Northwest of Grangeville is the tiny town of Clearwater, once a hub of civilization for miners seeking the gold discovered in Newsome and Elk City in 1861. This weekend, people will gather in Clearwater for Elk City Wagon Road Days to hear the stories of the men and women who chased their fortunes here and trace the path they took over a rugged mountain road to their fate.
The Elk City Wagon Road was built for the miners, says Lewiston historian Dana Lohrey, who has worked to preserve the remote area’s history. Lohrey, 66, moved to Clearwater when he was 3 and soon found himself at the feet of the old-timers who talked about the gold rush days when the town was alive at all hours and a dozen freight teams passed through daily. Elk City Wagon Road Days was created with those old-timers in mind. Lohrey tells the story of the road the third weekend of every July.
Events start with an old-fashioned parade at 10:30 a.m. Saturday with saddle horse riders, wagon teams and riding units. This year’s parade is dedicated to the memory of longtime Clearwater resident Lester Gunter, who died earlier this year. His widow, Betty Gunter, is the grand marshal. Following the parade is an old-time Gospel Hour at noon, an oral history presentation at 1 p.m. and the Wagon Road Variety Show at 2 p.m., all at the Clearwater Baptist Church. Quilt and history displays, games and vendor booths will also be set up around town.Sunday is a driving tour of the Old Wagon Road. After breakfast, served from 6:30 to 11 a.m. at the Clearwater Grange, participants will gather at 8:15 a.m. in front of the old Clearwater Store for a history presentation before departing for the one-day trip to Elk City. RVs and oversized vehicles are not allowed as the road is very narrow.
The steep and switch-backed 53-mile stretch between Clearwater to Elk City opened in 1895. It became obsolete when a highway to Elk City was built in the 1930s.
Way stations were located about every five miles on the road because in the winter that was as far as some horse teams could go in a day. The tour will stop at each station for a presentation, says Lohrey, the retired director of student services for the Washington State University College of Pharmacy.
The highest point, where the Mountain House Way Station was, is 5,982 feet. Meals were served around the clock at the station and cost 25 cents. It was 50 cents to stay the night. The road ends in Elk City, which had a population of 1,000 in 1888.
Travelers should bring a picnic lunch, drinking water and cameras. The trip will conclude in Elk City about 4:30 p.m. with return travel via State Highway 14.
Additional information is available by contacting Lohrey at (208) 791-4548, email@example.com, or Susanne Smith, (208) 926-4278.
if you go
WHAT: Elk City Wagon Road Days
WHEN: Saturday and Sunday
WHERE: Clearwater, Idaho