Francis N. LaVell of Spokane dressed up for his lake excursions in the early decades of the 20th century, as his family photographs show.
He fished in vest and tie at Loon Lake. Rowed in long-sleeve shirts at Liberty Lake. And while waiting for a boat on a Newman Lake dock, he wore his suit jacket.
Looking at these old photographs, and reading historical newspaper accounts about life at the three lakes LaVell dressed up for – Loon, Liberty and Newman – you see the radical changes in lake culture between then and now.
But some of the same summer yearnings that beckon people to the lake this Fourth of July weekend are similar to what drew them in eras long past.
Getting there: Hop in your car on Friday afternoon from downtown Spokane and you can be to most Inland Northwest lakes in an hour or two. Bless the automobile and the freeways and highways that lead to all our lakes now.
But in the late 1800s, it took all day in a stagecoach to reach the lake. Eventually, trains took over for the horses, speeding up the journey, especially between Spokane and Liberty Lake.
“In 1913, there were five-car trains arriving every half hour from Spokane on Sundays, holidays and for large weekday picnics,” reported OJ Parsons in a 1962 story in The Spokesman-Review.
In 1927, when cars were beginning to rule the road, businessmen boasted they could make the drive from Spokane to Liberty in 85 minutes.
Boating: Most boating is done now in privately owned, or rented, sailboats and speedboats.
In historic lake days, communal boating was the ticket. According to articles on the history of regional lakes in The Spokesman-Review’s archives:
• A steamer offered excursions around Loon Lake “at street car prices” in the early 1900s.
• In 1901, on Liberty, a Mr. Kraft purchased a pleasure craft “capable of carrying at least 100 passengers.” A decade later, Commodore J.C. White commissioned a two-decker boat, capacity 300, with a restaurant and second floor reserved for dancing.
• The “launch gypsy” on Newman Lake left every hour for trips around the lake on Sundays and holidays. Cost: 25 cents.
Resort life: Modern day resorts are low-key, because “going to the lake” is a family affair.
In earlier eras, before the needs of the kids determined the family fun, adults indulged their wilder and playful sides.
In 1910, a vaudeville circuit veteran was planning a special show for May 29 at Liberty Lake, the Spokane Daily Chronicle reported in an article on the history of the lake.
And in the early 1900s, a boat launched from a notorious Liberty Lake casino, the Zephyr Inn, caught on fire – revealing in the rescue the scandalous fact that the adults on the party boat had stripped to their underwear to swim.
In July 1931, The Spokesman-Review reported on a beauty contest at a Loon Lake resort that featured “12 bathing beauties and 10 pajama girls.”
In 1934, the Spokesman-Review published a photograph showing the resort at Newman Lake’s Honeymoon Bay. The cutline announced that “Dutch and Norm’s orchestra has been engaged to provide bewitching music at its spacious dancing halls.”
Dangers: The main worries now at lakes: fire and drowning. The main lake worries in the early decades of the 20th century: fire and drowning.
In May 1943 on Newman Lake, long before the era of lifejackets, 17-year-old Morris Dahl became a hero after rescuing four people, including a baby, from a boat tipped over by a sudden squall.
A 1931 fire that devoured the oldest buildings in the town of Loon Lake jumped a highway and raced “within a few feet of summer resort cottages,” according to a July 28 story in the Spokane Daily Chronicle.
And in August 1939, on Liberty Lake, the Spokane Daily Chronicle reported that “the entire Liberty Lake resort and summer home area is being threatened by a raging forest fire. Wild Wood Resort, at the south end of the lake, has been burned to the ground.”
Fishing: You still see anglers at all the lakes, as you did in earlier eras. And here’s an interesting fish story:
According to a Spokane Daily Chronicle history of the lake: “In the 1880s, pioneers caught trout in Liberty Lake and transplanted them to Newman. A federal government fish tank parked on the Northern Pacific main line, in 1887, and residents carried carp to Newman Lake in buckets.”
Swimsuit anxiety: No matter our liberated era, women (and some men) still worry about what they look like in their swimsuits. And some aren’t crazy about having their photos taken in said suits.
In a 1930 photograph, taken on an unidentified beach, found in the photo album assembled by Francis LaVell’s wife, Keo, a woman posing in a black suit has written on the back of the photo: “I’m not that fat. This should be destroyed.”