City of Bovill
Tuesday, June 30, 2015
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
Bovill Post Office
Located 34 miles northeast of Moscow at the junction of Idaho Highways 3 and 8, Bovill is in the center of the beautiful St. Joe National Forest. The Potlatch River runs along the west side of town. The Clearwater Mountains punctuate the city’s eastern sky.
The stately western white pine, Idaho’s state tree, is prevalent in the surrounding forest. Harvesting these trees for lumber underpinned the city’s economy for nearly a century.
Around 1890 Francis Warren, his wife Sylinda and their son Rance filed a homestead claim on a beautiful mountain meadow surrounded by tall timber. They built a log cabin and named the site Warren Meadows. Francis died a decade later, and in 1901 Sylinda and Rance sold Warren Meadows to Hugh and Charlotte Robinson Bovill.
Both Hugh and Charlotte came from titled English families and, as such, were well educated. Hugh Bovill also had financial resources. Hugh and Charlotte immigrated separately to America and met and married in Nebraska, where Charlotte worked as a nurse and Hugh had started a horse and cattle ranch.
Hugh had traveled to Montana and Canada purchasing cattle. He was so intrigued with the vast wide-open country that he began a quest to find his paradise in the West, a place to raise his family, prize horses and cattle.
In 1899 he traveled by train to Moscow, Idaho, and began to explore the surrounding area for a suitable ranch. He found his paradise at Warren Meadows. After purchasing the Warren property, he returned to Nebraska to bring Charlotte, their two daughters and their livestock back to Idaho.
At the turn of the century, Frederick Weyerhaeuser and his associates purchased timberland in the Palouse-Clearwater drainages from the State and the Northern Pacific Railway. The railroad received land grants from the federal government to help finance building the railroad.
This undoubtedly influenced others to acquire timberland. Settlers and some “timber cruisers” working in the area—highly skilled professionals that assess and evaluate the quality of timber stands—began filing homestead claims. Many staked their claims on the timberland surrounding the meadow, undoubtedly planning to profit by selling off the magnificent stands of timber— described as forests of white pine trees so tall that the only way to see the sky from under them was to lie on your back and look up.
In 1903 Weyerhaeuser and his syndicate of investors formed the Potlatch Lumber Company, named after the Potlatch River. Potlatch is a term used by Northwest Coast Indians to describe certain tribal gatherings. Certain locations in Oregon and Washington also bear the name Potlatch. The company’s general manager was William Deary. Weyerhaeuser and Deary appealed unsuccessfully to the Northern Pacific Railroad to build a spur to the Weyerhaeuser timberlands east of the rail terminus at Palouse, Washington.
After being rebuffed, the Weyerhaeuser syndicate formed the Washington, Idaho and Montana Railway Company and began construction of a 47-mile rail line from Palouse to Bovill, establishing rail stations along the way. The railroad ran through the town of Potlatch, where in 1905 the Potlatch Lumber Company constructed one of the world’s largest sawmills. The railroad’s principal purpose was to haul logs to the mill and finished lumber to other railroads with connections to distant markets.
During this time, the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad (CM&SP) was building a spur from St. Maries through Bovill to Elk River. An affiliate, the Milwaukee Land Company, managed the railroad’s grant land and had employed Charlotte Bovill as its land agent. In dealing with her to buy grant land, Deary described her as “confounding” and “contentious.”
Settlers near Bovill’s property wanted to divert the Potlatch River into a log-holding pond at the end of Warren Meadows. The Bovills decided it was time to accept economic reality and modify Hugh’s dream. From 1903 to 1905 they built a larger cabin, a store and a hotel.
In 1907 the Bovills platted the town site and opened a post office with Hugh as postmaster. They immediately began selling building lots, and the new town began to grow.
By 1910 the town of Bovill had a bank, a newspaper and several other businesses under construction. Almost overnight, the town had grown to more than 500 people—the third most populous town in the county. The Hotel Bovill was the most prominent building in the community and a welcome attraction for the town’s numerous visitors.
In August 1910 a massive forest fire burned north of Bovill, sparing the city but causing terrible destruction throughout Northern Idaho and western Montana.
Even after selling off much of their platted land, the Bovills still had significant real estate holdings in the town. While Charlotte moved to Coeur d’Alene to provide the children with a better education, Hugh stayed behind to dispose of the real estate. He donated one parcel to the town for a city dump, another for a cemetery and a third for a baseball park. In 1913 he sold his domestic water system to the town for $1,000.
Hugh and Charlotte retained ownership of the hotel until about 1930. The new owners operated the hotel as a boarding house. It later became a private home.
On February 7, 1911, Hugh Bovill and other city leaders petitioned the Latah County Commission to incorporate the town as a village. The commissioners delayed action, apparently awaiting approval from the Milwaukee Land Company which owned some of the platted land including the eastern extension of Main Street, the site for City Hall and the city park. On October 12, 1912, the company agreed to the plat and deeded the land to the town.
On May 23, 1913, the Latah County Commission approved the application and Bovill became an incorporated village. In 1967 as part of the change in state law, Bovill became an incorporated city.
Driving the "Golden" Spike!
On May 23, 1910, the community and the officials of the two railroads—the Washington, Idaho and Montana Railway Company and the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railroad—commemorated the formal joining of the two lines at Bovill. Visitors and dignitaries boarded trains and came great distances to the celebration.
The ceremony included driving a ceremonial golden spike. However, as they had no railroad spike made of gold, they had to improvise by wrapping an iron spike with gold foil. The Bovill’s young daughter, Gwendolyn, was to drive the spike. Unfortunately, when she hit the spike, the foil fell away. Gwendolyn was crushed, but the crowd did not care. It just added to the memory of the event. That evening, Halley’s Comet flared across the night sky to finalize the grand celebration.
Amenities and Attractions Today
Bovill has two city parks. Caroline Park has a brick and cobblestone path named “The Billy Walk” after Billy Sanderson—a Bovill resident well-known in Latah County for his “long walks” to Elk River, Clarkia, Deary and Troy. The park also has a war memorial, gazebo and a tall swing.
Village Park, donated by the Potlatch Corporation in 1994, has a baseball field and bleachers. The park is the location of the annual “Old Timers Picnic” on the third Sunday of July.
The surrounding forest, mountains, streams and reservoirs offer fabulous opportunities for outdoor recreation and activities such as camping, hunting, fishing, hiking and biking. ATV, snowmobile and cross-country ski trails are available in almost every direction.
The closest downhill skiing is 56 miles southeast at Bald Mountain Ski Resort near Pierce.
The 54-mile-long Dworshak Reservoir on the Clearwater River lies 15 miles across the mountains southeast of Bovill. However, hard surfaced road access to this outstanding regional asset and the 650-foot-high Dworshak Dam is 60 miles away at Orofino.
White pine timber and the railroads used to transport the logs spurred the city’s early growth. Today logging trucks and automobiles have replaced freight and passenger trains. However, the historic timber heritage of the city is still visible in the rail beds of spur lines used to get the logs out of the woods.
Most of the city’s downtown historic buildings still stand but are owned privately and not maintained. Past efforts by the city and community leaders to purchase the buildings have failed.
In 1996 the City purchased the historic St. Joseph Catholic Church from the Catholic Diocese of Boise. With help from the Idaho Historical Society and grants from the White Family Heritage Library, the City has restored the church which now houses the public library.
Many logging and forest service trails near Bovill are available for hiking, ATV and snowmobile use. Some trails connect to Elk River, Avon, Clarkia, Avery and the Potlatch area.