By DULCE KERSTING-LARK
For Inland 360
Every county has noteworthy residents who help shape its growth and direction.
Since nearly its formation, dedicated residents have worked to preserve and promote the history of Latah County. In 1968, the Latah County Pioneer Association and the Moscow Historical Club came together as a single organization with the mission to create and manage a museum at the recently-donated McConnell Mansion, as well as an archive for the county. The Latah County Historical Society celebrates this history Sunday, Sept. 30 at its 50th anniversary “Lanterns and Luminaries” festival.
The county’s history is filled with examples of extraordinary people who have made the region a richer and more fulfilling place to live and grow. Some were prominent individuals whose names can be found on maps or buildings; others lived quieter lives but were no less representative of the promise Latah County holds for anyone willing to work hard and be a good neighbor.
Here are five such individuals whose experiences are documented by the society.
- William Deary was the larger-than-life figure who drove the growth of logging in this part of northern Idaho. He and a partner, backed by the Weyerhaeuser syndicate, formed the Potlatch Lumber Company in 1903 with an initial holding of more than 100,000 acres. Soon after, Deary purchased property along the Palouse River and made plans to build one of the largest sawmills in the country. When the Potlatch Lumber Mill opened in 1906, it could produce 135 million board feet annually, and the town that had been built to house its workforce boasted 128 homes. Deary is also credited with spearheading the development of the Washington, Idaho & Montana Railway Company.
- Joe Wells was one of just a few African American men to settle in Latah County in the last decades of the 19th century. Born into slavery in the south in 1858, Joe and his young wife Lou immigrated to the Deary area in 1889. The couple operated a way-house for many years, and nearly all visitors to the area seem to have stayed with the Wells, even wealthy timberman Hugh Bovill. Wells developed a reputation among fellow pioneers as self-made man deserving of respect. After staking a claim on a parcel of land near Pine Creek, Wells built a log cabin and then a two-story frame house on the property. One of Wells’ contemporaries recalled later in life “they liked Old Joe up there, sure they do…Well, I guess he had a heart as big as a hotel, as far as that part’s concerned. And Old Lou, I liked her, she was just a good old soul.”
- Lola Gamble Clyde was a proud descendent of pioneers, a hardworking farm wife and mother who championed a multitude of causes. She was named Inland Empire Mother of the Year as well as Idaho State Mother of the Year. Her energy was infectious, and she gave freely of her time. Indeed, at one point Lola served on 14 different boards in Moscow and Latah County. The Latah County Historical Society was among the groups that benefited from Lola’s positivity and tireless efforts. She led school tours at the McConnell Mansion. She donated family objects and papers to the collections, and she was always available to discuss her memories of Moscow through the decades. Some will also recall when a photograph of Lola with a fresh-baked pie invited the readership of “National Geographic” to visit the region.
- For his generous spirit and willingness to help those in need, Frank Brocke became known as the banker who gave a loan to a man who had robbed him. Brocke began working for the Bank of Troy in the 1930s, and later became the president of the institution where his name became synonymous with honesty and integrity. Many in Latah County still retain fond memories of Brocke, a man who cared deeply for the people in his community and, on more than one occasion, relied on a simple handshake to finalize a loan. Under his leadership, the Bank of Troy grew from a small-town bank of convenience to an impressive finance company with more than $20 million in deposits and more than 10,000 clients, some even living abroad.
- Permeal French is arguably one of the most colorful characters in the University of Idaho’s more than 125 years of operation. She was famous for her parties and infamous for her strict enforcement of rules as the Dean of Women for nearly three decades. Parents of young women attending the university during French’s tenure could rest assured that the disciplinarian would protect their daughters’ safety and virtue. Dean French crafted dress codes, policies of conduct, a ban on smoking and curfews to moderate the behavior of her female coeds. As one of her former wards recalled, female students could sit on the lawn in front of the Admin Building, but they could not fully recline – such an activity was deemed inappropriate for a lady.
Kersting-Lark is the executive director of the Latah County Historical Society. She loves studying the history of Latah County because it includes so many of the best elements of the American West story. In her free time, she enjoys sipping craft beers on dog-friendly patios.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: “Lanterns and Luminaries,” Latah County Historical Society’s 50th anniversary celebration
WHEN: 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30
WHERE: East City Park, Moscow
OF NOTE: The event includes live music, demonstrations, a baking completion and a food truck. Luminaries will be lit at 8 p.m.