by Howard Kent
In 1897 when parties of surveyors were observed in the area, rumors of another railroad began to circulate. The rumors became fact the following year.
The Kootenai Valley Railroad, a subsidiary of the Great Northern Railroad, connected Bonners Ferry to the southern end of Kootenay Lake at a location known as Kuskanook Landing. The route followed the east side of the Kootenai Valley to Porthill and into British Columbia. Passengers and freight made connections at Porthill, Rykerts, and Kuskanook Landing. From those points steamboats made stops at different locations around Kootenai Lake. James Hill, president of the Great Northern, had several steamboats operating on the lake.
A spur was built off the Great Northern Railroad west of Bonners Ferry to a point just above Galena Landing. A drawbridge was built where the sewer line crosses the river today. The drawbridge allowed passage of the steamboats, which ironically were put out of business by the railroads. The drawbridge was replaced with a fixed railroad bridge in 1912. Construction, which began in 1898 involved over a thousand laborers, requiring numerous camps along the route. A group of unhappy Italian laborers attempted a strike for higher wages. Although most of the demonstrations were peaceful, a couple of incidents involved knives and guns, but no one was killed. The Strike fizzled and the ringleaders were either fired or run off.
Most of the rockwork was at the north end of the line. Trestles were built across the creek, which flowed from the hills into the river. The Copeland area was named for a popular railroad superintendent and a depot was built at Porthill.
The KV line was completed in 1899. Passenger and freight service to Kuskanook continued until 1913, when the termination point became Porthill. Hill had the rails and ties removed from the beds from Rykerts to Kuskanook Landing and his steamboats removed from service. Politics and competition from Canadian railroads caused the change. The old roadbed became part of the highway to Creston.
A trip from Bonners Ferry to Porthill was about four hours with frequent stops and regular derailments. The local work crew, a colorful bunch, sometimes stopped to hunt and fish along the way.
Although passenger service was discontinued in 1914, the railway continued to serve the residents of the Kootenai Valley until the 1970s. The KV transported ore from the Continental Mine, agricultural products from the valley and logs from the forests to connecting points, returning with the mail for the residents.
Today, the Kootenai Valley Railroad is a memory. Gone are the bridge, trestles, ties, and rails, leaving hints of the old roadbed and in a few places faded painted advertisements on rock walls. Some still remember the toot of the whistle across the valley.