History of Sandpoint, Idaho

The visitor-friendly and artsy community of Sandpoint rests by one of America’s most exquisite lakes, in a land of unforgettable natural beauty.

Sandpoint’s history dates to the 1880s when Robert Weeks opened a general store in Pend Oreille (pronounced Pon-da-ray), a small settlement founded on the shores of the lake to the east of what is now Sandpoint. Before establishment of the general store, the first white man known to travel to the area was the explorer David Thompson who, with his partner “Big Finan" McDonald, established the first trading post on Lake Pend Oreille in 1809.

Pend Oreille is French for ear hanging or pendant, thus explaining why French trappers called the local Native Americans "Pend Oreilles" — they wore ear pendants.

Lake Pend Oreille, a spectacular glaciated body of water that is 43 miles long with 111 miles of shoreline, is the fifth deepest in the United States at 1,158 feet. The lake’s protected coves offer quality water skiing and wakeboarding as well as providing for secluded overnight camping. Prevailing winds from the southwest appeal to sailing enthusiasts and the lake hosts numerous regattas during the summer.

The lake is so quiet and deep that the United States Navy has a submarine research facility located in the southern portion of the lake near the community of Bayview. The lake was first used as a military training facility during World War II.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt is said to have noticed Lake Pend Oreille on a flight from Washington, D.C., to Seattle. She knew of the president’s search for a secure inland naval training site. Subsequently, Franklin D. Roosevelt made a secret trip to the area and in March 1942, selected the lake’s shoreline as the site for the nation's second-largest naval recruit training facility. It was named Farragut Naval Recruit Training Facility after Civil War Admiral David G. Farragut.

The training facility was decommissioned in June 1946. A two-year vocational college opened its doors On the site later that year, but closed in 1949. In 1964, Farragut State Park was founded through an exchange of state and federal lands.

Travelers heading to Sandpoint from the south on Highway 95 drive over the magical “Long Bridge," nearly two miles in length, that crosses the Pend Oreille River as it flows out of the lake. It is the fourth bridge to span the waters, completed in 1981, and it runs alongside the former span, which is now widely used as a walking and biking path.

Locals say the bridge has a calming effect. As they return home and the tires go from section to section, one can hear a rhythmic sound that seems to say, “back home, back home, back home." The first bridge, a wooden structure, was completed in 1910 — advertised as the longest wooden bridge in the world. At the turn of the 20th century, logging and milling were the area’s major industries.

The little village of Sandpoint, blessed with a mild climate at an elevation of 2,086 feet, remained relatively unnoticed until the 1970s when the population of Bonner County grew 55 percent during the decade. Growth continued, but slowed in the 1980s when the area grappled with the environmental impact of the increasing population. In the 1990s, the population grew another 38 percent and has continued to grow since that time.

Sandpoint's downtown business district is replete with art galleries and distinctive boutiques. The area’s strong entrepreneurial spirit is one of the many factors that have fostered economic growth.

The history of Coldwater Creek is an example. The nationally known company headquartered in Sandpoint is a retailer of women’s apparel, gifts, jewelry, and home accessories. Founders Dennis and Ann Pence left high-level marketing positions in the East and picked Sandpoint to start their company in 1984. Another popular consumer product calling Sandpoint home is Litehouse Salad Dressing and Sauces.

The residents of Sandpoint enjoy amenities quite remarkable for a small town. For instance, Bonner General Hospital, a non-profit 62-bed facility, provides care for more than 25,000 patients each year. The hospital has its own helicopter for emergency services, which cuts the response time at least in half compared to waiting for help to arrive from Spokane.

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