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Then and Now

Downtown Priest River

Priest River was originally named Valencia in the 1890s, but later changed because another town had the same name.


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Image One Photo Archive The Spokesman-Review Image Two Kathy Plonka The Spokesman-Review

Most people only see the town of Priest River, population 1750, while enroute to cabins and campgrounds on Priest Lake, but the town has a rich timber and railroad pedigree. The Kalispel Indians inhabited the region before the outsiders arrived in the 1880s to build railroad track, to cut timber and build a town where the Priest River joins the Pend Oreille River. Among the new arrivals were dozens of Italians. Locals with names like Naccarato and Lamanna are likely descended from those early laborers. Silent film star Nell Shipman stayed at the then-luxurious Charbonneau Hotel when she filmed a movie nearby. From 1901 to 1949, loggers would float logs onto Priest Lake, then drive them en masse down the Priest River, with the spring runoff, to the mills in town. The rugged men who scrambled out onto log jams with a hooked tool called a peavey to untangle jams were called “river pigs” and their stories are still celebrated at the annual Timber Days festival. According to historian Marylyn Cork, the name of the town, river and lake came from the Native Americans, who called the lake “kaniksu”, their name for the black-robed missionary priests who came to teach Christianity.


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