The story of Northport, Washington

~ Northport, Washington ~

The town of Northport Washington, located approximately 7 miles south of the Canadian border, sprung up during the late 1800’s mining boom. Due to several surrounding mines it was the the perfect location for a smelter. That, along with the construction of the railroad, helped to create the town of Northport, once known as “one of the rowdiest mining camps in Washington”.

When driving down from the Canadian border you can pull over and get a clear look at most of the town and the mighty Columbia River.

The river flows right through the town and the surrounding ranches and farms. It is a breathtaking view. Mother nature helps paint the landscape with thick, rich green trees in the summer, their leaves slowly changing into the beautiful colors of fall, colors so amazing you would think they only existed on a painters paintbrush, created by the luck of mixing just the right amount of just the right colors of paint. Winter gradually sneaks in and the town appears to almost fall asleep. The sound of the rushing river seems to become louder as the town grows quieter with each falling leaf.  Eventually most of the trees are barren. The sky turns a soft grayish violet hue, a color that might be part of the reason the town slows down and makes everyone want to stay in and enjoy a warm fire. The smoke billowing from the small house’s chimneys only adds to the atmosphere that invites hibernation.

Northport is a community of families, some carrying with them the original settlers’ last names as well as their ancestors fighting spirit and determination to stay on the land they so love.  The town itself seems to have a spirit and determination of its own. When the town was first settled it seemed determined to drive away the spirited, hardworking, stubborn people who fought so hard to stay.

Within the first year a forest fire ripped through Northport, destroying everything in its path. The town quickly recovered, in part due to the completion of the railroad that same year. With all the jobs the railroad and smelter were creating Northport was rebuilt even bigger and better than before. Unfortunately, several more fires would burn through the tough little town. Once the smoke had cleared, all that remained in each fire’s extinguished path were piles of ashes and the sweat stained faces of those stubborn mining families, their determination to stay growing more ignited after every blaze.

However, due to labor problems and the  owner selling the rights, the LeRoi smelter was closed a few short years after it began production.

So, like most booming mining camps, it went from a growing town full of excitement and hope to a ghost town. Many people mistakenly think the term “ghost town” refers to towns who’s only remaining “residents” are actual ghosts. In actuality the term “ghost town” is used to describe towns that seemed to become empty almost overnight, due to the closure of the mine, smelter, or factory that supplied much of the town’s employment.

After the departing residents dust settled, what was left was a ghost of what the town once was. The town’s bustling main street became an unused dirt road, lined with dark and empty store fronts and buildings. Vacated houses sat side by side, the gardens overgrown and the empty clothes lines a painful reminder to the remaining town residents of the loss of so many friends. The residents that remained would fondly dwell on their stories of what the town once was and of the people, now long gone, who had made it the community it had been.

Several of the original structures of Northport still stand today because, ironically, after the last devastating fire destroyed the town the residents had rebuilt the commercial buildings with brick.

Except for Kuk’s Tavern, the town’s watering hole. It never had to be rebuilt.  The wood structure managed to stand unscathed after each fire, not to mention it had been rolled up the hill of Main Street on logs in the early 1900′s to distance itself from the river and the threat of flooding each spring.

The tavern stands on top of that same hill still today. It hosts one of the most exciting nights of the week, Taco Tuesday. Every Tuesday the stubborn, hardworking, determined residents of Northport gather at Kuk’s for the two tacos for one dollar deal and to visit with old friends and neighbors.

Most of the patron’s friendships span well over 50 years, beginning on a sandy bank by the river or the city park when, as toddlers, their parents introduced them to each other.

One of the reasons the town of Northport is so unique is because of these lifelong friendships. Lifelong friends share the joys and misery of adolescents, the boys sharing the thrill and fear of being sent off to the war with a hero’s departure as the girl’s waved goodbye with one hand and with the other they desperately clutched with their friend’s hand for support. They held their heads high and kept their eyes dry, with a strength so relentless I have, to this day, only witnessed it in the women of Northport. Then they all shared in the deep sense of relief, pride and joy as they were reunited with their lifelong pals and loved ones, back from their tours of duty. They also wept and mourned those dear friends who they would not get the chance to welcome back.

Life moved forward with decades of ups and downs, happy times and sad ones. Struggling to survive in hard years and bad crops, or when no jobs were to be found. Each resident either had a friend or was that friend who gave all they could to make sure the other friend made it through the tough times. Nothing needed to be said about how the favor would be repaid, no agreements needed to be signed, the favor would be returned, without hesitation, if and when the same trouble would fall upon the other.

As they watched their children grow they also witnessed the friendships deepen and grow between their friend’s children and their own children. Soon the oldest siblings equipped them with plenty of willing babysitters so the parents would kick up their heels at the local Grange Hall Dances every Saturday night. For at least one evening a week all in the world seemed right. They were with beloved friends and family in their home town, living and working on THEIR land. The land that, after pouring their blood, sweat, tears and a few curse words, and countless prayers into, finally seemed not only to be cooperating, but possibly feeling the same bond, respect and love their owners had come to feel for it.

So went life. Their children graduated and moved on to start their own families, or stayed in Northport to follow a similar path their parents and grandparents had. No matter what path they took, or where life lead them, they did their best to keep in touch with each other, all friends since toddlers, much like their parents had been. The visits home eventually became further and farther between. But no matter the amount of time, be it 3 years of 30, when they do return home for reunions or Labor Day festivities, the now middle-aged men, become young boys again, smiling ear to ear when they recognize each other. With a hard hand shake, they says more with the intensity of their grip then any hug or words ever could. They are friendships few of us will ever be so lucky to have. With the women, when reunited, it is usually happy screeches and crushing hugs and laughter that speak the words of the years of memories and secrets they share. Many of their parents, some siblings, as well as shared friends, have been gone years now, most much to early from diseases and illnesses that the community is well aware might have been prevented.  However, the hardworking, stubborn, determined residents of Northport do not waste their time on thoughts of self-pity. They play the hand life dealt them, thankful they are still in the game, and gracious when it is their time to fold.

Another rare aspect of the towns deep seeded friendships is the unwavering loyalty they feel toward each other. One memory I have of Northport, which will remain crystal clear in my memory and my heart for the rest of my life, was also the first time I truly understood what real friendship and a real community was. As we were coming out of the church at the end of my Grandfather, Louie Paparich’s, funeral service I looked up and, overwhelmed with emotion and confusion, it took me a moment to realize what I was seeing. Rows and rows of people were sitting in folding chairs or standing solemnly, filling the street in front of the church. Countless men and women, all lifelong friends of my Grandfathers. As I walked down the church steps I noticed speakers on the last step, set up so these old friends could share in remembering the stories of his life as retold by family and friends in the church during the service. To this day every time I attend church services while  in Northport I stop on the steps of the Catholic church and look out to the street that had been lined with his beloved friends that day and I take a moment to remember what real friendship, and a true community looks like.

If you are ever in Northport on a Tuesday evening I recommend you swing by Kuk’s. You can’t miss it, just look for the tall grey building that leans slightly to the right, it is just off main streeet standing atop the hill where it was rolled up to over 100 years ago.  Or just listen for the sound of laughter and bits of conversations, escaping through the tavern’s door, propped open to let in the cool summer breeze and to welcome any stranger who might wander by. Once inside you can listen in as the residents tell stories of the old days, people gone but not forgotten, or just funny jokes and memories they have retold each other a few hundred times over the years.

Before driving away make sure to take a moment and glance back at the tall, unbreakable tavern full of unbreakable spirits, of an unbreakable community.  Listen to the choir of crickets singing in the soft, warm summer evening breeze, the rush of the  mighty Columbia River adding to the comforting, magical sound that flows through the old streets and buildings of this little ghost town.  You may catch a glimpse of what that rowdy little mining camp looked like over a century ago, and then you just might understand why they all fought so hard to stay.

~ Jamie Paparich 

19 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Phyllis Douglas on July 8, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    My grandparents had a bakery/pool hall combination in 1920. Is there anyway to tell where it was? They lived there at least 2 years. My 93 year old mother and her brother were born there.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Josie Ahearn on June 13, 2014 at 11:01 pm

    My grandfather Fredric Leon Mitchell was born around Northport in 1885. Mitchel Road, Mitchell Mountain and Mitchell point were named after his family. Grandfather horse logged along the Columbia River and when a young boy rode on horse back to the American Canadian border and shot a hole in the border line post! He was employed on the construction of the Great Northern Railroad at 14 years of age. He fished Salmon in the Columbia River before dams were put in.

    Reply

  3. That was amazing piece that u wrote Jamie, I have so many find memories of growing up n Northport , I’m for ever telling people that they r missing so much living n the big city’s . Planning on moving back as soon as my husband retires….:)

    Reply

  4. Love this small town All my life been to Deep lake and then Northport . Now live 10 miles away love it

    Reply

  5. Posted by Audrey(Sell,Weilep) Fleming on February 28, 2014 at 7:41 pm

    The person inquiring about Archie McCammoron. Archie Sr. lived in Colville and he worked for the state highway dept. He used to cone in to my parents Tavern/Sell’s Shell Service Station all the time. He has relatives in Colville, I think one owns the Beuna Vista nursing facility. Hope this helps.

    Reply

  6. Posted by Mickeal Okeefe on February 27, 2014 at 10:47 am

    I grew up in this little town and many generation of my family lived there I have many fond memmories and some not so fond of living there thanks Jamie for reminding me of the past I went to school with your sister I believe Stevie or maybe she was an aunt not sure most will not remember me but some will remember my dad Jack OKeefe or his dad Luke or my brothers Dennis or Pat and my sisters Dorren , Colleen , Molly ,Kathy , and Janeen

    Reply

  7. Posted by Dan Breznai on December 16, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    Wow, thank you for the beautiful stories and human interaction. Congratulations to all Northport residents for sustaining your strong family and community values through so many generations.

    I found your site while researching your area. I am retiring very soon. My plans are to move from the chaos and sirens of the I-5 corridor to a more tranquil and safer area, such as Northport. If I get lucky and find a new home near Northport that fits my needs (and budget). I promise do my best to volunteer and contribute what I can to your great community. And to respect your family and community values.

    Reply

  8. Posted by Geri Walker on September 2, 2012 at 10:18 pm

    That was such a sweet and endearing story. Northport will always tug at my heart strings. Chuck and I lived in Northport and Deep Creek many years. It’s wonderful to have a community so loving and caring. I love going to Northpot and stoping llby The Mustang Grill,but ‘back in the day’ it was Annie News Cafe. It would be fun to travel back in memory lane to the ‘good old days’. Thank you for the wonderful story about you and your grandfather.

    Reply

  9. Posted by Shayla on February 9, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    I cannot thank you enough for writing this….I am in the eigth grade and I am doing a school project on Northport. There was so much info on Northport in this and I fully enjoyed reading. Im Stephanie and Levi’s younger daughter Shayla

    Shayla
    shotgunlover98@gmail.com
    68.186.74.213
    Submitted on 2012/02/09 at 7:38 pm
    I cannot thank you enough for writing this….I am in the eigth grade and I am doing a school project on Northport. There was so much info on Northport in this and I fully enjoyed reading. Im Stephanie and Levi’s younger daughter Shayla
    ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________

    Submitted on 2012/02/26 at 12:06 pm | In reply to Shayla.

    Hi Shayla –
    Thank you for all the support you and your family have given me. It is actually because of you and your brother that The Northport Project even exists.

    A few months after I began The Northport Project in 2008, I was so frustrated with the lies and misconceptions the DOH and EPA had told the kind people of Northport, along with the difficulty in getting past and present residents to fill out health questionnaires in order to move forward, I almost just gave up.

    It was then that your Mom e-mailed me and told me of your brother’s diagnosis with Ulcerative Colitis and about your struggle with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. That was the push I needed to not only keep going but to start pushing harder for the information the DOH and EPA were trying to avoid providing me and to push the past and present Northport residents to take the time to complete the questionnaires, necessary to get the information necessary to get epidemiological studies done in the area. Two years later we were able to get two physicians from the Crohn’s & Colitis Center at Massachusetts General Hospital to conduct the first phase of their epidemiological study of Northport residents, past and present, diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s disease. The Northport IBD Study, (designed specifically for Northport), just concluded phase I of this study, in which the physicians were able to conclude that there is a health cluster of these diseases currently in the community, and that there has been a consistent cluster of these diseases since approx. 1955-60. With this information they are currently preparing an abstract, which will be used to obtain grants and funding for phase II, and eventually a manuscript of their findings. The results of this study could very likely help in discovering the cause, or specific triggers, of Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s disease, still unknown to the medical and scientific community.

    So it is you I should be thanking. It is because of your Mom and her description of the suffering both you and your brother have endured so courageously. As well as your parents unselfishness to contact me to contribute whatever information they could in order to ensure this did not happen to any other children. They were not looking to blame anyone, or for compensation for the pain and suffering your family had endured (although they have every right to!), they honestly just wanted to help.

    So thank you sweetie – and please feel free to e-mail me anytime – jamie_paparich@hotmail.com

    Sincerely,
    Jamie Paparich

    Reply

    • Hi Shayla –
      Thank you for all the support you and your family have given me. It is actually because of you and your brother that The Northport Project even exists.

      A few months after I began The Northport Project in 2008, I was so frustrated with the lies and misconceptions the DOH and EPA had told the kind people of Northport, along with the difficulty in getting past and present residents to fill out health questionnaires in order to move forward, I almost just gave up.

      It was then that your Mom e-mailed me and told me of your brother’s diagnosis with Ulcerative Colitis and about your struggle with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. That was the push I needed to not only keep going but to start pushing harder for the information the DOH and EPA were trying to avoid providing me and to push the past and present Northport residents to take the time to complete the questionnaires, necessary to get the information necessary to get epidemiological studies done in the area. Two years later we were able to get two physicians from the Crohn’s & Colitis Center at Massachusetts General Hospital to conduct the first phase of their epidemiological study of Northport residents, past and present, diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s disease. The Northport IBD Study, (designed specifically for Northport), just concluded phase I of this study, in which the physicians were able to conclude that there is a health cluster of these diseases currently in the community, and that there has been a consistent cluster of these diseases since approx. 1955-60. With this information they are currently preparing an abstract, which will be used to obtain grants and funding for phase II, and eventually a manuscript of their findings. The results of this study could very likely help in discovering the cause, or specific triggers, of Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn’s disease, still unknown to the medical and scientific community.

      So it is you I should be thanking. It is because of your Mom and her description of the suffering both you and your brother have endured so courageously. As well as your parents unselfishness to contact me to contribute whatever information they could in order to ensure this did not happen to any other children. They were not looking to blame anyone, or for compensation for the pain and suffering your family had endured (although they have every right to!), they honestly just wanted to help.

      So thank you sweetie – and please feel free to e-mail me anytime – jamie_paparich@hotmail.com

      Reply

  10. Posted by charlesdietsch on November 9, 2011 at 5:16 pm

    I am looking for proof of a birth dated 12 apr 1907 for an Archie Cameron,Jr. Parents were Archie Cameron and Marion I. Carter Cameron. Can you help me find any information or documents (newspapers, hospital records? Thank you

    Reply

  11. Wow what words of wonder. Thank you for posting the blog and fighting for Northport and her people. Warm thoughts and fond memories of my days below Rock Hill.

    Reply

  12. Posted by Gwen on December 18, 2010 at 11:43 am

    I remember many happy summers visiting my grandmother Irene, great-aunt & Uncle Lenore and Alex. Northport will always have a special place in my heart.

    Reply

    • Posted by Linda M Coleman Hunt on November 20, 2011 at 7:48 am

      I will always call Northport my home town no matter where in the world my life takes me,
      My memories take me to sledding on Rock Hill,I swear it was a much bigger hill than it is now. The old log gymn the brick grade school.Mrs Leadens the schooll cook her homemade rolls. Mrs.Maxfield ,Mrs.Rowe,Mrs, LeClaire,Mrs. Striker wow could she swing that paddle !! And friends , I’m loving Facebook because I’ve come in contact with friends from my childhood.Does anyone remember when Mrs.Hartenbower made us write our names on a list when we came Trick or Treating so she could check and make sure we didn’t come back again for more candy ? May this little town prosper and not be devided by petty little things you see your neighbor do.
      May the Columbia River flow forever.
      Thanks for being my friend. Linda Coleman Hunt

      Reply

  13. Posted by LorI on December 5, 2010 at 9:40 am

    This is an awesome story of a strong and determined little town.
    I was fortunate to have been able to call the area my home for a few years. I was married into the Phillips family and the BEST PART for me was to have Mike and Chic as my ‘grandparents’ and wonderful beautiful great grandparents to my daughter Jami Rose.
    Thanx for posting this Rose….it brings back lots of fun memories!

    Reply

  14. Posted by Rose Paparich-Kalamarides on December 4, 2010 at 9:23 pm

    Thanks Jamie. I love you!

    Reply

  15. Posted by Gail Leaden on November 11, 2010 at 7:55 pm

    So glad to see that someone is finally fighting for this community and its citizens! Long overdue. Thank you for getting the word out and bringing these issues to light. It’s long overdue and well deserved.

    Reply

  16. Yes! Northport definitely has a wonderful and lasting spirit. This blog has great information on what is currently happening to this town. Please keep updating!

    Reply

    • Posted by Janet (Sell) Gregson on November 11, 2010 at 7:50 pm

      I enjoyed your post and I think of all of the family and friends from Northport. It is a unique little town that I still call home.

      Reply

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