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Pottsville and Shoshone Park: Part 1

by JIM SEE/Contributing Writer
| March 10, 2022 12:06 PM

Many people in North Idaho may not recognize the name Pottsville. Natives to the area, especially those from Mullan, still refer to Shoshone Park as Pottsville. But where was Pottsville? In this three-part series, Pottsville history and the establishment of Shoshone park will be presented. The story starts with the construction of the railroad.

In the late 1800s, the Oregon Railway & Navigation Company was building a railroad track through the Bitter Root mountains below Lookout Pass. John Wood, author of Railroads Through the Coeur d’Alenes referring to Pottsville wrote: “the town was originally built for an Oregon Railway & Navigation Co. crew to tunnel over to Montana, NOT the NP (Northern Pacific). But the fight the OR&N had with the NP over building between Wallace and Missoula came to an end when the two companies agreed to a truce — one that gave the NP the right to build between the two places and the OR&N bowed out.”

Construction of the railroad was quite a challenge. “From the beginning officials realized that it would be necessary to tunnel under the summit to keep the line at a reasonable grade and curvature,” according to the Illustrative History of North Idaho. Tunneling was too time consuming. The alternative was to go over the mountain pass. Therefore, the NP employed a grading crew to build the railroad grade.

Assuming a tunneling crew would be camped nearby for an extended time, Judge Burd Pott attempted to establish a rival town four miles east of Mullan to service the recreational needs of the railroad construction workers.

Judge Burd Patterson Pott was born in Pottsville, Pa., to Abraham Pott, who was the first to mine coal and the first to build a railroad in the United States.

General George Washington made his headquarters at the home of John Pott, Burd Pott’s grandfather, at Valley Forge. John Pott owned a foundry and made cannon balls for the patriots. He was a wealthy man and Pottsville was named after him.

Burd Pott lived in Pennsylvania until age 21. In 1852, he traveled to California to work as a blacksmith in the mining camps. After several moves, Pott was living in Thompson Falls in 1884 when he grubstaked prospectors who located the Morning and Evening mines in the Mullan District.

Pott eventually owned residential and business properties in Wallace and Mullan. As a resident of Mullan, he was an early postmaster and the first justice of the peace there, hence the moniker, judge.

In 1889, Judge Pott established Pottsville, Idaho, three to four miles east of Mullan. Pottsville quickly gained a reputation that rivaled the infamous town of Taft, Mont., located about 15 miles east.

The Mullan Tribune of Sept. 5, 1889, reported: “Visitors to the Summit on Sunday afternoon, September 1, were surprised to find a force of men busily engaged in laying out a town-site on the small clearing just this side of the south fork, where the Northern Pacific engineer corps is camped. On Sunday morning the engineers surveyed the plat, named it Tunnel City and began fencing it in at once and by evening had about thirty acres enclosed.

“The railroad boys are in favor of naming the place Tunnel City, but as it has been previously christened 'Pottsville' by some ladies, it is thought that the latter name will prevail.

“The future for the little town looks quite encouraging. Messrs. Pott & White are already running a hotel and general store. Messrs. Lardis & Perkins are fitting up a restaurant. A blacksmith shop and meat market are scheduled.”

The only photo known to exist of the town of Pottsville and a description of the town and its activities will be reported in Part 2.

photo

Photo courtesy of BUTCH JACOBSON COLLECTION

Judge Burd Pott is the man with the white beard and cane in this 1888 photo. Mullan Old Timers that may be in the photo are: Willian Daxon, Howard Burns, Lon Headrick, JA Glowe, CC Earle, James Ingles, John Jutila, Elmer Elfers, Ed Lettrick, James Conner, Charles Fridstead, John Gaffney, Dan Murray, GW March, WY Clubb and Rory Mcleod.

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