In a burg calling itself Hope, you'd expect to find sunny, cheerful people with their eyes fixed on the horizon of the future. A life in Hope should be propelled by the prevailing winds of optimism; the city charter should outlaw despair. There ought to be a law requiring cynics to register with city officials so their presence will not disturb the serenely peaceful and confident populace.
Or instead, maybe you'd expect a squalid old mining camp with a tumble of ramshackle buildings gripping the edge of the creek, a place where dreams crashed on the hard rocks of reality. So many of the West's optimistically named places reflect the dreams of their founders far more than the reality of geography -- Gem, Sweetwater, even Grand Teton.
But Hope, Idaho, and its neighbor,
East Hope, fit neither stereotype. Hope
was named not for anyone's philosophy but
for a veterinary surgeon who cared for the
horses of railroad construction crews. And East Hope
was so named because, well, it's east of Hope. And before you smart alecks get too far ahead, yes, there are people who live beyond Hope, out on the Hope peninsula.
Still, it's hard not to feel good when you stand on Main Street in Hope -- or East Hope -- and gaze out over the broad blue expanse of Lake Pend Oreille stretching south and west. The year-round populations of Hope and East Hope, twin cities of the lake's northeast shore, have dwindled to a fraction of what they were a century ago, but one look at the view on a sunny day is enough to fill even the most irony-ridden postmodernist with a deep sense of contentment and a case of the warm fuzzies.
Cynicism is in short supply around Hope these days, even at a time when residents suffer sticker shock from their tax assessments. Given the national raves recently heaped upon nearby Sandpoint, the spotlight's glare can't help but radiate outward. The average price of a single family residence in Bonner and Boundary counties soared past the $200,000 mark to $210,575 for the first four months of 2005, according to the Idaho Association of Realtors, placing the area second only to the Sun Valley/Ketchum area in Idaho.
"Hope has traditionally been an attractive area for buyers, and it remains that way," says Tom Renk, a broker with C. M. Brewster & amp; Co. Real Estate in Sandpoint who has lived in the area since 1971. "It has had increasing values and sales. Properties with lake views have gotten especially high. [The boom] is going, and it's not likely to slow down any time soon."
As prices rise, people considering a move to the area scramble to buy property before it becomes unaffordable. And it already has slipped out of reach for a lot of working people, many of whom work in jobs supporting the influx of retirees and summer people.
"Listings in the low to mid range are at a premium right now," Renk says. "It becomes hard for the average person to buy a home, even with the low interest rates. The people who support the community here -- if they don't already have a place, it's very difficult for them to buy. And when [assessed] values go up, taxes can go up. The people who have lived here, their heirs won't be able to keep the property because of the taxes. We're hoping that won't happen here, but...."
But that's exactly what has happened in other Western resort towns, from Sun Valley to Aspen to Santa Fe. Long-time homeowners may become wealthy in property ("land-rich") but often lack the cash flow to pay the growing tax burden that goes along with that increase in value. Those living on fixed retirement incomes can be especially hard hit.
"Mainly, it's impacting people like us, people who've been here a long time, who have maybe one and a half acres in town," says Ed Butler, a retired engineer who serves on the East Hope City Council. "It's taxing them out of the market."
He tells of a neighbor whose property sits right on the lakefront. "He's thinking he's going to become a millionaire this year," he chuckles.
Butler's wife, Sandy, who is East Hope's city clerk, adds, "But that's only on paper. It's getting awfully tempting to capitalize on the property values now."
To illustrate the steep inflation of lakefront property, Sandy tells of a 50-foot-wide lot on the lake that sold recently for $650,000. Some people have subdivided and sold their family property rather than continuing to pay the rising taxes; although they gain a financial windfall from the sale, they cannot afford to buy in the area, so they move away.
The Butlers have sold off part of their original family land, but Ed says he has no plans to sell the house and move elsewhere. "When I move, it's gonna be up to the cemetery," he deadpans. "I got a nice property up there recently, and it hasn't gone up much."
Ed Butler grew up in East Hope with roots as deep as anyone there; his grandfather, Wellington Sharai, was one of the town's early landowners along Strong Creek. His other grandfather, Eugene Butler, and later his uncle, Guy Butler, ran the Landmark grocery store in East Hope for more than 30 years. Ed's career with the U.S. Forest Service took him to Orofino, but he and Sandy returned to East Hope after his retirement in 1997 and they've plugged right back into the community.
Like so many small towns, Hope has its favorite gathering spots where residents meet to drink coffee and swap the latest news. There's the cafe at Holiday Shores, the Thursday afternoon lunch group, the musical jam sessions at the Old Ice House or maybe one of the many classes or groups -- yoga, quilting, scrap booking, reading -- at the Memorial Community Center. The best place?
"Just go down to the post office, oh, about 11:30," says Ed.
It's harder to know everyone with all the newcomers moving in, but the Butlers agree they wouldn't want to live anyplace else. "It's a wonderful community," says Sandy. "When you can stop and visit with anybody anywhere and not worry about it, that's what's fun."
People have been coming to Hope for the lake and the mountains for a long time. Ed Butler remembers people from California moving up or buying summer homes during his childhood in the 1940s and '50s. His grandfather opened Butler's Tourist Camp, a few small cabins behind the grocery, back in 1934, and auto-court resorts sprang up along the lakeshore as soon as the first road came through. The Hotel Hope, still a Hope landmark, originally opened in 1898; before that, the railroad built the Highland House Hotel around 1885 to lure in tourists from the east. And long before the railroad came through, the northeast shore of the lake was the fall gathering place of the Kalispel Indians and other tribes. Their annual meeting drew explorer David Thompson, who established Kullyspell House, the first fur trading post in what's now the American Pacific Northwest, on the Hope peninsula in 1809 before moving his center of trade west to the Spokane House two years later.
But somehow the boom feels different this time. There's a sense that the character of the community is changing irrevocably, even though both city officials and residents want to avoid any horror stories. The big question is, what will Hope look like in another 10 years, given the recent pace of change in North Idaho?
Booms and Busts
The Hope community really extends from Trestle Creek eastward to the Denton Slough, nearly to Clark Fork. In the 2000 census, the cities of Hope and East Hope had 79 and 200 residents, respectively, but the Hope zip code area held 1,046 people. More and more, Hope is becoming a seasonal place, with a growing contingent of snowbird retirees and summer people. At the condos near Holiday Shores, only a handful of units are occupied year-round, according to Sandy Butler.
At the Beyond Hope Resort on the peninsula, proprietors Jim Lane and Cathy DeLa'o -- themselves part-year residents -- know well the patterns of local tourist traffic. Although they open their RV park on May 1, things really don't pick up until the Fourth of July.
"From mid-July to mid-August, we have no days off," says DeLa'o. "Then it settles down in mid-August for a couple of weeks. We fill up again for Labor Day, and then there's a parade out of here that you wouldn't believe. But September is gorgeous here. If I could choose a time to come, it would be in September."
Even though they're only here April through October, DeLa'o says they feel connected to the community. "It's really a special place. I can't imagine life anymore without a place up here."
Like Sandpoint, the Hope area attracts people in the arts. In the '70s, artist Ed Kienholz moved to Hope part time and opened a gallery there. After his death in 1994, his widow, Nancy Reddin Kienholz, remained in Hope. The couple purchased the old schoolhouse in East Hope and it's still in use as storage and studio space for emerging artists. Just last year, Christine Holbert of Sandpoint's Lost Horse Press bought the old grocery store in East Hope with plans to remake it into a cafe, a gallery and a retail space.
Despite its identity with tourism, Hope has a parallel history of industry. The city of Hope began as a railroad construction camp in 1882 and grew when the Northern Pacific moved its division point there in 1888. Hotels, restaurants, rooming houses and other businesses lined the steep hillside above the tracks. Steamboats would dock at Hope to transfer supplies destined for mining camps up in the mountains. Hope was also home to nearly a thousand Chinese laborers who were brought in by the railroad.
By the start of the 20th century, the fortunes of Hope had begun to decline, even as it was incorporated in 1903. The railroad moved its division point, along with many workers, after a storm washed away some facilities. A series of fires destroyed many of the buildings downtown.
Further east, the Hope Lumber Company established a sawmill in 1901 and the city of East Hope grew around it. Soon, East Hope boasted its own hotel -- mainly a rooming house for mill workers -- along with family farms and a Methodist church. East Hope's population outpaced Hope's, a situation continuing even today.
But East Hope had its own troubles. The lumber mill closed in 1920, and yet again a rash of fires followed the business pullout. A smaller lumber mill -- owned by Ed Butler's father -- continued to operate until the expansion of Highway 200 in 1971 took over the space occupied by the milliard. But the transition from traditional North Idaho industries -- mining, railroads, and lumber -- to the emerging tourist economy was already underway.
Today, a drive along the old highway -- now Main Street, off Highway 200 -- reveals the story of Hope and East Hope. Older, modest homes line the road as it climbs the hill up to the center of town. The former Murphy's Lounge sits vacant and threadbare between empty lots. The cinder-block City Hall is tucked in next to the rustic-yet-hip Old Ice House Pizzeria and Bakery, owned by Bear, proprietor of Little Bear's Trading Post in Sandpoint until 2003. (Incidentally, the New York-style pizza at the Ice House made my little East Coast heart go pitter-pat. Yum. Well worth a two-hour drive.) Then there's the beautifully restored but vacant Hotel Hope, a vintage architectural gem, with no clues to its present status other than a "For Lease" sign in the window.
From Main Street, narrow side roads snake into the hills, leading to many newer view homes. Glimpses of these houses peek between the trees: cedar siding, cantilevered decks, expanses of glass facing south and west. The homes sit high enough that the more modest buildings lie beneath them, out of view. Such is the precarious balance of living in Hope.
Fact File - Hope Idaho
Hope and East Hope Population:
(from Idaho Department of Commerce)
Bonner County Population:
(from U.S. Census Bureau)
Hope and East Hope are part of the Lake Pend Oreille School District, which covers an area from Sandpoint to Clark Fork. Hope Elementary School enrolls 146 students. Sixty-six percent of elementary students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, compared to the 40 percent statewide average.
Elevation: approx 2,000 feet
Median Household Income: $24,500 (year 2000 U.S. Census)
Median house value: $210,575
(Bonner and Boundary counties MLS, Jan-Apr 2005)
Bonner County Major Employers:
Lake Pend Oreille School District
Bonner General Hospital
Schweitzer Mountain Resort