Preserve America Community:
Ferry County, Washington
Ferry County, Washington, (population 7,551) is located in the mountainous northeastern part of the state, just south of the Canadian border. It was carved out of Stevens County in 1889.
The Colville Indian Reservation, which originally covered large areas of present-day Ferry and Okanogan counties, was created in 1872. In 1898, the U.S. opened the northern half of the reservation to gold mining, and prospectors soon flooded the booming town of Republic, originally known as Eureka Gulch and the site of the first claim.
In the early 1900s, prospecting gave way to logging as the northern half of the reservation was opened to timber claims and homesteading, and small sawmills began to sprout up in the region. In 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt created the Colville National Reserve on about 800,000 acres of the reservation, which included most of present-day Ferry County. As a result, the area remained remote and largely unreachable until the 1930s, when the Civilian Conservation Corps built roads and communications systems.
The construction of Grand Coulee Dam on the Columbia River provided jobs for many workers from Ferry County, and it extended electricity and irrigation to much of central Washington. But the dam permanently blocked the annual salmon migration, drastically changed the county’s shoreline on the river, and flooded hundreds of archaeological sites.
Today, Ferry County’s economy suffers from high unemployment, as timber jobs have declined, and the last lumber mill has closed. But its scenic beauty survives, and tourism, hunting, and fishing help sustain the region. Ferry County includes the northern part of the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area, which attracts well over a million visitors every year.
Recently, the citizens and local government of Ferry County refurbished the 1908 National Register-listed Curlew Bridge, which spans the Kettle River. Built on the Parker truss design, the structure is one of the few one-lane bridges remaining in Washington.
Residents of the county showcase their history each year. In Republic, the county seat, visitors take part in Prospector Days each June, which celebrate the area’s logging and mining history. Barrel Derby Days in Curlew commemorate the county’s role in prohibition, when barrels of liquor were floated down the Kettle River from Canada to Curlew as a way to avoid revenue agents.
Ferry County shares its prehistory as well. The Stonerose Interpretive Eocene Fossil Center and Boot Hill dig site are open May through October. Visitors from around the country chip and chisel through layers of shale filled with fossil impressions of plants and animals dating to the Eocene era. The center provides guests with an educational introduction and explains how to search for and preserve the fossils.
A walking tour of Republic takes visitors through the history of the town, although many of the historical buildings exist today only in photographs. The Ansorge Hotel Museum in Curlew, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, attracts tourists and residents to rooms furnished as they were in the hotel’s 1920s heyday.
For more information:
Ferry County Government: http://www.ferry-county.com/
City of Republic: http://www.republicwa.org/
Stonerose Interpretive Center: www.stonerosefossil.org
Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area: www.nps.gov/laro/index.htm
Posted June 23, 2011