Most histories of Sandpoint, Idaho, include a few lines about Robert Weeks. He opened the first store in 1880, we are told, and also owned a hotel, bar, and sawmill. Meanwhile his son Barton ran a general store with his wife, operating under the name of E. L. Weeks & Co. I and countless others have taken these statements as true, repeating them over and over. After all, the information comes from the trusted 1903 History of North Idaho, a massive volume full of wonderful history.
It turns out that you shouldn’t always believe what you read, even in impressively large books. Their names are not Robert and Barton, they did not arrive in 1880, and the store was named for the woman who ran it. Adding insult to injury, they were Californians!
I learned this after a descendant of the Weeks family sent some photographs and information to the Bonner County Historical Society. After digging into county records and old newspapers, I pieced together a more complete picture of Mr. Weeks and his family. Here’s what I know so far:
Construction of the Northern Pacific Railroad generated a great deal of activity in the Sandpoint area in the early 1880s. Thousands of men were needed to clear right of way, grade roadbed, build bridges, and lay tracks. The work moved eastward from Spokane into the Idaho Panhandle early in 1881, heading for Lake Pend Oreille where a long wooden trestle was to be constructed across the outlet of the lake at Sandpoint. This is where the Weeks family joins the picture.
The Northern Pacific contracted with individuals and small firms to operate portable sawmills at various points along the rail line. Robinson Jones Weeks, a rancher near La Honda, California, secured a contract to mill timbers on the northern shore of Lake Pend Oreille where the trestle was being built. He brought his portable sawmill, tools, and horses with him from California, arriving at the lake in the spring of 1881. Two of his sons, Burt and Asa, came with him, along with an experienced sawmill crew. They had the mill up and running by early summer.
Other members of the Weeks family joined them within a short time, moving from California to the tiny town that was just taking shape beside the Northern Pacific tracks. This group included Robinson’s wife and daughter, Cordelia and Ella, and Burt’s wife and son, Emma and Percy. The small boy was just two years old at the time.
They arrived at the peak of railroad construction when thousands of men were busy grading the roadbed east from Sandpoint. Once the lake trestle was finished, the work proceeded rapidly, and the tracks had almost reached Montana before the end of 1882.
As the railroad construction moved eastward, the elder Weeks couple prepared to return to California. They had acquired considerable assets during their short time at Sandpoint, and they sold these before the end of August 1882. Their properties included the two story Lake View Hotel, sold to son Asa; a restaurant and stable, sold to Harry Baldwin (another Californian); and the sawmill, sold to two men from Spokane. The mill’s sale price of $3,934.80 included the equipment and buildings for the sawmill and planing mill, “tools of every name and nature” relating to the mills, and the booms and piers in the lake adjacent to the mill site.
Burt and Emma Weeks stayed in Sandpoint for the next ten years. The enterprising Emma ran the general store that carried her name: E. L. Weeks & Co. Percy was joined by a sister, Rena Idaho, whose middle name proudly proclaimed her place of birth. Burt’s work often took him away for long stretches of time, but his wife managed to keep the store while caring for two small children. In conjunction with her business, Emma served as a Wells Fargo agent and worked as the postmaster from 1884-1891. Before they left, they had invested in a second store in the nearby town of Kootenai.
Burt and Emma returned to California with their children in 1891. They sold their stores, packed their belongings, and likely left on the train, riding on the railroad they helped to build. They have been long forgotten here in Sandpoint, hidden behind a confusion of jumbled information and misspelled names. It’s probably time to give these Californians the recognition that is due.
John M. Henderson, William S. Shiach, and Harry B. Averill, An Illustrated History of North Idaho, Embracing Nez Perces, Idaho, Latah, Kootenai and Shoshone Counties, State of Idaho (Spokane: Western Historical Publishing Company, 1903), 792; History of San Mateo County, California, vol. 2 (Chicago: S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1928), 320-323, 610-612; Norma Hohl, partial transcript of taped interview, no date, 32-33, 40, Biography Files, file: Weeks, Bonner County Historical Museum; “A Trip to Lake Pend d’Oreille,” Northwest Tribune, 3 June 1881, 2:5; “Sandpoint Post Office, Bonner County, Idaho,” on Postmaster Finder, http://webpmt.usps.gov/pmt003cfm, accessed 12 October 2015; “Local and Personal,” Kootenai Herald, 18 July 1891, 5:2; Kootenai County, Deed Record, Book A:24-26, 59, 72.
Additional information on the Weeks family can be found at http://williamsranchboarding.com/ranch_history