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The History of Coeur d'Alene

A Tourist Town is Born

During the early 1800’s the Northwest Fur Trading Company, a British company under the leadership of David Thompson, began to establish fur trading posts in the Inland Northwest. One of these posts, called Kullyspell House, was built on the northern shore of Lake Pend Oreille. During that time, some of the French speaking traders began to use the French words “Coeur d’Alene” as a nickname for the Schitsu’umsh people, who traded at Kullyspell House. In French “Coeur” means heart and “Alene” means awl, a sharp pointed tool used to pierce leather. In other words, they were known as sharp traders with hearts like the point of an awl. 

Within a few years the Schitsu’umsh people became known as the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, and the large lake which was the center of their homeland became Lake Coeur d’Alene.

     In 1878, General William T. Sherman established a military fort on the northern shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene, which he named Fort Coeur d’Alene. While the fort was under construction, a small village began to develop on the eastern edge of the fort. That was the beginning of Coeur d’Alene, the City by the Lake. The name of the fort was later changed to Fort Sherman, which is now the location of North Idaho College.

     The city of Coeur d’Alene was incorporated in 1887. Early visitors found Coeur d’Alene Lake to be one of the most beautiful lakes in the country. As the railroads and steamboats provided transportation points between the Coeur d’Alene Lake, the St. Joe and Coeur d’Alene Rivers, it soon became a destination for thousands of tourists. Camping, hunting, boating and fishing were popular pastimes. Lodges, hotels, campgrounds, attractions, and the transportation industry developed to accommodate the influx of visitors.

     In the early 1900s a major timber boom caused the population to increase 16 fold in a period of 10 years. The city expanded from a small frontier village into the political and business center of Kootenai County. It became the county seat in 1908.