Only the invisible state border separates Newport, Washington and Oldtown, Idaho. Both hug the Pend Oreille River about seven miles west of Priest River, Idaho. Newport got its name because it was selected as a landing site for the first steamboat on the Pend Oreille River. That was in 1890, when the landing and Newport were both in Idaho. A depot agent bought 40 acres in Washington and moved the Newport landing there. Since that became the Newport Landing, the residents of the old Newport in Idaho, began calling their little town Oldtown.
Newport, Washington was incorporated in 1903. Oldtown, Idaho became an officially incorporated town in 1947.
Oldtown, back when it was called (sigh) Newport, had a notorious resident who seemed to value money over morals. His name was William Vane. No one knew where he came from but he arrived in the 1890s. He acquired nearly the entire town of (then) Newport, Idaho in a business transaction that has been termed “questionable.” His life would be marked by a series of back and forth court filings on his way to becoming wealthy.
Vane had a relationship with the Great Northern Railroad that could be called contentious. He often profited from the railroad as a landowner, but also got into a fight with them over the location of a railroad track. He claimed the land on which it lay and underlined that claim by blowing up a railcar on the track with dynamite.
The Great Northern saw its profits leaking away on the line to Spokane because of a series of robberies. The Seattle Daily Times reported that a man arrested for selling stolen goods from one of those robberies had confessed he had purchased them from one William Vane. The prosecutor charged Vane with possession of stolen property. Despite that public charge, Vane decided to sue the Seattle paper for $250,000, charging that they had defamed his character.
Vane posted a $12,000 security bond in the possession of stolen property case, then disappeared. A man came forward to say that Vane had drowned in a boating accident. The Feds didn’t buy that. They did a little looking around and found William Vane posing as an Indian on the Kalispell Reservation. They arrested Vane and brought him back to the Pend Oreille County jail. He didn’t last long there. Jailers found him the next morning on death’s door, thanks to strychnine poisoning. Whether he died from his own hand or was murdered is still a subject of some debate.
William Vane is remembered as a scoundrel, but also a man who was once appointed as Justice of the Peace and the man who established the first hospital in town. The old one.
Image: Newport, Idaho was the site of a big Diamond Match Company Mill, which was the reason both water and railroad transportation was needed.