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News & Press: Community Spotlights


Friday, October 9, 2015  
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
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Overlooking Ponderay and Lake Pend Oreille

The city of Ponderay lies on the northern shoreline of the pristine Lake Pend Oreille (pronounced "Pond-uh-ray," the same pronunciation as the city). The name of the lake is a French word meaning ear (shape of) or earring. It is Idaho’s largest lake.

Ponderay is located on the Purcell Trench, a glacially created valley that begins in Canada and continues in a south/southwesterly direction to Rathdrum and Post Falls. On the southeast of the valley, prehistoric glaciers cut the 1,100-foot-deep Lake Pend Oreille before dissipating.

In Idaho, the valley lies between the forested Selkirk and Cabinet Mountain Ranges of the Kaniksu National Forest. The highest mountain in the Selkirk Mountains is the 6,400-foot-high Schweitzer Mountain, home to a local ski resort. The highest mountain in the Cabinet range is Scotchman Peak at 7,009 feet. (See The Region, Distinctive Geographic and Geologic Features.)

Ponderay’s city center lies about a mile north of Sandpoint. Ponderay has become Bonner County’s commercial hub. Many new retail and other businesses have moved to Ponderay to take advantage of its strategic location where two major highways intersect.

Historical Tidbits

In September 1809 Canadian explorer, map maker and trader David Thompson and his associate Finan McDonald of the Canadian North West Company established Idaho’s first trading post 15 miles east of Ponderay at East Hope. They named the post after the local tribe of Kalispell Indians.

Owners of a steamboat named the Mary Moody started a ferry business on Lake Pend Oreille in 1866—the first commercial travel on the lake. Most of the steamboat’s business was transporting miners and supplies headed to the gold fields in Canada and Montana Territory across the lake.

In 1881 the Northern Pacific Railroad used 6,000 men—including 4,000 Chinese workers—to start construction of a railroad line from Sandpoint through what is now Ponderay and Kootenai and around the east side of the lake to the Clark Fork River. The rail line then followed the river into Montana. The railroad built its roundhouse—where locomotives are maintained and repaired—two miles east of Ponderay in Kootenai.

Prospectors working around the lake in the late 1800s found placer gold and deposits of lead-silver ore with traces of copper and gold. However, the ability to develop their lead-silver claims was frustrated because they had no way to process the ore.

Around 1903 a group of private investors formed the Panhandle Smelting and Refining Company. They built a town around an ore processor, smelter and dock on the north end of Lake Pend Oreille. Steamboats brought the ore from the mines to the dock where it was transported to the ore processor.

The ore processing activity produced large quantities of tailings and slag that they dumped in a pile, slowly creating a small grey-black mountain that is still visible from across the lake. Local residents have named this mountain of slag "Black Rock."

Investors formed the Panhandle Development Company to plat and develop the new town which they initially named "Panhandle." They then proceeded to build a hotel, office buildings, a school and homes in the village.

Apparently the town’s name was reconsidered, because on May 5, 1904, the name on the plat filed with Kootenai County in Coeur d’Alene was Ponderay. In 1903 Ponderay was part of Kootenai County. Four years later, the town became part of the newly created Bonner County with its county seat in Sandpoint.

The operations of the Panhandle Smelting and Refining Company were marginally profitable at best. In 1909 financial and legal problems led to its closure.

At that time, the Humbird Lumber Company, Sandpoint’s largest employer, operated facilities near Ponderay. Displaced workers at the smelter found employment at Humbird and with the railroad. In 1910 Ponderay’s population was 250.

Even though the smelting operation failed, steamboats continued using the docks. The Ponderay Transportation Company had two steamboats—a heavy tug called the Ponderay and a smaller steamboat named the Belle. Among other things, these boats carried mail to the post offices in the towns around the lake.

Around 1910 the First State Bank of Ponderay occupied a two-story building of white brick with granite trim. This historic building now contains apartments. Other wood-frame structures built during that period are still standing, some being used as private homes.

On May 27, 1947, Ponderay became an incorporated village. On November 26, 1967, its legal status changed to an incorporated city due to a change in state law.

Transformation into a Retail Center

The owners of Bonner Mall owned land between Sandpoint and Ponderay. They needed city services and originally requested annexation into the city of Sandpoint. After Sandpoint turned them down, they made application to Ponderay, which gratefully accepted. The mall, strong traffic patterns, available space and the city’s business-friendly attitude were the catalyst that brought many other retail businesses to the city.

Amenities and Attractions Today

Due to its proximity to Sandpoint, Ponderay residents enjoy the amenities and attractions available there. However, Ponderay has several parks in the planning stages. The city is working on a community walking/biking trail called the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail that runs along the northern shoreline of the beautiful Lake Pend Oreille.

Each August, Ponderay celebrates "Ponderay Days." Attractions include a car show and business-sponsored activities at the Bonner Mall and other participating stores.

Round Lake State Park is located 13 miles south of Ponderay. This 142-acre forested park surrounds the 58-acre Round Lake.

Farragut State Park has 4,000 acres and lies 35 miles south of Ponderay at the base of Lake Pend Oreille.

Three Idaho Scenic Byways further display the beauty of the area. The Pend Oreille Scenic Byway begins at the intersection of the combined U.S. Highways 95 and 2 and State Highway 200 in Ponderay, passes through the city and follows Highway 200 around the eastern side of the lake then proceeds east to the Montana state line.

The Wild Horse Trail Scenic Byway starts in Sandpoint, passes on the western side of Ponderay on Highway 95 and heads north along the eastern side of the Selkirk Mountains. It marks the historic path that the Kootenai Tribe followed to their fishing grounds at Lake Pend Oreille.

The Panhandle Historic Rivers Passage Byway begins at the Washington state line on U.S. Highway 2 and follows the Pend Oreille River to its end at Sandpoint.

Schweitzer Mountain Ski Resort lies 10 miles north of Ponderay. With an average annual snowfall of 300 inches, the resort has 67 ski runs, ski lifts, cross-country ski trails, snowmobiling and sleigh rides. During the summer, the mountain resort is available for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding. Resort facilities include a lodge; condominiums; and a variety of retail stores, restaurants and pubs.

Silverwood Amusement and Water Park has over 50 amusement rides. It is located 28 miles south of the city.

Lake Pend Oreille and the nearby national forest with its mountains, rivers and streams offer a wide variety of outdoor activities. Summer or winter, people can enjoy the outdoors by boating, water skiing, fishing, hiking, biking, riding ATV and snowmobile trails, horseback riding, hunting and cross-country snow skiing.

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