Little town of Republic at the center of gun controversy
The gun law controversy swirling around the town of Republic, Washington has many people — OK, that might be an exaggeration — it has ME wondering about the history of this far-from-Seattle Evergreen State community that dates to a gold rush way back in the 19th century.
Republic is the county seat of Ferry County, which was created in 1899 in what’s now the upper right part of the state, way up in the northeast corner near Canada and Idaho (though neighboring Pend Oreille County occupies the actual northeast corner).
Republic’s county is named for Elisha P. Ferry, who, coincidentally, was inaugurated 129 years ago this week as the first governor of the state of Washington. Ferry had also served as governor during the Territorial Era, and is the only person to have served in both capacities.
The WPA guide to Washington, published nearly 80 years ago, describes Republic as “hidden in the folds of the Okanogan Highlands and the Kettle River Range.” Population then was 710 people; in 2017, it was 1,062.
“Place Names of Washington” author Robert Hitchman writes this about Republic:
Town in the Eureka Gulch mining district, near the head of the San Poil River at the confluence of Granite Creek, 25 miles south of the Canadian border, Ferry County. This town, the most important in the county, was once called “Republic Camp” [for the name of the company formed to work the mine]; the area on Eureka Creek is sometimes called “Old Town” or “North Republic.”
The dramatic history of Republic hinges around early-day mining. After a rich gold strike on Eureka Creek, the town was established by a group of 60 miners as “The Mining District of Eureka,” and platted by Philip Creasor. At about the same time, another rich strike was made on Granite Creek [by John Welty]. By 1900, [Republic] had become the sixth [largest] city in eastern Washington, with the usual town facilities, including 28 saloons and two dance halls.
Postal authorities refused the name of Eureka for the post office because a town existed with that name in Clark County. The present name was proposed by citizens to honor the Great Republic [company’s] mining claim.
In the late 1930s, according to the WPA guide, a few modern structures had been added to Republic by that time, but “the town retains a flavor of the Old West along its main street, with an ancient ‘opry house,’ now a motion picture theater, balconied and false-fronted buildings, and old-time bars untouched by the fire of 1938, which razed a section of the street.”
The tantalizing yet hopelessly dated WPA guide entry for Republic continues, “Several gold mines operate more or less sporadically along a mile and a half of gulch leading northward from the end of main street. Visitors are admitted at the discretion of the foreman in charge but must sign a liability waiver.”
If you’re up for making a visit to see what might remain of Republic’s 19th century charm – or 1930s charm, for that matter – Google Maps says it’s exactly 300 miles from Seattle City Hall to downtown Republic. You should be able to make it in just over five hours, once you can escape Seattle traffic.