What’s with Main Street?

Streets in Sandpoint generally intersect at right angles to form a tidy grid pattern – except for Main Street. It slashes a bold diagonal line across the grid, leaving a scatter of triangular blocks in its wake. What’s the matter with Main Street?


Looking west at small triangular park on Florence Avenue, with Main Street on left and Alder Street on right.

The story begins back in 1892 when the tiny community of Sand Point was located on the east side of Mill Creek, now known as Sand Creek. Frame stores, hotels, and houses lined the railroad tracks for several blocks, mostly south of the Northern Pacific depot. A low water bridge crossed the creek and a rough road cut diagonally up the bank (behind today’s Panida Theater) to the flat land in what is now downtown Sandpoint. Just a handful of people lived on the west side of the creek at that time, spread out on their 160-acre claims in the forest. They included J.L. Prichard, Jack Waters, Wilton B. Dishman, and J.R. Law.

Portion of Map of Township No. 57 North, Range 2 West, Boise Meridian, Idaho (surveyed 1892, approved 1894). Note road running from the Great Northern station (upper left) to town.

The early 1890s were a lively time for the small town on Lake Pend Oreille. Officials for the recently completed Great Northern Railway decided to build a depot beside the tracks, about a mile and a half west of Sandpoint. Savvy business people immediately saw the need for a road to connect the two depots to facilitate the transfer of both freight and passengers. Construction was well under way by late July 1892, and just over a month later, Mr. Dishman was advertising his stage line running between the Northern Pacific and Great Northern stations.


Ad from Pend d’Oreille News, 3 September 1892, 5:3.

It didn’t take long for people to find fault with the new road. By October 1892 they complained that the “present road is very crooked, full of ruts and stumps and when the wet season comes on a wagon will sink to the hubs.”  Concerned citizens asked the county commissioners to appropriate $500 for the county road between “East Sand Point and West Sand Point.” The commissioners approved $350 for the project.

William Ashley Jr., the county surveyor, laid out the road to run “as straight as [his] instruments could make it,” starting at the top of the slope “just beyond the bridge across the creek and coming out close to the G.N. depot.” Benjamin Butler contracted with the county to build the road but sublet the work to Mr. Prichard. He soon had a crew of men working through the bad weather in November 1892 to clear a fifty-foot right-of-way and finish a sixteen-foot road, with all of the stumps removed. Apparently the work continued into the following spring because Mr. Butler did not bill the county until July 1893. The county gave final approval for the new road in October 1893. This became our Main Street.

The rest of the streets in town didn’t get laid out for several more years. Lorenzo D. Farmin acquired Prichard’s claim and platted part of it for a new townsite in 1898. When he laid out his neat grid of streets, they crossed the well-established county road at funny angles, giving us small parks and difficult intersections today.


Original Plat of Sandpoint, Idaho, 1898.


Side note: Wilton Dishman and his brother, Addison, moved in the mid-1890s to the Spokane area where they established the small community of Dishman. While it is now part of the city of Spokane Valley, the Dishman name remains on some businesses.


From Depot to Depot, Pend d’Oreille News, 23 July 1892, 4:2; Telephone Line, Pend d’Oreille News, 30 July 1892, 4:2; Ad, Pend d’Oreille News, 3 September 1892, 5:3; Petition for an Important Road, Pend d’Oreille News, 8 October 1892, 5:3; A Road Surveyed, Pend d’Oreille News, 22 October 1892, 4:3; Work Has Commenced, Pend d’Oreille News, 19 November 1892, 5:1; Flourishing Sand Point, Pend d’Oreille News, 4 March 1893, 2:1-2; Bonner County, Commissioners Journal, Book 1: 29, 30, 34, 35; Kootenai County, Surveyor’s Record, Book 1:15; Dishman now part of Spokane Valley, Spokesman-Review, 28 September 2015, A5.

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Pend d’Oreille, Sand Point, or Both?

Can a town have two names at the same time? In the case of Sandpoint, the answer is, “Yes . . . but it’s complicated.”

Several sources – quoted often – say that the town’s name at one time was Pend d’Oreille. Ella M. Farmin noted in her memoir that her husband’s land claim (where downtown Sandpoint is today) was across the creek from the Northern Pacific station and “the village of Pend d’Oreille.” The Farmins had lived in town barely a year when the name officially changed to Sandpoint, but she later remembered that some people, including herself, greeted the change with “disgust.”

The trusty 1903 History of North Idaho also tells us that both the town and the railroad station were known as “Pend Oreille.”

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History of North Idaho, page 792.

The Northern Pacific Railroad may have called the station Pend d’Oreille at some point since that is the name shown on the General Land Office map, surveyed in the fall of 1892.

GLO T57N R2W 1894

Map of Township No. 57 North, Range No. 2 West, Boise Meridian, Idaho (surveyed 1892, approved 1894)

The surveyors who made the above map noted both of the town’s names in their field notes, casting some doubt on any claim that Pend d’Oreille was the accepted name.

Field notes p. 430

Excerpt from surveyor’s field notes, 1892

Indeed, this doubt was well founded. From all of the sources I have seen, I can say with some confidence that the Pend d’Oreille name applied only to the post office. It was officially known by this name from 1882 through the end of 1893 when the name changed to Sandpoint (all one word). I have been unable to find anything else to suggest that town of Sandpoint was commonly known as Pend d’Oreille. On the other hand, there is abundant evidence that the name was always some version of Sandpoint (Sandy Point, Sand Point, or Sandpoint).

This name comes from the prominent point of sand formed where Sand Creek runs into the lake. It was a traditional camp for Kalispel people who called it qapqape’ or “sand.” Early travelers noted this landmark when passing through the area, and we continue to enjoy the “sandy point,” now better known as the Sandpoint city beach.

During the peak of construction on the Northern Pacific Railroad, there was a camp for workers at Sandpoint. Letters from engineers stationed there in 1881 bore the place name of either Sand Point or Sandy Point.

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Letter written from Sand Point, October 20, 1881.

A year later, a map of mineral lands along the new railroad line showed Sand Point, just across the lake from Ventnor.

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Portion of 1882 map showing Northern Pacific Railroad (red line) and Sand Point

In August 1883, a traveler wrote about his trip on the newly completed Northern Pacific Railroad. They ate breakfast “at Sand Point, a station on the north shore of Pend d’Oreille lake . . . . This place has about 50 people and half as many houses.” A travel book, published that same year, noted that Sand Point “was a place of importance during the time of construction, and probably will retain its advantage to some extent, as it connects with the country on the north. It is also a good point to lie over for a day’s hunting, or for catching some of the trout with which the lake abounds.”

In 1887, a group of young Englishmen, with a taste for adventure as well as a good sense of humor, ended their “ramble” in British Columbia and came south to pick up the train in Sandpoint. They described the small community below:

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From B.C. 1887: A Ramble in British Columbia, page 362.

I’ll end with an ad from the Pend d’Oreille News,  a short lived newspaper that was published from February 1892 to April 1893. The masthead listed the place of publication as “Sand Point (Pend d’Oreille P.O.) Idaho.” The news articles always called the town Sand Point, and ads listed Sand Point as the place of business.


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

All of the ads, that is, except one from J. L. Prichard who owned a small store in what he called Pend d’Oreille . . .


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

. . . and just happened to be the town’s postmaster. Like I said, it’s complicated!

[Apologies for the poor quality of the newspaper photos, taken from a microfilm reader screen.]


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;  Ella M. Farmin, “The Days of a Woman, written by Herself,” no date, 61, File: Farmin, Ella, Bonner County Historical Museum; Map of Township No. 57 North, Range No. 2 West of the Boise Meridian (Boise: Surveyor General’s Office, 1894); Amos D. Robinson and Jas. E. Dike, Field Notes of the Survey of Subdivisions and Meanders of Fractional Township 57 North, Range 2 West of the Boise Meridian, Idaho, 1892, 35/430, http://www.glorecords.blm.gov; “Sandpoint Post Office, Bonner County, Idaho,” on Postmaster Finder, http://webpmt.usps.gov/pmt003cfm, accessed 12 October 2015; “To Be Known as Sandpoint,”Spokane Review, 3 January 1894, 4:1; Verne F. Ray, “Native Villages and Groupings of the Columbia Basin,” Pacific Northwest Quarterly 27 (1936): 129; John D. Latour, Sand Point, to H. M. McCartney, Spokane Falls, 20 October 1881, Records Box 134.L.14.2F, Engineer Department MT ID, Northern Pacific Railway Collection, Minnesota Historical Society; J. M. Tiernan, “Map showing Geological Formations and Mineral Lands near the Northern Pacific Railroad in Northern Idaho & Washington Territories,” 1882, Archives and Special Collections, University of Idaho; Columbia Chronicle, 4 August 1883, 1:5; Henry J. Winser, The Great Northwest: A Guide-Book and Itinerary for the Use of Tourists and Travellers [sic] over the Lines of the Northern Pacific Railroad, the Oregon Railway and Navigation Company and the Oregon and California Railroads (New York: G.P. Putnam;s Sons, 1883), 209; J. A. Lees and W. J. Clutterbuck, B.C. 1887: A Ramble in British Columbia (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1892), 362; Pend d’Oreille News, 13 February 1892, 4:4-5.

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Who Was Robert Weeks?

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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.

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History of North Idaho, page 792

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.

Burt Weeks

Burt D. Weeks, from photocopied portion of History of San Mateo County, California, vol. 2 (1928), page 321

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.

History of San Mateo County

Excerpt from biography of Burt D. Weeks in History of San Mateo County, California, vol. 2 (1928), page 320

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

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I’m just getting started on this history blog. Stay tuned!

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