Thursday, May 30, 2024

Remaining Historic Spirit Lake Structures

by BRAD SONDAHL/Moving History Forward
| October 20, 2023 1:00 AM

Fifty-year-old lumberman Frederick A. Blackwell came to North Idaho in 1901 to investigate our valuable timberlands and what he saw made him decide to stay.

With his entrepreneurial insight and bold resolve, he had soon built two railroads, depots, four lumber mills, several homes, parks and an investment portfolio that included real estate, a bank and a concrete plant.

Although his main residence was in Coeur d’Alene, he hired renowned Spokane architect Kirtland Cutter to design a house for him in Spirit Lake overlooking the mill, railroad and mill pond. Blackwell platted the town of Spirit Lake in 1908.

Frederick A. Blackwell died in 1922 and his influence has largely vanished from sight. His beautiful home in Coeur d’Alene was torn down and replaced by Sambo’s restaurant around 1970.

Only two homes remain — his son Russell’s house is now Blackwell House Bed and Breakfast and F.A. Blackwell’s secondary home in Spirit Lake. Recently, the house in Spirit Lake has undergone renewal through ownership of local roofer Chuck Orr. A new roof and decorative lighting highlight the lines of the Kirtland Cutter design.

Other buildings in Spirit Lake are being renewed as well. The original Catholic church spent many years as an eyesore along Highway 41 with a hole in the roof and missing windows. New owner Steve Stoke has started a one-man resurrection of it. He has added gables and Victorian facia wood work, but the essential exterior remains unchanged, and he plans to convert it to a bed and breakfast.

The old Spirit Lake school, a sturdy brick structure next to the current elementary school, had been used as a Head Start location, community library and meeting rooms for Lions and other organizations before it was shuttered in the last century. It was renamed the Brown Woolen building in honor of Jim Brown and Mildred Woolen, two locals who fought to preserve the school for public use. More recently volunteers have been gutting the damaged interior in preparation for new tenants once funding is found to complete the renovations.

A similar story is the Museum of North Idaho, preserving a fine old home as the museum’s new home. Museums serve as both repositories for relics and memorabilia of the community, and their buildings also can be a part of that history, as are all the historic buildings which survive.

The Spirit Lake Museum is housed in the old Lutheran church, next to the lovely new one. Their congregation is happy to share it with the community as an homage to the past.

With the phenomenal growth in this area in the last decade, many historic structures have been removed for more profitable purposes. Even if you are new to the community, this is now your history— make a point to visit our local museums.

Brad Sondahl is the historian at the Spirit Lake Museum and can be contacted at Both the Spirit Lake Museum and the Museum of North Idaho will close their exhibit halls for the winter at the end of October. The research libraries are available by appointment. For the Museum of North Idaho, call 208-664-3448 or visit


Photo by Brad Sondahl

The F.A. Blackwell home in Spirit Lake after restoration.