On my grand adventure along the St. Joe River Byway I came across the small town of Avery. Situated right in the center of the Idaho Panhandle National Forest, Avery is a beautiful town with a rich history. To be honest, I almost missed it. Avery is a very small place. As you come along the road passing right through town its beauty captivates you and in an instant you could miss the historical train depot right in the center of town.
Avery was developed in 1906 with the construction of the Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Paul Railway line. The town was named after Avery Rockefeller (of THAT family) because his father owned stock in the railroad. Avery was designated a major division point on the railroad as it was being built across the nation.
I have to put a side note here. **Avery has a rich history. One of the really interesting facts I uncovered about the area is the story of the Big Burn.
In 1910 the fire season started early. Spring and summer were dry…really dry and the summer weather was hot. On August 20 a cold front blew in bringing hurricane force winds. Lightening started several small fires that quickly got wind-whipped into on blazing inferno. There are many names for this fire. “The Big Burn”, “The Big Blowup” or “The Devil’s Broom Fire”. Once thing is for sure, it is believed to be the deadliest forest fire in U.S. history!
In two days the fire burned 2 ½ million acres of forest land. Can you imagine? In two days! During the fire it was estimated that a 20 mile solid line of fire was headed towards the town of Avery. When the fire loomed over the town, it looked pretty hopeless. They just didn’t have any warning. The railroad was able to evacuate 200 residents over to Washington, but a handful of railroad employees stayed behind to try and save the town. They built backfires and when they crawled from their shelters many hours later, they had managed to save the town. Only one structure burnt. However, the fire claimed the lives of 20 firefighters northwest of the community.**
Amazing right! Now as you pull into Avery, off to the left (if you are coming from St. Maries) is the Avery Museum Complex. The complex includes the former Milwaukee Rail Depot, a fish pond and a Twin Grove rail car. Within the rail car are historic photographs and museum pieces. It is like walking back in time. It was built in 1947 and operated between Chicago and St. Paul. The history has been painstakingly preserved. The depot houses a museum room, library, and the town Post Office.
The fish pond was built by the railroad in the first few years of operation and is now stocked with some extremely large rainbow trout. The kiddos can purchase fish food to feed them.
The entire complex was built in 1909 by the Milwaukee Railroad and sold to Avery in 1980. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places due to its association with the Big Burn in 1910.
Location: Take ID-55 into New Meadows (approximately 121 miles). Turn left onto US-95 N and continue into Spalding. Then merge onto US-12 (right) which will become ID-3 N (approximately 262 miles). Follow until you reach Deary then merge to the left onto ID-9 and follow until that merges with ID-6 (to the right). Follow until ID-6 merges back with ID-3. Then continue on ID-3 until you reach St. Maries (approximately 85 miles). Take the St. Joe River Byway for 45 miles right into Avery. The Depot is on the left.
Cost: Just gas. It’s all free.
Hours: The railcar, fish pond and library are always open. The museum room is open weekdays and Saturday mornings.
Lodging: Refer to St. Joe Scenic River Byway post for information on nearby lodging.
Dining: Scheffy’s Motel and General Store has supplies, but I didn’t see any places to sit and eat. However, St. Maries has several great restaurants and so does the other end of the Byway, the city of Wallace.
There are picnic tables at the Depot if you wish to take a minute and enjoy the scenery while you picnic.
Special Notes: This is a really nice place to stop and the history is mind boggling. This little town has seen so much and is still incredibly beautiful. If you are spending some time enjoying the Byway, you must stop here.