Ferry County

Prior to the creation of Ferry County, all of western Stevens County was set aside in 1872 as the Colville Indian Reservation. With the discovery of gold in British Columbia, and the influx of miners seeking to make their fortunes, the reservation was reduced in size with the northern half being opened up to non-native settlement. Enough prospectors decided to seek gold south of the international boundary, that by 1899 the state legislature took the western portion of Stevens County and created Ferry County, named for the last territorial and first state governor of Washington, Elisha P. Ferry. From the beginning, the largest community in the county was and still is Republic, and that city, Ferry County’s only incorporated municipality, became the County Seat. Northern Ferry County is predominately mountainous, with deep river valleys running north to south from the Canadian border. With the forested mountains in the north being under Federal ownership (through the U.S. Forest Service’s Colville National Forest) and the Colville Reservation in the southern half the county, only 18% of the county’s land area is taxable. Covering 2,204 square miles, Ferry County is ninth in size among Washington’s thirty-nine counties, but with only 7,551 residents (according to the 2010 U.S. Census), it is 36th. Economically dependent on extractive industries (especially mining and logging) for most of its history, Ferry County has seen its share of boom and bust cycles. Between 1900 and 1970, the County’s population grew and declined as logging replaced mining, and cycles turned, but 1970 was the nadir, with the population down almost 20% from the County’s first census. Between 1970 and 1980, however, the population rebounded, growing almost 60% to 5,811 with no discernable reason for the growth. A call to the Republic Library got this answer. “We moved here in 1979. It was the ‘back to the land’ movement.” If indeed participants in that movement were set on finding a place away from the trials and rampant commercialism of urban life, it would be hard, in Washington State, to find a place more remote than Ferry County. U.S. Highway 395 runs north from Kettle Falls (in neighboring Stevens County) to the Canadian border, a distance of 32 miles. That is the only federal highway in the County. The rest of the County is served by Washington State Highways 20 and 21. Sherman Pass on Highway 20 at 5,574 feet is the highest pass in Washington that is open year-round. It is roughly half-way between Republic and Kettle Falls. Highway 21 connects the Canadian border to the Columbia River and beyond, but the only way to cross the river is by ferry at Keller. The County, in my opinion, is scenically beautiful, but largely unsuited for suburban life.

The county seat, Republic, was incorporated as a city on May 22, 1900, having been renamed as the U.S. Post Office rejected the name Eureka as a post office in Clark County already had that name. Republic took its name from the Great Republic Mine, the highest producer of gold in the immediate area. To this day there are gold mines in the hills surrounding the city, and Prospectors’ Days, the second weekend in June each year, celebrates the history of mining and logging in the region. The Kinross Gold Company is one of the city’s two largest employers along with the Ferry County Memorial Hospital. Republic is also home to the Ferry County Fair where children of all ages can enjoy the Ferry County Carousel.   Republic is also the site of the Stonerose Interpretive Center and Fossil Site, famous for the Eocene fossils found in a 49 million year old lake bed at the north end of Republic.

Ferry County provides almost endless recreational opportunities.  Curlew Lake (and the eponymous State Park) are just north of Republic.  The park has bike and hiking trails, a boat ramp and docks, camping spots, and, as the State Park’s web site notes, “snow play” in the winter.  Fishing is popular on the lake, both for humans and for birds, which makes it an ideal spot for birdwatching as well.

Other lakes nearby include Swan Lake, Ferry Lake, Fish Lake and Long Lake, all clustered off Highway 21 south of Republic, Trout Lake and Emerald Lake east of Republic across Sherman Pass, and, of course, Lake Roosevelt which pretty much defines the eastern and southern borders of Ferry County.  At Sherman Pass, visitors can park their vehicles and walk a short trail marked with interpretive signs.

Many small towns (or rather “Census Designated Places” since none of them have gone through the incorporation process) dot the Ferry County landscape.  These range in size from Laurier, surely one of the few US towns named for a Canadian Prime Minister, with a 2010 population of one up to Curlew Lake  (2010 population 462).  Curlew Lake is not to be confused with the town of Curlew (2010 population 118).  Curlew Lake CDP rings the lake itself just north and west of Republic.  Curlew can be found further north on Highway 21, 21 miles north of Republic and 10 miles south of the Canadian border.   One of Curlew’s notable features is “the old swimmin’ hole,” a popular spot on the Kettle River.  During Prohibition, liquor was dropped in the River across the border and floated downstream.  Curlew was the point where the “fire water” was taken out of the River.  Today, those early times are remembered the first Sunday each June with the Curlew Barrel Derby Days.  Danville, the first town settled in the county, sits just below the international border on Highway 21.  Keller, at the southern end of the county, has been moved progressively north in an attempt to avoid the rising waters of Lake Roosevelt.  At one point, Keller had a population of over 3,000, but apparently people got tired of watching their homes flood and the 2010 Census counted 234 people in the town.  Inchelium, in the southeastern part of the County, is the largest community (2010 population 409) in Ferry County’s portion of the Colville Reservation.  Like Keller, Inchelium was forced to relocate as Lake Roosevelt covered the original town site.  All of Ferry County’s towns have fascinating stories, much worth researching and visiting.

 

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