Bovill, Idaho – An Early 20th Century Classic

Bovill Idaho - An early 20th century classic

This building was a hub of activity and hospitality in its day.

July 2022 – The temperatures in central Washington near Chelan and Entiat had been climbing throughout our visit, and when the highs topped 100, it was time for us to leave! Our choices for cooler temps were to head either to the coast or to the mountains. We decided to scoot across Washington’s farmlands and aim for the tall mountains of Idaho. On our way, we made a brief stop in Coulee City Community Park in Washington.

Marsh at Coulee City Park

Washington’s Coulee City Community Park.

Coulee City Community Park sits on the edge of Banks Lake and is a welcome oasis in an otherwise dry (though irrigated) land.

Coulee City Community Park

The park has lovely views of the Lake.

Kids were playing on a raft in the lake, and the haunting cry of seagulls filled the air. This was such a delight after driving through endless wheat fields!

Raft at Coulee City Park

Cooling off on a hot summer day.

Seagull at Coulee City Park Washington

What a surprise to hear and see seagulls in the middle of wheat field country!

We enjoyed a cool breeze as the sun sank lower in the sky, and we found a campsite on “the island,” a peninsula at one end of the park where we had a wonderful view of the lake under the protective shade of a row of tall trees.

Picnic tables at Coulee City Park Washington

This was a nice place to unwind and cool down at the end of the day.

RV at Coulee City Park Washington

Home for a night.

Over the next few days, we took secondary roads across Washington, jumped on I-90 for a few minutes and then dropped south towards Idaho’s tallest mountains on US-95.

We turned east on the super crazy squirrely Route 5 that goes across the bottom of Chatcolet Lake, and then we suddenly remembered we’d made the same exact mistake of taking this road towing a big fifth wheel trailer 15 years prior, oops! From there, we continued south on Route 3.

These were narrow and winding roads, and although it looked like they might be scenic on the map, they proved not to be particularly so. However, we did come across a small waterfall labeled “PB Waterfall” on Google Maps.

Waterfall in Idaho

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As I’ve mentioned before, we travel very slowly, stopping every 30 to 40 miles to stretch our legs, let Buddy run around a bit, and have a look around.

Starting before breakfast one morning, twisty Route 3 brought us to some interesting looking buildings, and we decided to stop for a bite to eat and check them out.

It turned out to be the town of Bovill, Idaho, home to 256 people, and the first thing that caught our eye was the inviting brick Elk Saloon building that had a pretty corner entrance with hanging flower baskets out front.

Elk Salon Bovill Idaho

The Elk Saloon in Bovill, Idaho.

Next to the Elk Saloon was a row of buildings. It was too early for them to be open, but we were intrigued by the old style of the buildings. The blue-gray one on the left was another tavern and the red one on the right had a sign saying, “E.K. Parker 1914.”

Store fronts in Bovill Idaho

Storefronts dating to 1914 in Bovill, Idaho.

There was a big grassy park with a really nice RV dump station that had separate spigots for drinking water and non-potable water. On the opposite side of the lawn we saw the City Hall building.

City Hall in Bovill Idaho

City Hall

Taped to the City Hall door was a small, unsigned, hand-written note: “Not feeling well. At home today.” So any pressing business we might have had with City Hall would have to wait til tomorrow or the next day. We had to smile!

At the edge of the park — which was the edge of town with large fields beyond — there were the remains of a train track switching station. The rest of the tracks had been removed and there was now a gravel path instead. There was something very nostalgic about the tracks and the weeds poking through.

Train tracks in Bovill Idaho

The train tracks had become a gravel trail but this switching station remained.

Train signal Bovill Idaho

Sign of another time.

We were really liking this town. We were the only people out and about at that early hour, so we didn’t have a chance to chat with anyone. But there was something very authentic and homey about the place. We wondered what the history was.

We hadn’t had any internet access for two days, and there appeared to be none for us here, so the mystery of Bovill’s origins would have to wait for later research.

One of the buildings that first made us pull over was across the street from the Elk Saloon: an old Conoco gas station.

Bovill Idaho Elk Tavern and Conoco Inn

The Elk Tavern and the Conoco service station.

As we walked over to it, we marveled at the tiny size of the gas station.

A hand painted sign in the window said, “Welcome to Conoco Inn…Nightly, Weekly, Monthly.” How fun!

Old Conoco Gas Station Bovill Idaho

This is now the Conoco Inn! How did a car ever fit under that awning?

There were flower pots out in front of the gas station, and each one had a homemade fountain made from a beer tap handle!

Tap handle flower pot

What a creative use of old tap handles!

Behind the gas station was an old building with a Conoco sign on it too. The front of the building had huge doors for large vehicles while the back of the building had a smaller man door with another antique sign advertising Conoco products.

This was the real deal.

Old Conoco Service Station Bovill Idaho

Behind the gas station was this Conoco building.

Back of Conoco Service Station in Bovill Idaho

The rear entrance to the Conoco building — friendly service.

We were having a blast taking photos, so we circled around to the brick building again. The sign near the front door said, “Elk Saloon” while the sign on the side door said, “Elk Tavern.” Hmm. Either way, this looked like a really fun place to spend a few late afternoon hours.

Elk Tavern Bovill Idaho

The Elk Tavern has a very inviting front entry!

Elk Tavern Bovill Idaho

The side door called it the “Elk Tavern” and had a painting of an elk!

A sign in the window explained what the Elk Tavern (or Saloon) was all about.

Sign in Elk Tavern Bovill Idaho

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High on one wall there was an old Pepsi sign.

Pepsi sign on Elk Tavern building in Bovill Idaho

From another era…

We felt like we were stepping back in time to the 1950s and 60s. An old truck that sported body panels of different colors (from a variety of other trucks, no doubt) caught Mark’s eye.

Old truck

Shades of the Johnny Cash song, One Piece at a Time! (listen here)

Back at the grassy park, we noticed a memorial plaque that honored the Bovill men of the Potlatch Forests who had served in the military and the National Guard.

Honor plaque for veterans from Potlatch Forests Bovill Idaho

A plaque honoring all the military and National Guard members of the community.

Up on a hill, set back from the park, we saw an immense house that was in a serious state of disrepair. It looked like it had been quite a building in its heyday.

Later on, we discovered that Bovill was settled in the early 1900s by Hugh and Charlotte Bovill, English immigrants of aristocratic ancestry who were intrigued by the American West and came to this area to become ranchers.

They were successful in their ranching quest, and their town of Bovill began to attract homesteaders as well as loggers and sportsmen. To serve them, they built and operated the Bovill Hotel which is the oldest building in Bovill today.

And that building turned out to be the huge “house” we had seen on the hill!

Bovill Hotel the oldest building in Bovill Idaho

The Bovill Hotel is the oldest building in town.

Just beyond the Conoco Inn we came across the post office. It dated back to 1914 and still serves Bovill today. We learned that the railroad came to Bovill right around that time too, opening the door to ranching and logging commerce.

Bovill Idaho Post Office built in 1914

The post office building was built in 1914

A little further on, we came across Camas Prairie Winery which is housed in an old historic building. It was still too early for the winery to be open, sigh, so we contented ourselves with looking at it from the outside.

Camas Prairie Wine in Bovill Idaho

Camas Prairie Winery

Happy campers

Mark got all three of us together in this pic!

We couldn’t resist peering in the windows of the winery. And what a delightful interior it was, fully decorated in an antique style. What a great place to savor a glass of wine and ponder the lives and lifestyles of the old American West!

Interior of the Wine Bar in Bovill Idaho

The Wine Bar inside Camas Prairie Winery was a wonderful homage to earlier times.

A little further down the road we came across the old Opera House. Wow! Bovill had an Opera House back in the day! It was built in 1911.

Bovill Opera House built in 1911

In 1911 this building was the new Opera House in Bovill. Imagine the excitement in town!

As we wandered back towards the town park, we couldn’t help but marvel at how completely intact the town remained. So many towns have demolished their historic buildings and quite a bit of their own history along with them.

Later on, we discovered we had just missed Bovill’s annual “Old Timer’s Picnic” by a few days. We also found out that the old original jail house stands next to the City Hall and that the old Catholic Church and old Schoolhouse are worth a peek too. We sure wished we had seen those buildings as well. Oh well, next time!

These few hours of meandering about in a village-sized town that we’d never heard of before were utterly fulfilling. Little glimpses of American history like this (even when we don’t know the full story until later) often give us the most satisfying and memorable highlights in our travels.

Eventually, we got off of twisty Route 3 and onto US-95 which is a major north-south thoroughfare in Idaho. What Route 3 had lacked in scenery was totally made up for in jaw-dropping landscapes on US-95 as we descended from White Bird Summit down fabulous sweeping turns. Fantastically patterned hillsides filled our view and kept our mouths agape the whole way down.

Just before this descent, we stopped at White Bird Summit to take a photo of what proved to be the beginning of these incredible views, and we were joined by a group of motorcyclists. There were many more pullouts on the descent but they aren’t well signed and it’s hard to stop a large toy hauler flying downhill! We breezed past one pullout we didn’t notice until the it was too late that seemed to offer the most dramatic patterns of the whole drive. It was just a few miles south of the summit. I believe that pullout is the White Bird Battlefield Historical Landmark.

White Bird Summit Rest Area Idaho

White Bird Hill Summit. The views got a whole lot better after this!

If you find yourself in this remote part of Idaho, be sure to stop in Bovill. Have a pint of beer for us at the Elk Tavern (Saloon) and sample a little wine for us over at Camas Prairie Winery!

Hmmm… Maybe you should spread those particular pleasures out over a few hours, and/or stay at the Bovill City RV park for the night (ask about it at the City Hall…if they’re open!)!

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8 thoughts on “Bovill, Idaho – An Early 20th Century Classic

  1. How much fun and interesting it is to find these gems, and to have the ability to stop for a bit and take it all in! I love the pictures, especially the one with Mark’s reflection in the door window! Nice job getting in on the memory, Mark!
    Although we haven’t yet been able to adventure the roads less traveled yet, I do love to get out and hike in new and unknown to me areas as often as I can. In the past year, a friend has introduced me to an old gold mine located deep in the back woods of Georgia, as well as an old community and church that time forgot many years ago. I have found a few old cemeteries and even an old civil war era factory within a short drive from our new retirement home base. Only a very few adventurous souls even know these places exist, even those that live very close to them. The last hike I did with my friend, he took me to a burial mound located on the highest point in the area over-looking a river. It had gone unnoticed by all but a few of the locals until the past several years. I didn’t know what to expect, but it was clear to me what it was as soon as I laid eyes on it. Another secret held deep in the Georgia woods known only by a few adventurers. My hiking friend is a historian, and when he was told about the site and visited it the first time, he was so amazed that he contacted a friend with the University of Georgia and told them about the mound. UGA sent a group that confirmed that it was indeed a ritual burial site. Now the cool part…this mound is within 5 miles of my home, as is the civil war era factory. My historian friend Bill turned 90 this year and grew up in the area. He is fit and takes great care of himself. He loves having an interested friend to share all of the treasures he has spent a lifetime discovering. How lucky am I to have a friend like Bill! At 90, he can walk me into the ground, even the uneven trails less traveled in the woods of NE Georgia. Maybe I need to get a good camera and start a blog!!
    Thanks again for sharing your finds and adventures as you travel your road less traveled. I really enjoy every one of the blogs and always love seeing the email announcing the next new one has hit the in-box.

    • How fascinating and what good fortune you have such a knowledgeable, energetic and fine friend to show you these hidden gems near your new home. Age is just a number, as your friend proves! Cemeteries and burial mounds are loaded with history, and many are very beautiful and thought provoking. We love wandering through cemeteries and pondering the lives commemorated there. Our friend Bob who made all the fun magazine covers with Buddy on them writes a wonderful blog with two of his friends that’s all about cemetery art. He’s a photographer and the stories and photos on his blog are intriguing and very artistically presented: CemeteryArt.net. Definitely get a camera and start shooting and sharing your stories, and have fun hiking with your friend!

  2. Oh, those hidden, thought-provoking gems ! Yet another “find”….. Hard to grasp that THIS was America – the back-story of our ancestors. Can’t help but wonder if any present-day Bovill residents (the ones who wrote the intriguing signs) are direct descendants. Next visit – sampling those local beverages…
    Love, Mom

    • I’m sure there are people in the area whose ancestors were among the first settlers. I’d love to know more about what it was like when the railway came to town and then how things changed to make the tracks eventually convert to a rails-to-trails path. I’m sure if we’d stayed longer we would have heard some great local tales over a pint or a glass of wine!

  3. I love these “out-of-the-way” places we get to visit through your lens!! This one is full of character and quiet charm! I pull up the map and follow along on the route – just in case I ever get out that way – it might jog my memory!! Thanks for sharing – so happy you are writing and posting again! 🙂

    • Thanks, Deborah. You know, it’s funny that most of the time, even when we plan things out in some degree of detail, the best things are the surprises. We had no idea 15 minutes before we stopped in Bovill that we’d soon be arriving in a place that would totally captivate us. And maybe if we’d arrived at a different hour or in different weather we wouldn’t have been as charmed, but at that moment and in that setting our spirits were moved. Thanks for coming along with us on these unusual exploits!

    • The buildings were very cool. We also loved the train tracks. We stood there for a long time looking at the railroad ties (some were partially removed) and the railroad spikes. It is incredible to realize that these were all installed by hand, with the rails perfectly parallel for the whole distance. We were singing, “I’ve been working on the railway” for the next few days, filled with awe at the men who installed the tracks from coast to coast (as well as all the spurs) so many years ago. By the way, the HDR processing on the photos of the buildings was deliberate.

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