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News & Press: Community Spotlights

AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Oldtown

Friday, December 21, 2018  
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
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Aerial View of Oldtown

Oldtown lies on the western shores of the Pend Oreille River as it turns northwest into the state of Washington. The Kaniksu National Forest lies a few miles north of the city.

The cities of Newport, Washington, and Oldtown abut. Stateline Road separates the two cities. Sandpoint is 24 miles east.

Newport’s population is 11 times that of Oldtown. Oldtown residents shop and do most of their non-governmental business in Newport.

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 at East Hope. Other trappers and, later, prospectors came into the land that had been the exclusive domain of American Indians.

In 1866 a steamboat called the Mary Moody began ferrying trappers, miners and their gear across and around Lake Pend Oreille. Around this time, steamers—riverboats—began bringing passengers up the Pend Oreille River to Albeni Falls—what is now the location of Albeni Falls Dam.

A riverboat port town named Newport built up on the west banks of the river on the Idaho side of the Idaho/Washington territorial line, about two miles west of the falls. Within a few years, the town had public docks, a post office, a ferry that crossed the river, a general store, a dry goods store, a hotel and several saloons.

In 1883 the Northern Pacific Railroad completed a rail line from Wallula, Washington, to Missoula, Montana. The railroad crossed the Pend Oreille River at Sandpoint. From Sandpoint it continued along the northern and eastern shore of Lake Pend Oreille before turning east to Montana at the Clark Fork River. With the availability of railroad transportation, sawmills began developing along the rail line. In 1906 the Spokane International Railway built a 142-mile rail line between Spokane, Washington, and Canada. This line passed through Sandpoint, Bonners Ferry and Eastport where it connected with the Canadian Pacific Railway.

In 1891 the Great Northern Railway’s intercontinental rail line linking Puget Sound near Seattle to Canada and Havre, Montana, reached Newport. This rail line crossed to the north side of the Pend Oreille River near Newport and continued east to Sandpoint before turning north to Bonners Ferry. At Bonners Ferry, it extended north to Canada and east to connect with its main line in Havre.

When the railroad reached Newport, it established a train depot with railroad personnel operating out of a converted boxcar. In 1896 the boxcar burned down. Rather than rebuild on the Idaho side of town, railroad officials built a new depot on the Washington side.

The depot agent, Charles Talmadge, purchased 40 acres of railroad property located adjacent to the new depot. He platted the town of Newport, Washington, and began selling lots. Wanting to be near the train depot, businesses on the Idaho side of the line, including the Newport Post Office, moved to the Washington side of town.

Having lost favor and lacking a municipal structure, the Idaho side of town went into decline with bars, gambling and houses of ill repute dominating the business community. The Idaho side of town was essentially lawless. Law enforcement on the Washington side had no legal authority in Idaho. Local residents termed the old part of the community, the "wild side of town."

In 1946 the Idaho Legislature passed law governing the sale of liquor by the drink and the licensure of establishments offering those beverages. Under that law, businesses selling alcoholic beverages had to be located within incorporated cities or villages.

In order to keep their liquor licenses, local bar owners organized a campaign to incorporate the Idaho side of Newport as "Oldtown."

On April 21, 1947, the Bonner County Commissioners in Sandpoint approved Oldtown as an incorporated village.

Albeni Falls Dam and Recreation Area

In 1955 the Army Corps of Engineers completed construction of the hydroelectric Albeni Falls Dam located about two-miles east of the city. The 200 million kilowatt dam is 90 feet high and 775 feet wide. The facility and nearby Albeni Falls Dam Recreation Areas provide employment and significant recreation opportunities for city residents.

Amenities and Attractions Today

Oldtown residents enjoy the numerous outdoor experiences—including boating, fishing, hunting and camping—available nearby at the Albeni Falls Dam and recreation areas and the Kaniksu National Forest.

Most city residents go to Newport for their employment, shopping, healthcare and urban recreation.

The Panhandle Historic Rivers Passage begins at the Washington state line and follows the Pend Oreille River to its end at Sandpoint.

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