Friday, April 30, 2010

Summer's Coming to North Idaho!

North Idaho is a tough place to top for friendly people, natural beauty and recreational activities, just to name a few.  But throw in a bus load of special events scattered throughout the year and you'd be hard pressed to find a place more fun to live or visit.

Summer is right around the corner, even if the end of April did seem like a return to winter.  And summer means a long list of events and festivals with such variety that there is literally something for everyone.  Let's take a peek at a few celebrations coming up in the next few months.

Depot Days, May 7-8 in Wallace, kick off car show season with vehicles of all types, makes and ages lining the downtown streets.  It's a family festival celebrating the Northern Pacific Railroad Depot with live music, kids activities, vendors and of course the historic Depot.

If you like car shows you'll want to be in Sandpoint the next weekend for Lost in the 50's.  The whole town goes retro with rock and roll, dances and car parade and show.  Herman's Hermits headline Saturday night's festivities.

The Priest Lake Spring Festival on May 28-30 has arts & crafts, live music, history, pancake breakfasts, silent auction, a parade on Saturday and fun run on Sunday.  Here's a schedule of events.

Post Falls Days, June 4-6, are always fun with vendors, kids activities, a fishing derby and a parade.

The Big Back-In is lawnmower drag racing in Rathdrum on June 20.  Yes, lawnmower drag racing!

The 4th of July finds celebrations in almost every community and fireworks from Bonners Ferry to Harrison to Murray.  Here's a list.

The Coeur d'Alene Tribe hosts it's annual Julyamsh July 23-25 at Greyhound Park and Event Center in Post Falls.  It is the largest pow wow in the Pacific Northwest and celebrates Native American culture with song, dance, drumming, games and spirituality. 

Coeur d'Alene is a busy place from July 30 to August 1 with Art on the Green, Street Fair and Taste of Coeur d'Alene, three events all within walking distance of each other.

Return to the 1880's at Gold Rush Daze in Murray August 20-22.  The fun includes a parade, live music, car show, Saloon Girl Pagent and an old west shootout.

These are just a few of the many events that make summer in North Idaho a don't miss.  Get a complete list at FYI North Idaho.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

North Idaho Parks, Part 2

Besides State Parks, there are a number of excellent parks in the cities of North Idaho.  This series will cover a variety of parks in the area and this week we'll look at Coeur d'Alene's City Park.

Located on the north shore of Lake Coeur d'Alene and just a block from downtown, the Coeur d'Alene City Park is one of the most popular parks in North Idaho.  How the park came about is another interesting piece of local history.

Much of the land now considered City Park, North Idaho College and the Fort Grounds residential neighborhood were in the boundaries of Fort Coeur d'Alene, later know as Fort Sherman.  The fort was active from 1878 to 1898 and the town and later City of Coeur d'Alene built around it.  By the turn of the century the fort was decommissioned and officially closed on March 9, 1900.  Not long after that the land was auctioned off to the public.

One of the biggest local investors was wealthy lumberman Frederick Blackwell who came here in 1901.  Blackwell and his partners built the Coeur d'Alene and Spokane Electric Railroad and started hourly trolley service between the cities in 1903.  Like all good railroads, they built and promoted attractions to put passengers on the trains.  By 1905 Blackwell Park had become 20 plus landscaped acres with walkways, fountains, flowers and over 250 different varieties of shade trees and was one of the most popular destinations of the Inland Northwest.  A dance pavilion hosted a band five nights a week, and there was a baseball diamond, bath house and grandstand within the park.  In 1909 a fatal head-on train wreck brought financial ruin and the rail line was sold to the Great Northern and the park to the City of Coeur d'Alene.

In 1937 a Civic Center was built to replace the pavilion and was touted as one of the largest log structures in the Pacific Northwest.  Between bleachers and floor seating, the building could house 2,500 people.  In 1942, after the construction of Farragut Naval Training Center, the building became a USO where thousands of sailors relaxed and were entertained.  In 1945 it was set afire by a disgruntled (drunk?) sailor and burnt to the ground.

In 1942 Playland Pier opened on what is now known as Independence Point.  For 33 years the amusement park and rides were a bonus to those visiting the Park or swimming at the beach.  It burned in 1975.

Now, City Park is just as popular as ever.  At 17 acres it offers families a wonderful place to spend the day.  Fort Sherman Playground is a large, fenced area for smaller kids in the Park.  Free concerts are held in the bandshell on summer Sundays.  The basketball court was recently voted best outdoor court in the area by the readers of the Inlander.   There are picnic tables throughout the Park, a shelter can be reserved by small groups, shade trees make for a cool summer day and the City Beach is considered part of the Park.  The Park is a favorite spot to watch the 4th of July fireworks and is home of the Taste of the Coeur d'Alene in late July.  City Park is also home of Ironman Village the end of June as the start and transition area for the annual Ironman Coeur d'Alene.

Pack a lunch, bring the kids and spend a day at Coeur d'Alene City Park.

Monday, April 19, 2010

North Idaho Parks, Part 1

North Idaho has many great parks.  City parks enjoyed by children, family and community on a daily basis.  State parks which are weekend wonderlands and used by locals and awestruck visitors.  This column starts an ongoing series that will touch on a wide variety of North Idaho parks.  And what better place to start than Old Mission State Park in Cataldo, where Idaho's oldest standing building proudly sits.

In the early 1800's Coeur d’Alene Indians heard about tribes being visited by "medicine men" with great powers and wanted to get in on it. They journeyed to St. Louis three times to invite the Blackrobes (Jesuit priests) to live among the tribe. 

In 1842, Father Pierre-Jean De Smet traveled to the Coeur d'Alenes to meet and live with the tribe.  An original mission site was selected along the St. Joe River about 35 miles from the present location, and was called the Mission of St. Joseph. The river repeatedly flooded the site so in 1846 the location was abandoned in favor of a high, grassy knoll overlooking the Coeur d’Alene River. 

The Mission of the Sacred Heart was constructed between 1850 and 1853.  It became a center hub and spiritual home for the Tribe.  With the completion of the Mullan Road (within sight of the Mission) in the early 1860s, traffic grew from settlers and prospectors.  The U.S. government decided to set up a reservation for the tribe but much to the dismay of the Coeur d'Alenes was that it was located near the south end of the lake.  In 1877 the Tribe moved to what is now DeSmet and built another mission.   

The Sacred Heart Mission at Cataldo was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1963.  By the 1970's the building was beat down.  The Idaho Bicentennial Commission took it on in 1974 and in 1975 it officially became Old Mission State Park.

Today the Park is a centerpiece in the history of North Idaho.  Located at Exit 39 on I-90, the Mission is clearly visible to all who pass.  As a State Park, a $5 vehicle pass is required but well worth that amount.  An interpretive center with exhibits and multi media presentations walks visitors through the daily life of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe and the story of the coming of the Blackrobes.  On the site is the restored parish house, historic cemetery, nature trails and an audio walking tour is available.  

But the crown jewel is the church itself.  A walk around and inside the building provides a glimpse into the waddle and daub construction methods of 150 years ago.  Built in 3 years by the Catholic missionaries and members of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe using only broad axe, auger, ropes and pulleys, a pen knife and an improvised whip saw, it was finished without using one single nail.

The Park is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, 7 days a week.  Special events at the Mission include a Historic Skills Fair in July and the Feast of the Assumption Pilgrimage by the Coeur d'Alene Indians and the Annual Mountain Man Rendezvous in August.  If you haven't visited old Mission State Park, make sure you put it on your list of things to do.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Devil Worshipers? Hook Man?

Well, it's time for another in the series of weird legends and urban myths around North idaho.  Before the Aryan Nation (all 6 of them) moved here, there were stories about another strange bunch of people roaming the hills and prairies around Kootenai County.  Devil worshipers and Hook Man.

Like all good legends, almost everyone knew somebody who (supposedly) knew first hand of strange doings but nobody ever saw anything that could be backed with fact or photo.  But it still made a great spooky story in the days before movies like Halloween and Friday the 13th.

Some of the tales of devil worshipers involved human and/or animal satanic ritual sacrifice.  People disappeared (well, there was some truth to that one) and dogs were found drained of blood.  Then there were chains of hooded people across isolated roads to stop cars so they could pull the passengers out and..., well, they were going to do something with them.

And Hook Man, well it was said he could show up anywhere, anytime, but mostly in the dark of night and usually when a romantic couple was parked in some back woods make-out spot.  He was old, evil, disfigured and, of course, had a hook for a hand.  The hook was a result of a logging/mining/hunting accident, depending on who was telling the story.  But he was out there and he was demented and a vengeful killer.

Perhaps the stories were in response to or balanced out the Blue Army that had come to Kootenai County.  Maybe there just wasn't enough creepy stuff in the area and people always need a good one for the campfire or to tell an impressionable young lady ("snuggle up, baby, I'll protect you").  Some say the stories were told in hopes of keeping folks from moving here.  Whatever the reason, they certainly got people's attention and were passed around like a box of Cracker Jacks.  But unlike the snack, these stories always got bigger.

Turns out almost every small town across America had a tale similar to Hook Man.  Where do you think they came up with the ideas for those movies?  A little creepiness goes a long way.

Many of the devil worshiper stories took place near Rathdrum.  Perhaps it was because in 1972 a mutilated cow was found on a local ranch.  That one has never been solved.

Now there was a real disappearance that everyone associated the devil worshipers with.  A Rathdrum couple named Ron and Rita Marcussen disappeared in late 1973 and it was assumed they had fallen victims of the devil's disciples.  When their remains were finally discovered it turned out it was just your run of the mill murder (if there is such a thing).

You may want to save this story for the campfire.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Midnight In Paris Annual Charity Auction

It was Midnight in Paris at the Best Western Coeur d'Alene Inn on April 9 for the annual charity auction/banquet benefitting Children's Village and the children living there.

Over 160 people attended, bid on silent and live auction items, and enjoyed a wonderful meal and inspirational speakers.  The crowd was introduced to a young lady who spent much of her youth at Children's Village and heard the story of how she has come back as an adult and is now working at the Village.  This first hand example of how important Children's Village is touched every person in attendance.

Employee Sandy Lassen was noted for her 10 years at the Village as well as CV Foundation Board Member Jim Riley's 5 years of volunteering.  Children's Village also presented Dick and Shirlee Wandrocke “The Golden Heart Award” for their service to community and especially for their years of service to Children’s Village.  

In light of the economic times, the Village was most grateful for the donations and funds raised.  They raised funds via their annual Pledge Program where donors pledge amounts of $10, $25, $50, $100, all the way up to $1000 a month.  This has been very beneficial and allows the agency to have an idea of monthly donations in the planning process.  Marla’s Gems participated with a special sale that culminated with a huge basket of Gems going to  Jan Wheeler!

A final tally has not been made at the time of writing but the event was deemed a success and Children's Village thanks everyone who participated in this important fund raiser.

Children's Village is available 24/7 to help children in crisis or in danger and also assists parents in need of help trying to find resources.  CV helps all children birth to eighteen and has the only Crisis Nursery accepting infants and toddlers in harms way at no charge to the family.  The Village also has an accredited special needs school, CV Academy, for all grades.   

Anyone wishing to help or learn more may check out the web site at or call 208-667-1189.  

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Empty Building at 5th & Lakeside

A large building sits empty at the SW corner of 5th and Lakeside in downtown Coeur d'Alene.  Perhaps you have walked by and wondered what it was, and why you can see through the building.

This was originally the Lodge for the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks, Club 1254.  It was a grand lodge that featured a beautiful ballroom with a stage.  Besides Elks functions, there were a variety of community events.  Locals growing up in Coeur d'Alene in the 50's and 60's remember things like kid's magic shows and Christmas pageants in that ballroom.

Between property taxes and a (nationwide) drop in fraternal organization membership, the Elks Club remodeled the building in the late 1970's and turned the majority of space into The 1254 Athletic Club and leaving just a couple meeting rooms and the bar as the Elks Club proper.

The 1254 Athletic Club had 3 racquetball courts, a workout room, therapy spa tub and steam room.  It had a decent membership into the early 1980's when the Elks built a new facility on Prairie Avenue.  Then the building was emptied.

Over the following years the building was slowly gutted.  A few weak efforts to rejuvenate the building fell through, leaving it as it is today.  You can look in the front windows and see out the back.

The building's shell is still a beautiful structure but the amount of money that it would take to bring it back to life is probably more than it is worth.  City codes also require new buildings in the downtown area must provide parking or pay an offsetting fee, making a rebirth even more expensive.

It's a darn shame this old building has sat empty for so long.  It takes up a quarter of a block and has become a bit of an eyesore as it sits and rots.  Maybe it will end up like the Wilma Theatre, left to sit for so many years it just implodes, ending up as another small pocket park such as the ones at 2nd and Sherman (The Wilma) and between 3rd and 4th on Sherman (Woolworth's).

It's worth noting that Sandpoint didn't let their old theatre, The Panida, fade away.  The Panida has turned into a popular venue for live entertainment, concerts and special movie presentations.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

This Day in History, April 7

On this day in 1963, Harley Hudson passed away.  Harley didn't build any railroads, captain any steamboats, mine any gold or run any sawmill.  But what he did do has had just as long lasting affect on Coeur d'Alene as any of those who did.

Harley opened a little shack near the shores of Lake Coeur d'Alene selling hamburgers in 1907.  It was known as the Missouri Kitchen until around 1960 when Hudson Hamburgers became the name synonymous with burgers in Coeur d'Alene.  Just like today, Harley served up hamburgers to locals and tourists alike.  When he opened (very near where Hudson's is today), Coeur d'Alene was even then a tourist mecca.  People rode the electric line into Coeur d'Alene to board steamboats that would take them down the lake and up the St. Joe River to the Cataldo Mission, St. Maries and St. Joe City.

The above photo shows the south side of the 200 block of Sherman Ave. in 1954.  Yes, that's a Hudson Automobile dealership (was the Buick a used car?) and Texaco gas station, located roughly where Tito Macoroni's is today.  But farther back you'll see the Missouri Lunch sign.  That location sported a U-shaped counter where the 2nd generation of Hudsons flipped burgers.

Of course today the 4th generation, Steve and Todd, are still serving up old school hamburgers on a grill that is over 50 years old itself.  Hudson's has been featured in numerous publications, both locally and nationally with appearances in the New York Times and Sunset Magazine among others.

Hudson's never became McDonald's (thank goodness!) but has certainly left a major mark in Coeur d'Alene.  Here's a tip of the hat to you, Harley, for starting something that is as unique to and loved by Coeur d'Alene as Tubbs Hill and City Beach.