By Hannah Combs
On the wall of the Bonner County Fairgrounds office, a blue ribbon is framed and hangs prominently on the wall. In lustrous gold figures on the worn blue background are the numbers 1927, which is known as the year of the first Bonner County Fair. In 1927, before the fair moved to the area now known as Lakeview Park and decades before it moved to its current location on North Boyer, the fair was held at the Methodist Community Hall and livestock entries were penned in an empty lot across the street. It was a “tremendous success,” according to the Pend Oreille Review, with so many entries that there was hardly enough room for visitors to navigate around them.
At the time, the focus was on agriculture and communities competed for awards as well as individuals. With award premiums totaling nearly $250, communities got competitive. The Sagle community was noted for creatively spelling ‘Sagle’ out of apples in their display. Colburn produced many novelty items, from Filbert nuts and popcorn to buckeyes and rabbit mincemeat. The Midas (Garfield Bay today) display, though the smallest, took home the prize for best spuds. But no one could beat the Sunnyside-Culver-Oden display, which was the largest and took home first place that year. Much of its success may have been due to Mrs. Ole Peterson of Oden Bay, who individually had more fair entries than most of the communities. She won awards for her elephant pears, turnips, cantaloupes, and just about every canned good imaginable.
The story of the first Bonner County Fair is well known… or so we thought. At the request of Darcey Smith, current Fairgrounds Director, the Bonner County Historical Society’s research team dug into the early history of the fair, and what they found surprised us all.
In the summer of 1908, an enterprising young politician gave a speech to the Sandpoint Commercial Club. Paul Clagstone had brought his new wife to the Hoodoo area a few years earlier and built a successful cattle ranch. As his prominence in the area grew, he took a shot at running for a seat in the state legislature. But in order to secure the vote, he knew he would have to win over the bigwigs in Sandpoint. He appealed to the Commercial Club that he could bring together all of the farmers for a county fair, saying “the displays could then be taken for exhibition at the Spokane Interstate fair and Bonner County and its resources would thus be doubly advertised.”
With the Commercial Club’s support (and funding), the first fair was held that fall in the upstairs rooms of what is now Larson’s on First Ave, and its exhibits were later transported, fully intact, to Spokane. The 250 entries featured primarily fruits and vegetables since the building owners did not want livestock inside, but nevertheless the exhibits showed “a marvelous representation of Bonner County.”
Over the next few years, the fair bounced between other improvised locations while the community tried to make plans for a permanent fair site. The Bonner County History Museum’s collection includes a few artifacts from these years, including an award slip from 1909 entitling Ethel Ashley to a $1.00 prize for her watercolor painting. The museum collection also boasts a silver-plated trophy from 1912 with the inscription ‘Best Apples.’
The fair ended after 1912 for unclear reasons, possibly connected to WWI, and the fair lay fallow for the next decade and a half. When it was revived in 1927, it appears the community was so excited that they forgot all about the earlier events.
As we enter the 13th decade of Bonner County Fairs, agriculture is still one focus of fair exhibits, but many people now know the fair for its exciting livestock shows and auctions. Just like the origins of the fair itself were a surprise, when animals were first accepted in 1927, the entries were equally surprising. That year, Mrs. E.D. Blood of Dover took home the silver cup for her display of chinchilla pelts.
Research courtesy of the Bonner County History Museum and Maggie Mjelde.
By Hannah Combs and Chris Corpus
Young Vernon Shook didn’t let anything stand in the way of his ambitions to become an engineer or doctor, not even the Great Depression. Upon graduating from Sandpoint High School, he took on dozens of jobs to raise college funds. One was a short stint as a lifeguard at the Natatorium (indoor pool) in Wenatchee, WA. The next summer, in 1932, he came back to his childhood swimming hole and had a vision that would change Sandpoint forever.
Up to that point in time, locals waded in the shallows around City Beach after the spring floods, cleared out driftwood, and danced around submerged logs that had escaped during log drives. Drownings occurred at the south end of the sandy area where the river started because of the swift current. The most notable was the young daughter of a local chief. Some say that was the beginning of the end of the annual summer Salish gatherings.
Vernon’s vision for City Beach included a safe swimming area, lifeguard training, swimming lessons for children, and a picnic area for all residents to enjoy. Of course, his exuberance also included a twelve-foot high tower so the lifeguards could see all the swimmers, and, of course take a periodic high dive into the deep waters.
The city leaders were hoping to entice tourism based on car travel, so they jumped at Vernon’s proposal. It helped that he was willing to do all of the work and be paid a pittance; but Vernon had a passion for his town’s cool waters. He cobbled together monetary donations and marshaled volunteer labor to create the first city bathing beach.
After motorists learned of the new amenities, Sandpoint became known as having the best bathing beach in the Inland Northwest, complete with a fine bath house. It evolved from a seasonal gathering place for the Kalispel, to a part of the Northern Pacific Railroad land grant, and it was eventually conveyed to the city of Sandpoint for the express use of a public park.
Periodic improvements took place over the next few years, but in 1939, a major renovation took place, thanks to financial assistance and labor through the Works Progress Administration. The entire beach area was dredged to fend off the impact of flooding. Submerged logs were removed, sand was bulldozed onto the beach to raise the land height, and houseboats were removed and demolished under guard of the sheriff. In addition to the bath house, a formal garden and arboretumwere designed, as well as a broad promenade.
The 1948 flood decimated the park and its improvements, and prompted the building of Cabinet Gorge and Albeni Dams. The Sand Creek outflow was rerouted for the safety of beachgoers, and more dredging for an improved boat marina provided some of the fill needed to raise the land area even higher.
After Shook’s impassioned efforts to create the first public area, credit the people of Sandpoint for providing much of the volunteer labor to make it what it is today. The Lions Club headed the main modern improvements, most notably the BBQ pavilion, and their Fourth of July events centered around the beach. And, thank goodness, the lifeguards continue their fine work. As for Vernon, he went on to a long career in social work, and was assigned by the United Nations as chief of the Displaced Persons Program in Rome following WWII. Even off the beach, he was still helping struggling people find their way safely home.
Construction work unearthed rooms beneath the Abbott Block- but what is their history?
By Lyndsie Kiebert
Courtesy of the the Sandpoint Reader
When Heather Upton, Interim Director of the Bonner County History Museum, received a tip that secret rooms had been uncovered beneath the Abbott Building on First Avenue in Sandpoint, she responded as most history lovers would: with excitement and curiosity.
"I immediately thought, 'Oh, secret rooms- there were amazing, nefarious things going on down there,'" Upton said with a laugh.
As it turns out, Upton was likely on to something.
The Abbott Building- located at the corner of First Avenue and Bridge Street- suffered from a large fire in February 2019. The structure has since been torn down, and amid cleanup and renovations, a series of underground rooms came to light.
According to research from local historian Dan Evans, newspapers of the time painted a clear picture that the rooms beneath the Abbott Building and neighboring Walker Building- which were connected by an underground hallway- comprised an illicit gambling hub in early Sandpoint.
One story, from December 1915, detailed a gambling raid in which sheriff's deputies guarded escape routes and cut phone lines while breaking up a gambling ring beneath the Walker Store. One gambler is reported to have escaped out the back of the building by sliding down a drain pipe and "vaulting across" Sand Creek, "evidently too frightened to think of warning the First Street resorts, thinking only of making good on his own escape."
In 1924, an article titled "Officers Raid Gambling Den," recounted how law enforcement found "gambling going on full blast, about $80 being on the table in the game."
Local historian Nancy Foster Renk is also well versed in the many iterations of the Abbott Block. Aside from the known gambling that took place in the basement, Renk said the space once served as a meeting place for the Sandpoint chapter of the Industrial Workers of the World or "Wobblies"- the organized labor group responsible for the local 1917 lumber strikes. The governor of Idaho at the time, Moses Alexander, even met with IWW members in the Abbott basement.
As far as other purposes for the mysterious underground rooms, Renk says anyone's guess is as good as hers.
"They certainly could have been used to hide booze during Prohibition or for some other illicit purpose," she said. "On the other hand, they could have a much more prosaic use."
Based on the well-documented bootlegging and corruption happening in Sandpoint at the time- including the 1923 conviction of Bonner County Sheriff William Kirkpatrick for seizing and reselling more than 100 cases of bootleg whiskey- Evans said that "the basement rooms in the Walker and Abbott blocks were no doubt a location involved in the drinking of bootleg liquor."
"You know that those rooms were involved in that," Evans told the Reader, "but it's hard to say why they built them in the first place."
Why build hidden, underground rooms? Perhaps a more direct question: Why not? If anything, history buffs a century later itching for a glimpse of early Sandpoint will have a great time musing about the building's wild past. Plus, discoveries like this remind Upton why preserving Bonner County history is not only important, but also a lot of fun.
"We can't renovate these rooms, but we can document them and make them a part of our history."