One hundred thirty-sixth in an alphabetical series on West Kootenay/Boundary place names
In the same manner that a place in the Cariboo named Stanley forced the town of Stanley in West Kootenay to be renamed Nelson, a town in Washington state named Nelson had to be rechristened Danville.
Nelson, Wash., directly across the border from the Carson neighbourhood of Grand Forks, was named after Danish-born Peter Bertelsen Nelson (1873-1947) and his uncle, Ole Nelson (1850-1922), a Spokane merchant and politician. For a while, Peter’s brother Nels (1876-1955) also joined him.
While the Illustrated History of Stevens, Ferry, Okanogan and Chelan Counties (1904) indicated Nelson was established in 1889, the earliest known reference isn’t until the Boundary Creek Times of Nov. 28, 1896.
Apparently the McLaren brothers, who owned the Carson townsite, agreed to give the Nelsons an acre of land on the condition they build a store there. However, their store straddled the border, with a north entrance for Canadians and south entrance for Americans. The matter ended up in court in 1897 and probably didn’t impress customs officials either. The outcome isn’t known except that the store was moved to Nelson.
At the same time, litigation was underway over the Nelson townsite. W.M. Clark claimed ownership by virtue of having filed five placer mining claims that covered the land. Narcis Peone contested his claim on the grounds that the land was more valuable for agricultural purposes, but Clark won the case.
The earliest mention of the new name was in the Spokane Spokesman Review of Jan. 17, 1899: “W.M. Clark of Nelson, Wash. was in the city yesterday. He is one of the large owners of the townsite there … He states that the name of the town will be changed to Danville as soon as it can be brought about, there being endless confusion in the mail addressed to Nelson, owing to the town of the same name in West Kootenay.”
The Illustrated History, meanwhile, said “railroad officials brought about the change of name to Danville owing to the fact that the town of Nelson, BC was also on the Great Northern system.”
The Rossland Evening Record of April 5, 1899 added: “The name of the town of Nelson, Wash., has been changed to Danville, the Dan being in honor of Dan M. Drumheller, who is largely interested in the townsite …”
Daniel Montgomery Drumheller (1840-1925) was an interesting guy: he was a prospector, miner, cattle rancher, banker, farmer, rider for the Pony Express, and in 1892-93, mayor of Spokane, where Drumheller Springs are also named after him.
According to Reflections of the Kettle River Region, the Danville Mining Co. platted the Danville townsite in March 1899 adjacent to Nelson, so some early maps showed Danville and Nelson as separate places.
To further confuse matters, the Illustrated History says another townsite known as Nelson was laid out in January 1902 by Thomas E. Dulin, James Rosslow, and Sarah Cooper, but it’s unclear where it was in relation to the first two townsites.
The Nelson post office, which opened in 1896, was finally renamed Danville in October 1902.
Danville and Carson were practically one community, and residents flowed freely across the border. They shared an Oddfellows Lodge on the second storey of the McLaren blacksmith shop. When a Rebekah Lodge was established (the women’s auxiliary to the Oddfellows), its executive consisted of two women from Carson and two from Danville.
In addition to the blacksmith shop, Carson had a school, store, and post office, plus a hotel known as the Grand Prairie, built in 1894 or earlier. It burned down in 1908.
Fire also destroyed Peter Nelson’s store in 1900, but he rebuilt on the same spot. Around 1906 he sold the business and moved his family to Calgary.
Further fires in 1919 and 1929 destroyed the rest of Carson’s pioneer buildings, although the townsite, which was never absorbed into Grand Forks city limits, retains its original street names. It’s now entirely residential.
Danville has a population today of 36.
One last bit of trivia: in the movie Roxanne, Nelson, BC played the fictional town of Nelson, Wash.
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