Community of Lenville

Lenville, Idaho By Larry Lass

History has linked Cordelia Lutheran Church with Lenville, Idaho. Pastor Peter Carlson, first pastor of Cordelia, sent his sons to Lenville where they homesteaded in the summer of 1880 and he would follow that fall. In November of 1880, Carlson nearly froze to death in the poorly built house which his two sons had erected, and he had a bad cold and sore throat most of the winter. Despite poor health he was able to meet with local members of the Swedish community at Lenville and started Cordelia Lutheran Church. Organization papers for “The Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Congregation, Cordelia, Nez Perce County, Idaho Territory” were signed on November 14, 1880 by 18 members. It was the first Swedish Lutheran Church in Idaho. Carlson wrote in a letter dated November 15, 1880 that Cordelia was the name of the mountain district to the north. Today the Cordelia Mountains are recognized as Montgomery and Tomer Buttes and Fix Ridge, but for the flatlanders of Minnesota who homesteaded the area they were mountains with timber for buildings and good farmland.

The opening of homestead land for farming, logging and grazing brought many settlers to the region. The Homestead Act of 1862, allowed people to settle up to 160 acres of public land if they lived on it for five years and grew crops and made improvements. This land was free, but the settler was required to pay a filing fee of $1.25 per acre. This act is no longer in effect and the last homestead deed for Latah County was issued in 1924. Land around Genesse, Idaho was available in about 1867 under the authority of the May 20, 1862:Homestead EntryOrginall (12 Statute 392). The first homesteader to receive land patent deed for Latah County was Lorettus Haskins in 1872 His homestead was located about 2 miles to the west and 5 miles north of the Cordelia Church site. Records show Joseph S. Howard applied earlier than Haskins but the deed for his property was not issued until 1877. Howard’s homestead was 4 miles to the west and 6 miles to the north of the church.

Most of us recognize the road named for the community rather than the community because the buildings have been moved, burned or salvaged for lumber. Lenville road started as a Nez Perce trail leading up from the Potlatch and Clearwater Rivers. The community of Lenville was located about 13 miles southeast of Moscow. There are several brief histories written about Lenville and all are slightly different.

One history records the first white settler near Lenville was Thomas Linehan (Sec. 15 of T38-N R4-W) along the trail and the second settler was Patrick Kinnier (Sec 9 of T38-N R4-W) in about 1878. Linehan was born in Watergrass Hill, County Cork, Ireland in 1846 to Corneal and Margaret Linehan. The family came to the United States in 1850 and settled in New York. He enlisted in the U. S. Army in 1864 and served as a soldier in the Civil War and Indian fighter during the Nez Perce War of 1877-1878. In 1881, he married Elizabeth Taylor and they had three daughters and four sons. They moved from the Lenville homestead to Genesse, Idaho in 1904 where he died of cancer on March 4, 1913 at age 67. Kinnier was born in Longford, Ireland in 1841 and came to America in 1861. He was a carpenter by trade. Kinnier moved to San Francisco in 1871 before coming to Lenville to farm. He married Mary Humphrey in 1880 and they had four children. He retired to Moscow in 1908 and died on May 8, 1916.

Other homesteaders came at about the same time. John Tuckey came to Nez Perce County (old name for Latah County) in 1876. John established the family’s homestead (Sec.10 T 38 N R 4-W) about 3.5 miles northeast of Lenville. Elias (son) came in 1878 to help John improve the land then returned to Iowa for two years. Elias reported he and his father had many fights with the hostile Indians. Elias helped establish the first sawmill in the section. John received title to his property on October 19, 1881. His son also homesteaded near Lenville (Corner of Sections 12, 13, and 14 of T 38 N R 4 W, but did not received his land title until November 9, 1889. Tom Linehan received his land title on June 1, 1882 and Patrick Kinnier received his land title on February 1, 1882. It is unclear who had bragging rights for the first homesteader near Lenville, but the first one to the land office must have been John Tuckey.

The early homesteaders of the area around Lenville were mainly of Irish ancestry with a few Swedes. The area was known as the “soldier neighborhood” because most of the homesteaders were former Union Civil War soldiers and many were sent to Idaho during the Nez Perce War.

Lenville started from this loose group of homesteaders along the south fork of the Little Potlatch Creek between Magee Road and Campbell Loop (Sec. 17 of T38-N R4-W) where a small store with a post office was the focal point for trade. This location is about 3 miles southeast of the Cordelia church site. The store owner, Len (Leonard) Nichols, named the group of buildings after himself when applying for the postal permit. Lenville first appears on the 1883 Government Land Office Map and the name soon replaced “Soldier Neighborhood”. Nichols was the Postmaster between 1883 and 1894. The store sold a few grocery items, trinkets and tobacco. Bertle Spence remembered being told Nez Perce Indians would often come to trade at the store. The store operated between 1882 and 1894. Nichols received title to his homestead property on June 9, 1886.

The rapid push for homestead land caused poor planning when the 58 school districts were established in 1888. Land was set aside in Section 16 and 36 for schools but homesteaders often built schools close to small settlements and the number of districts for Latah County had explained to 81 by 1895 . Lenville was no different and in 1888 there were heated arguments over the location of the school. Settlers could only agree to disagree. Lenville’s first school was built in 1889. The school was located 0.25 miles East of the Kinnier Place (Section 9 T38-N R4-W). This put the school about a mile northeast of Lenville. The school district was large because of few students and the need to support a teacher. Many students had a considerable distance to walk to get to school and the parents continued to argue over the building’s location. One night men from the lower section of the district came with horses and skids and moved the school more than 2 miles southeast to the W. Scott Ross’ homestead located at Section 23 T38N R4W. That put the school about 3 miles from Lenville.

July 4th celebration at Lenville Idaho School in about 1897 to 1900. (Latah County Historical Society).

Place holder for another Lenville photo.

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The wisdom of the County Superintendent was called on to settle the dispute. He could only suggest the district be divided since it was too large. The lower section was called the Yellow Rose and the upper one Fairview. His declaration resolved nothing and just added to the confusion because there was another Fairview District in northwestern Latah County. History revealed the Fairview name was not used by the Lenville community.

The Yellow Rose School was located on Baumgartner Road just to the south of the Lenville site. The site is currently used as the Ross and Johnson Family Cemetery but called the Yellow Rose Cemetery or “Old Ross Cemetery”. There are seven graves with nine markers and dates range from 1887 to 1909. For more information see

During the election for directors for the Lenville (Fairview) district, the location of the school house for the new district became an issue again. The disagreement boiled down to should the school stay at the original site or moved to a central location. Several fist fights took place as some said others had voted illegally and some of the more radical wanted to destroy the election box. At the end of the night when the trouble became intense the election judge, Patrick Kinnier, had to hide the election box to protect it. In the end the school was located in Section 16 T38N and R4W about a half mile East of Nichols’ store.

Records show Lenville School had 16 students in 1920. Teachers from 1924 to 1930 were Muriel Peterson, Hazel Mullikin, Bessie Woody, Fred Johnson, and Pearl Johnson. The school was consolidated with Genesee in 1946.

Eugene Settle reported that one of the abandoned buildings became a community center for a while and the other was attached to the Aspendale School in about 1950. The Aspendale school with Lenville school attachment is still standing on the North side of Lenville Road about a mile East of turn for Cordelia.

At about the same time as Lenville was holding school elections, Lone Star School was established on the property of J. W. Randall, about 2 miles west of Lenville school and 2 miles southeast of Cordelia. History is unclear if the election losers established their own school at Section 7 of T38N R4W and called it the Lone Star School or if it was established before the election. The district was small and even shrank more when Genesee District was able to annex part of the district in 1890. History reported Miss Brewery was the teacher in 1910 with Fae Olson, Troy H. Olson, Agnes Randall Moore, Elizabeth Becker, Angela Broemeling and Grace Warren Ingle teaching in later years. The school was consolidated with Kendrick in 1937.

The Northern Pacific Railroad extended a branch between Moscow and Troy in 1890, but failed to extend to Lenville. Homesteaders hauled commodities to Lewiston via Coyote Grade using wagons prior to the establishment of the railroad. In the 1900's many farmers continued to haul grain down the grade to avoid the freight fees being charged by the railroads.

In 1893, the community of Lenville was better defined when Patrick Kinnier purchased 160 acres from Conrad Sheen (Sec 10 T38-N R4-W) for a Remington single shot rifle and a cayuse (small wild horse). The property was a half mile east and a little north of the Nichols’ store. Patrick built a store with a post office south and a little east of the corner of Peterson Loop and Lenville Road.

Kinnier’s store carried more items of groceries and clothing than Len’s small store. Mail was brought from Genesee by horseback and the store supplies came from San Francisco and Spokane by train to Genesee. Business at Len’s store declined and he closed his doors in 1894 and moved out of Latah County. The Kinnier store and surrounding area were still known as Lenville although some in the community called it New Lenville. Lenville was recognized by Rand Mc Nally World Atlas printed in 1895. The atlas indicated Lenville had a post office but no railroad nor express office and no population was listed.

Eugene Settle reported the abandoned store of Nichols was rented by the youth of Lenville - Mike Mulalley, Will Kennedy, Art Linehan, Joshua Armstrong, Percy Kinnier and Ed Armstrong - for a dance hall and community center in 1894. This group also had a baseball club, and sponsored prize fighting and horse racing. One prize fight of note was a 17 round fight. It was more of a grudge fight between Columbus Clark and Frank Thomason.

Jeff (Robert Jefferson) Mourning established a blacksmith shop and feed store near Kinnier’s store in about 1896. Initially the business kept busy building wagons and during the boom years had three blacksmiths. The feed store sold supplies and had a chop mill for processing grain into a more palatable animal feed.

Russell Traction Steam Engine 1905 10-hp attached to a sawmill. (Dean Vinson Photo-library)

Jeff Mourning’s blacksmith shop (Latah County Historical Society)

A slightly different account of Lenville’s history was written by Clarence Mourning, the son of Jeff. His autobiography was written December 26, 1960 when he was age 68. The facts would have been consistent with others trying to remember events of 50 years ago. He admits in the brief handwritten document that some of the dates may be wrong but in chronological order. Of interest to this Lenville history was that fact Jeff first established a blacksmith next to Nichols store and struggled to survive before moving the business to New Lenville where it rapidly expanded.

Clarence reported in his autobiography he was born on July 4, 1893. The family came to Moscow in 1895 and moved to Lenville in about 1896. He remembered being told that the town’s only store was owned by Len and consisted of a store, post office and dance hall. They built a house across from the store and a blacksmith shop about 900 feet to the east. Jeff, as a blacksmith, grossed about $30 per month during the early years.

Clarence reported that he and his half brother walked 2.5 miles to the Lindquist school. At about age 6, the blacksmith shop burned down. Jeff purchased another building about 0.75 miles from their home at a location called New Lenville. The building was built by Jake Layes next to a store owned by Pat Kinnier. The family moved to New Lenville. Jeff purchased a chop mill powered by an 8 hp Russell Steam engine.

Charles M Russell and Company of Massillon, Ohio was established in 1842 and became the world's largest manufacture of steam engines. The company built 17,000 engines, 16,000 boilers, 22,000 threshing machines, and 5,000 sawmills. They also built steam road rollers, gasoline tractors, and other custom design machinery. The chop mill cracked the grain to allow better utilization for animal feed. The mill and feed supplies provided a steady income for Jeff.

Business at the new location was very good and Jeff kept three blacksmith’s busy. In the late 1890's Jeff purchased a threshing machine. He also purchased the Kinnier store at about the same time. Jeff Mourning owned the blacksmith shop, feed-mill, general store, post office, threshing machine and for all practical purposes the whole town.

The Lenville Community Church was built in 1897. Land was donated for the church by Patrick Kinnier, a devout Catholic, but the church was used by all Protestant denominations. Revival meetings would usually bring in people from as far as 5 miles away. Over time Patrick was changed by the Church on his property and he became a member of the Episcopal Church when he retired and moved to Moscow.

The Palouse had a smallpox epidemic in 1898 and a few members of the Lenville community contracted the disease. Dr. Beck from Genesee came to the Lenville store and vaccinated everyone in the area. The smallpox vaccine was discovered by observing dairy workers who developed cowpox, a less serious disease, did not develop the deadly smallpox. In 1796, Dr. Edward Jenner inoculated a young boy. Six weeks later he exposed him to smallpox. Dr. Jenner’s work was initially criticized, but rapidly accepted and adopted worldwide.

In about 1909, roads and transportation improved to the point where little businesses and churches found it difficult to survive. Jeff Mourning and his family stayed in Lenville until 1910 when the family homestead a claim about 5 miles east of Desmet, Idaho. Clarence did not report what happened to the buildings, but reported the threshing machine made the move to the new place. In July 1927, Jeff died in Fairview, Washington while being robbed. The complete histories of Jeff and Clarence Mourning are available at the Latah County Historical Society.

Janine Petersen reported the property and buildings ended up back in the hands of the Kinnier family and the buildings were salvaged for lumber to rebuild a house that had burned down.