, they eventually proclaimed Fred Bartlett the winner. He had taken 15 1/2 minutes to finish the course, idling along at a rate of less than 15 feet per minute!

While the parade and slow race were the highlights of Ford Day, merchants hoped to draw people into downtown stores for shopping. To ensure success, they built up excitement ahead of time with the announcement of a Mysterious Man and Mysterious Woman who would be mingling with the shopping crowds. Nobody knew who these two people might be, but all were well prepared for meeting them. “If you think you have the right person you should ask this question in just this way: ‘Are you the Mysterious Ford Man’ or Woman if it happens to be the woman,” instructed the Northern Idaho News. “If you are right a question will be asked you and you are to reply in these words exactly: ‘Because nobody knows what makes you ramble around.'” If this was indeed the Mysterious Man or Woman, the lucky questioner would receive a coupon for one of the prizes which included a fountain pen, a 5-pound pail of lard, or a 2-year subscription to the newspaper.

Ford Day ended that evening with a patriotic celebration for Flag Day, led by the Elks Lodge and the Boy Scouts. Nearly 1,000 people filled the school grounds to sing songs, hear speeches, and enjoy music performed by the city band. All in all, people deemed the day a grand success and they rambled home happily in their Ford Model Ts.

Sources cited

“Prizes for Ford Day, June 14,” Northern Idaho News, 30 May 1922, 1:2-5; “Town Prepared For the Fords–June 14,” Northern Idaho News, 6 June 1922, 1:3-4; “Tomorrow’s Big Flivver Show,” Northern Idaho News, 13 June 1922, 1:3; “Over 3,000 Brought In For Day’s Events,” Pend d’Oreille Review, 16 June 1922, 1:3; no title, Northern Idaho News, 20 June 1922, 2:4; George E. Mowry, The Urban Nation, 1920-1960 (New York: Hill and Wang 1965), 13; Peter Hugill, “Good Roads and the Automobile in the United States, 1880-1929,” Geographical Review 72 (July 1982): 336-337; Michael L. Berger, The Devil Wagon in God’s Country: The Automobile and Social Change in Rural America, 1893-1929 (Hamden, CT: Archon Books, 1979), 49.


Ford emblem (http://myautoworld.com/ford/history/ford-t/ford-t-5/ford-t-6/ford-t-7/ford-t-7.html); Ford ad (http://myautoworld.com/ford/history/ford-t/ford-t-5/ford-t-6/ford-t-7/ford-t-7.html); Flivver headline (Northern Idaho News, 13 June 1922, 1:3); Mysterious Man and Mysterious Woman ad (Northern Idaho News, 6 June 1922, 7).


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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.”


“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


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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


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.


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.


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.


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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