Pin It
Favorite

Red Light, Green Light 

Sandpoint bypass construction prep reveals an older, raunchier city

click to enlarge Photograph from 1903 showing the separation of the Restricted District near Sand Creek from the newly platted Sandpoint - BONNER COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY
  • Bonner County Historical Society
  • Photograph from 1903 showing the separation of the Restricted District near Sand Creek from the newly platted Sandpoint

The Sandpoint Bypass project, in which U.S. Highway 95 skirts the eastern edge of the city instead of zigzagging through its center, has been in the middle of political, environmental and court challenges for decades.

But when it finally got the green light and began securing permits in the last several years, prep work revealed a mostly forgotten red-light district located on what used to be the original town site.

A huge archaeological dig in advance of highway construction has just wrapped up after collecting some 600,000 artifacts that paint a clearer picture of what city founders labeled a Restricted District that remained near Sand Creek and the railroad tracks after today’s city moved farther inland in the early 1900s.

So all those years when you parked your car for a day at the city beach or walked from the train depot to the Lakeside Motel, the remains of Willa Hermann’s Bordello or Marie Henderson’s Brothel or the Owl Saloon and Dance Hall were right underfoot.

Bob Weaver, a historical archaeologist hired for the dig, says many people don’t realize the district was there. All the vice businesses — dance halls, brothels and opium dens — had been literally marginalized and kept on the east side of the Northern Pacific tracks by early city burghers. Within a decade or so, many of these flimsy buildings were swallowed by industry or buried under fill dirt when the railroad raised its grade along the shore of Lake Pend Oreille.

“Most of the people of Sandpoint thought it was just the lakeside,” Weaver says. Painstaking research into land plats and data from the 1900 and 1910 censuses gave archaeologists a wealth of information, he says, including street addresses, types of business and the names of people who lived and worked there.

There were Japanese, Chinese and Canadian residents.

One of the prostitutes at madam Marie Henderson’s 10-woman brothel was the infamous Trixie Edwards, a 25-year-old from France who was reputed to be the prettiest woman in Sandpoint.

In fact, at an early presentation on the dig, Weaver says an elderly woman leaned over and said, “My uncle knew Trixie Edwards.”

But, Weaver adds in a later e-mail, “Try not to dwell on the ‘ladies of the night.’ One thing I constantly get from some people I talk to is why do they always have to focus on prostitution as if it was something romantic. Many girls ended up swallowing poison, and their lives weren’t all that romantic.”

Indeed, the same 1910 census lists Frances Miller of Montana among Henderson’s prostitutes. She was 16. Archaeologists have also turned up marbles, dolls and a toy train at the brothels, indicating children born to the prostitutes also lived there.

The muddy block of dance halls, bordellos and rooms to let were known to early Sandpointers as the Cribs.

Near the brothels, the dig also turned up a pile of about 100 Mumm’s champagne bottles, some still with their necks clad in foil.

The bottles are tiny. They were splits, holding roughly two glasses’ worth of champagne. Weaver suspects it was part of the protocol of visiting the brothel: A patron would buy a split of Mumms and share it with his woman of the evening before going to a room and, er, popping his own cork.

The range of objects is astonishing — spanning time from 8,000 years ago to the early 1900s, Weaver says. In prehistoric times two main trails — one going north to present-day Bonners Ferry and Canada, and the other, known as the Buffalo Trail, going east to the Great Plains — brought people and goods through the Sandpoint area. In the era of white settlement, it was railroads that did the same.

Items from a jadeite adze to European perfume bottles to opium pipes indicate a rich past. Artifacts will soon show up at the Bonner County Historical Society museum and in classrooms around the city to shine a light on earlier times. 

  • Pin It

Speaking of...

Latest in News

  • Skunked
  • Skunked

    Why Spokane County Commissioners passed a temporary ban on new outdoor pot farms without telling anyone
    • Dec 8, 2016
  • Prisoner Problems
  • Prisoner Problems

    Computer errors continue to plague state Department of Corrections; plus, Washington ranked first in pro-charter-school policies
    • Dec 8, 2016
  • In Defense of Refugees
  • In Defense of Refugees

    In the aftermath of the presidential election, local residents seek ways to love and support their refugee friends
    • Dec 1, 2016
  • More »

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Today | Sat | Sun | Mon | Tue | Wed | Thu
Lost Egypt: Ancient Secrets, Modern Science

Lost Egypt: Ancient Secrets, Modern Science @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays. Continues through Jan. 6

All of today's events | Staff Picks

More by Kevin Taylor

Most Commented On

  • Unfinished Business

    Isaiah Wall wants to get his life on track. But first, he's gotta buy drugs for the police
    • Nov 17, 2016
  • Fake-News Nightmare

    The social media dream of the 2000s is fading, but we can reset the system by sticking up for the truth
    • Dec 1, 2016
  • More »

Top Tags in
News & Comment

Briefs


green zone


marijuana


trail mix


Comment


Readers also liked…

  • Hopeless for Heroin
  • Hopeless for Heroin

    As heroin deaths continue to rise in Washington state, what can a parent do to save a child from the depths of addiction?
    • Jul 29, 2015
  • Deaths in the Family
  • Deaths in the Family

    Students, teachers and administrators are grieving after five suicides in Spokane schools — and uniting to find a solution
    • May 13, 2015

© 2016 Inlander
Website powered by Foundation