Spotlight: Pend Oreille County Historical Society

In July, 2017, I took some nearly-blind friends on a memory road trip to the places where he grew up. So we drove north from Spokane to Newport, Washington, and Spirit Lake, Idaho. John was born in 1927 and his father worked at the Panhandle Lumber Company in Spirit Lake. John remembers the day in 1938 that the mill burned down. It was a Friday and he and school chums were to play a concert at the local city park bandstand. There was a forest fire nearby and the sparks ignited the lumber yard. John said “we just stood and watched.”

Anyway, John had made an appointment with Faith McClenny, the head volunteer researcher in the Pend Oreille County Historical Society in Newport. She had consulted the index to The Newport Miner, the weekly newspaper in publication since 1897, and marked several references for him regarding the history of lumber mills in the area and some about is mill of interest. We also were directed to the Index of the Lumber Industry of Washington’s Pend Oreille Valley, by David H. Chance, published in 1991. What a marvelous 325-page reference to the principle industry in the area which greatly fostered settlement.

Faith has been working with Pend Oreille County records for over twenty years, she proudly told me. She has an Arcadia Publishing book on the county to her credit too.  She showed me around the historical collections and I took notes, wishing I had all day to stay and search.

The society has over 6000 historical photos, a biography file of over 1000 early pioneers and settlers, 25 personal scrapbooks, back issues of Big Smoke (their publication since 1969 to now and full of history and stories and does have an index). She also explained that she does a Pend Oreille County Trivia online newsletter; just request to be added to it by sending her an email at Current projects are creating a master category index (logging, agriculture, law and order, etc) and indexing any obituaries, marriage or birth notices found in The Newport Miner. Winnie Sundseth is doing this project and is up to 1953 (the Miner began in 1897).

If you have ancestors who settled in Pend Oreille County, or worked in the lumber industry there, you must visit the Pend Oreille County Historical Society & Museum in Newport. I guarantee you won’t be sorry. But if you cannot go in person, they do research by mail. Contact the society at PO Box 1409, Newport, WA 99156. Membership in the society is only $10.00 annually.


Logging trivia I learned:

They would build lumber mills in a promising location and clear cut all the trees around (remember this was 1880-1940). When the trees were not easy nearby, they’d pick up the mill and move it a few miles somewhere else. They aimed for 2-3 years’ worth of cutting in one place before having to move. They tried to establish the mill near a stream and, when possible, constructed a flume to more easily move the logs to the mill.

The “cut-over” land was then sold to settlers, fostering further development. Railroads established lines (and spur lines) to help access these areas. Sometimes the map would list a place that was only a stop….. to fetch or leave passengers and pick up fuel and water to continue. More often than not, no station, per se, would be built.