Monday, September 20, 2021


Staff Writer | August 1, 2021 1:09 AM

Editor's note: This Old House is a series of Press feature articles on local homes that have their own stories to tell.

COEUR d’ALENE — The first time Felicity Cavanagh set foot in the century-old house at the corner of Coeur d’Alene Avenue and 7th Street, she knew it was special.

“It just took my breath away,” she said.

She walked on the same maple floors that the home’s original inhabitants did and turned the same glass doorknobs, stepping into rooms illuminated by the original leaded windows.

Once upon a time, it was the home of P.W. Johnson, a boatbuilder, city councilor and Idaho state senator.

“He was a really interesting man,” Cavanagh said. “He’s so tied to the community.”

Johnson designed and built at least half of the 50 steamboats that once sailed Lake Coeur d’Alene.

He’s also credited with building the first electric dredge in the United States, which transformed the face of the downtown Coeur d’Alene waterfront.

His invention literally created the space where the Coeur d’Alene Resort now stands.

Johnson designed the home at 622 E. Coeur d’Alene Ave., which was built in 1910 by Johnson’s own shipwrights.

In the past 48 years, the house has changed hands twice. Each time was between friends.

Felicity and Kevin Cavanagh roamed for years in a travel trailer before settling down in Coeur d’Alene. They used to live just two doors down from their current home.

The previous owners purchased the house in the ‘70s. At that time, the ground floor contained a beauty parlor, an insurance office and a studio apartment.

The second floor had been split into multiple studios, with a separate entrance.

The couple lovingly restored the home. They lived in it for about 40 years before they offered to sell it to the Cavanaghs, who continued the work.

Now, though, it might be time to move on.

“We love Coeur d’Alene and we love this house, but we’re itching to travel again,” Felicity Cavanagh said.

The house was recently listed for $2.2 million.

The property comes with numerous documents from its storied past, including the original abstract title, which dates back to July 2, 1864, when it was just a plot of land.

One photo shows Johnson and his wife standing in the driveway next to their Model T.

Johnson reportedly designed the carriage house on the property with a 180-degree turnstile, so he never had to back up. The turnstile is no more, but the carriage house remains — now a one-bedroom cottage with a full kitchen.

If the buyer doesn’t want the documents, Cavanagh said, they’ll be donated to the Museum of North Idaho.

No additions have been made to the home, which sits on two lots just blocks from Lake Coeur d’Alene. Each room suggests a rich history.

A colored tile mosaic over a fireplace depicts a gondola in Venice, based on a photo Johnson took of his wife and daughter.

The solarium where Johnson’s wife grew exotic plants now includes laundry facilities.

The finished basement features a billiards room, a Finnish-style sauna and a shop. Though the kitchen and bathrooms have been updated, they retain the charm of the period when they were built.

At the top of a narrow set of stairs is an 800-square-foot attic, where troops slept on cots during World War II.

Records indicate there’s a dumbwaiter hidden in one of the walls, though Cavanagh hasn’t found it yet.

Johnson’s own desk sits in the study just off the entrance. His personal safe is also tucked away in the home — and it still works. The safe will stay with the house.

“It’s priceless,” Cavanagh said.

The same could be said about most aspects of the home.

In the summer, the Cavanaghs eat all their meals on their home’s spacious porch.

In the winter, they place homemade pies on the radiator to keep them warm.

They do all the household cleaning and yard work themselves. It feels like less of a chore when a home is so beloved.

“This is just a gem,” Felicity Cavanagh said. “I love every inch of it.”

INFORMATION: Realtor Kathleen Tillman, 208.699.2210,