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The county chronicles of 1911


A Monthly Publication of The Miner Celebrating 100 years of Pend Oreille County

Roaring 20s about roads, lumber mills, logging and mining No booze but lots construction in Pend Oreille Country By Fred Willenbrock Of The Miner


ransportation arteries from bridges to rail were

being built for people and natural resources to travel through or out of Pend Oreille County in the 1920s. They weren’t necessarily for the few folks that lived year around here. But these early

standing on the siding at Penrith. While it was there, two men unloaded a number of cases of whiskey and cached them in the brush. Two local men came along and watched the proceedings. They seized the opportunity as the train pulled away and the owners of the whiskey turned. They grabbed a case each and a colt .45 on one of them and ran. The paper reported that they weren’t officers of the law and found a ready market for the booze. In another incident, a Priest


Potato Crew This farm crew poses with a device that unearthed potatoes. Crewmembers would knock the dirt off each potato and then throw it in a gunnysack. The date is 1920 and the location is possibly Spring Valley near Newport.

Pend Oreille County residents would take the improvements any way they could get them as long as they didn’t have to pay. As horse use declined, trains were running all over as were a growing number of cars and a few steamboats. By the end of the decade airplanes were landing in Newport on a dirt strip. The year 1920 marked the fourth year Washington residents weren’t supposed to drink alcohol. The state had jumped the gun on this one in 1916. Prohibition for the entire nation took hold in 1919. Like the rest of the country, the fear of county jail time didn’t stop the celebration but made some lively stories in The Miner, documenting the ingenuity of the booze makers and their customers. One story in a 1922 edition states: “Occasionally the bootlegger finds that his path is not always rosy and it happens that he gets the worst of the deal.” Early one morning, a Great Northern freight train was

River man bought two cases of whiskey and the seller headed out of town on the No. 43 train to Newport. The Priest River man got thirsty and sampled his purchase. He found only four quarts out of two cases were booze – the rest water. He got some friends and his car and burned up the road to Newport, taking the ferry across the river at Oldtown. They caught the villain at the Great Northern depot in Newport as he waited for the No. 3 train to take him out of the county to Spokane. It didn’t seem like many went to jail in the 20s. The sheriff reported he had 71 prisoners during the entire year. He thought that was a lot and blamed it on the illegal liquor trade. Everyone seemed to be building the super highways of the day. The highway from Newport to the Canadian border was being built. Some were arguing for a short cut route from Usk to Spokane. Like always the sawmills were either running at capacity or shutdown for winter, depending

1920s at a Glance


Major events of the 1920s Source:


• Bubonic plague hits India • League of Nations established • Women granted the right to vote in U.S.


• “Fatty” Arbuckle scandal • First Miss America pageant held • Irish Free State Proclaimed

• Insulin discovered • Mussolini marches on Rome • The Reader’s Digest published • Lincoln Memorial dedicated in Washington, D.C.



Interstate Bridge The old Interstate Bridge at Oldtown looked pretty nice rising above a layer of light snow, a few years after it was built. The bridge was opened in 1927, replacing a ferry boat operated by the Geary family. It was named the Interstate Bridge because both Idaho and Washington provided funding even though it was located entirely in Idaho. By the 1980s the two-lane bridge was too narrow, the surface was deteriorating and the top girders were repeatedly struck by high loads. With the bridge’s expected lifespan counting down to nearly zero, Congress and the state of Idaho finally funded the four-lane Oldtown Bridge, which now carries U.S. Highway 2 across the Pend Oreille River. The new bridge opened in about 1989.

on the economy and weather. In 1922 there were 742 cars registered in the county. A new two-passenger Buick Roadster was on sale for $895. A tire cost about $16. Europeans were bickering and Germany was flexing its muscles. In the early 20s Security State Bank of Newport published deposits at $488,946. The community wasn’t just focused on booze and getting someplace fast. It began plans for a new hospital in Newport. The Newport commercial club was a driving force for progress or more likely to make money for the merchants that were members. They had committees for roads and bridge construction with Miner Publisher Fred Wolfe as chairman. But they had housing, industry, agriculture and game/fish groups as well. They even talked about repainting signs at the train depot to advertise the town and surrounding county. Plans for the bridge over the Pend Oreille River began in the 20s. There was obvious interest from Newport to Priest River and Sandpoint. They were trying to find ways to get logs and lumber moved without the railroad. The famous silent movie star Nell Shipman, who filmed at Priest Lake, did some filming of “Grubstake” at Tiger in the county. During the early 20s, the new county leaders had to fight to keep what they had. At one point, big city legislators tried to realign districts to deny them their state Senator. In another attack, a plan was pushed to divert valuable water from the Pend Oreille River to Spokane. There were mines from Bead Lake to Metaline Falls. There were more people selling mining stock than actually mining though. Miners in the eastern coalmines were doing something new: striking. There were no stories on local strikes. Banks across the state were closing. Food for animals and people was still raised in the county instead of far off places and packaged like today. A story in a 1923 issue of The Miner told of excited county extension agents

Grecian ball dancers Ione Elementary School students perform a Grecian ball dance for a program on the front lawn of the school, along side the Congregational Church in about 1924-25. Left to right are: Viola Espe or Joyce Garske, Edna Crawford, Patricia Espe, Janet McCoy, Beth Garske and Aileen Hale.


RR signal kid Today, climbing a railroad block signal post could get you arrested, but life was a little gentler when this picture was taken at Elk in the early 1920s. The pictured is titled “The Thinker” and we believe the boy’s name is Scott Riley. This type of signal is known as a semaphore and only a few dozen of them remain in service across the country.




• Nellie Tayloe Ross becomes first woman governor in Wyoming • Hitler publishes “Mein Kampf” • The “Monkey Trial” begins over teaching evolution at a Tennessee high school

• First Mickey Mouse cartoon • Amelia Earhart flies across the Atlantic Ocean • Construction of Hoover Dam approved • Penicillin discovered


• Babe Ruth makes home-run record • Lindbergh flies solo across the Atlantic • Sacco and Venzetti executed

experimenting with new crops like varieties of corn suited to the climate – corn they hoped would be a supplement to sunflowers as silage. In 1923, the Pend Oreille Highway from Spokane to the border was officially established. The state legislature put some money aside to maintain it and upgrade to state standards. No fancy asphalt – just new gravel. It was noted that this was the first addition to the state highway system in eastern Washington since 1911. The local big shots were happy. They had been fighting for it; the horse owners didn’t care. People had another way to get through the county fast. The Canadians pushed their International Highway to the border to meet it. The Canadians across the boarder were also growing and building power plants, sawmills and smelters. There was a bond between the county and the northern neighbors. One Miner story noted

Centennial Events


• A.A. Milne publishes “Winnie-the-Pooh” • First assassination attempt on Mussolini • Robert Goddard fires his first liquid-fuel rocket • NBC Radio formed

• First Olympic winter games held in French Alps • IBM corporation founded • V.I. Lenin dies • Coolidge retains the presidency in a Republican victory

• President Warren G. Harding dies of illness, succeeded by Calvin Coolidge • The first sound on motion pictures starts with “Photofilm”


a bunch of county folks arrested for bringing booze across from Canada where it was legal. The feds took their cars. The county also began taking care of citizens. As mentioned, a new hospital was in the works in Newport and plans started to build a Newport-Idaho school building – estimated to cost $26,000 for 350 people. Changing technology was causing a stir among competitors. Railroad owners tried to get local support to stop stagecoach lines (powered buses) as they saw them take riders from Newport to Spokane. The road across the Idaho Panhandle was also improved. The local leaders got on the bandwagon to promote improvements to highways to our national parks. What they really wanted was more federal funds to build roads in and out of the county like the one over the Panhandle to Glacier Park. The feds saw people from Spokane getting to the forests SEE 1920, 8A


• Stock market crashes • Al Capone’s gang kills seven rivals in the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre in Chicago


Metaline Falls granted its petition 100 years ago


Opening Night – Northwoods Unleashed Variety Show: 6:30 p.m. – Circle Moon Theater Opening Night – ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’: 7 p.m. – Pend Oreille Playhouse, Newport


Cutter Clutter and Bake Sale: 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. – Cutter Theatre


Boy Scouts Spring Camporee Begins: Newport Rodeo Grounds


Lynn Evers Presents The Cutters Annual Grand Piano Concert: 3 p.m. – Cutter Theatre


Jack Nisbet Discusses Explorer David Thompson: 6 p.m. – Cusick Community Center


Opening Night: ‘As You Like It’: 7:30 p.m. – Cutter Theatre For more centennial information, contact planning committee chairman Bruce Taylor at 509-447-4690 or

THE 20 | Centennial Page FROM PAGE 5A


1929 Newport High School Football Team

and lakes and they had to pass through Pend Oreille County. The Penrith sawmill was closed but Diamond Match announced the building of a new one in Cusick. Technology, particularly from defense research helped the stump farmers of the county. They were allowed to use new explosives to get rid of the big stumps once and for all. Whatever this new explosive was, the county farmers placed one order for 22 tons. There were no reports of deaths immediately after delivery. In 1924, the movers and shakers in Newport and Priest River were trying to build a bridge across the Pend Oreille. They had used a ferry for many years. The debate was frontpage news. As new technology developed, more natural resource based products were needed like telephone/electric poles. A cedar pole treating plant was built in Newport. By the mid 1920s the state was talking about paving the highway to Newport within 12 years. The idea was to pave all the roads to county seats. This must have seemed classier. By 1925, the bridge over the river wasn’t built but was on the top of mind awareness. State officials were against it because it cost lots for so few people. But of coarse the locals said, so what. According to The Miner, the people of Newport, led by Fred Wolf, for years had conducted a relentless fight for the bridge. Wolf was still publisher of The Miner and probably wrote the story. The state, with the help of Rep. W.B. Weaver, put up a big bunch of cash for it. Everyone started celebrating and wondering what deal the local leaders had made. Engineering began in the spring of 1925. The dream bridge would be built that fall. $175.000 for: 1,100 feet of steel, five spans of 200 feet each with an 80 foot span on the west bank and about 200 feet of piling. It would sit 58 feet above low water so steamboats could get

under it. The roadway would be 20 feet in width with a sidewalk. Pend Oreille County’s half was paid for with $50,000 from the state of Washington and $21,000 came from Bonner County. The rest came from the federal government. By the summer of 1926, pile driving crews from the local Humbird mill located on the east side of the river were in the river. The steel was coming in September and the county was excited about driving over the river and the new way to get out of county. The county residents were excited about the future. A front-page opinion said it all. “Now that the Newport bridge project is well underway it is time that the citizens of this community prepare to put over some other big project that will help to put this community on the road to progress. Now as never before they must work to justify their place in the sun.” Hydroelectric power was on that horizon. The proposed Columbia Basin project was getting the nation excited. In the county, roads were still the first priority. The road between Cusick and Chewelah was completed with a big ceremony. It followed the Chewelah trail used by early settlers. Once again the search for rare minerals in northeast Washington was on. Rumors were published that there was great promise of great mining activity in Pend Oreille County. Sixteen graduated from Newport High School in 1927. The Newport Interstate Bridge was dedicated Saturday, July 9, 1927. Price: $198,000. Governors and dignitaries from two states were at the ribbon cutting. The only one not celebrating was the ferry operator – he saw his last run. The river was still the center of focus for the remainder of the Roaring 1920s. Most every front page of The Miner had

some discussion of developing hydroelectric power from Z Canyon to Box Canyon. North Pend Oreille County was the site for both and as a headline in the 1929 Metaline Falls News states: Eyes of mining world on Metaline District. Let the good times roll. New trails in the National forest were built for fire protection but it is noted that they would also be good to attract tourists. Hugh L. Cooper, world famous hydroelectric engineer and proponent of the Z-Canyon power project was in town talking to the clubs and local politicians. He said it is the state’s job to create jobs by: “harnessing the stream for power wherever the stream is so located as to give power to industry.” The local guys loved him. There were many similar pastimes to today. One was chasing cougars around. In 1928, Bud Moon and his helpers caught a live 6-foot female on LeClerc Road and brought it to town. It wasn’t clear why but this was still the roaring 20s. If you weren’t trying to build a dam, mine, sawmill or road, you were hunting. By the beginning of 1929, the big news was that the entire Pend Oreille Highway from north to south was graded gravel. The narrow road through the forest was completed. But the Spokane to Seattle folks were already ahead of them again. They were going to pave the highway between the big cities. Railroad wasn’t dead. They dedicated the railroad tunnel through the Cascades that year. Flying was becoming the thing. Newport dedicated its airport late in 1929. Flyers from all over the region came. Even the dusty and not packed yet field brought praise from the military pilots. An even faster way in and out of the county had arrived. The future was fast and bright.

Pend Oreille County Centennial  

3rd publication for the centennial documents