Spring 2014

At the close of the 19th century as the last trees were harvested from the Lake States, the timber barons’ attention turned to the vast virgin forests of the Pacific Northwest.  Around 1900, several family-owned timber companies sent timber cruisers to tally stands of western white pine and redcedar in Idaho and Washington. Much of their attention was focused on Northern Pacific Railroad (NPRR) lands granted to the railroad by Congress as an incentive to build a trans-continental railroad.

The story is told that John Humbird, of Mason, Wisconsin, liked the white pine stands surrounding Sandpoint.  He formed Humbird Lumber Company in late 1900 by purchasing the existing Sandpoint Lumber Company sawmill and several thousand acres of NPRR grant lands.

Over the next three decades, Humbird Lumber Company grew to three sawmills and over 200,000 acres of forestland.  In spite of  mill fires, forest fires, labor unrest, poor lumber markets and bad weather conditions the company prospered and kept producing lumber, cedar posts and poles.  That is until the Great Depression put a tight grip on the nation’s economy.

Lumber markets all but dried.  On May 26, 1931, Humbird stockholders faced three options for the future of the company:  saw your way through a poor lumber market,”

2) Accept an offer to merge with Edward Rutledge Timber Co., Potlatch Lumber Co. and Clear-  water Timber Co.  (After all, these old Lake States cronies – John Humbird, Frederick Weyerhaeuser and Edward Rutledge—had   worked closely together in the past and served on the board of directors of each other’s companies.), or

3)  Liquidate all assets.

They chose the third option.  And that decision is what I refer to as the most important land-use decision in the history of Bonner County, Idaho.  Over the next decade, cutover timberlands were marketed nationally as North Idaho “stump ranches,” while unharvested lands were acquired by Diamond Match Company and an upstart outfit named Pack River Lumber Company.

Just imagine if Humbird had accepted the offer to merge.  After all, the consolidated Potlatch Corporation today is the largest private forest-land owner in Idaho.  Could have Humbird’s almost 200,000 acres now be a part of Potlatch’s vast land portfolio?

It’s just a guess, but I can picture today’s Sandpoint surrounded by an expansive “wood basket” of Potlatch forestlands with a mega sawmill/paper mill complex occupying the old Humbird sawmill site just north of Sandpoint City Beach.

—Bill Love



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