About Harvard, Idaho

Harvard, Idaho was a railstop on the Wyoming, Idaho & Montana Railroad, named “Harvard” by Maude’s father rather than “Canfield,” which was their family name. Was it modesty? I somewhat doubt that, since he was a politician as well as a farmer. There was already a Princeton, the story goes, and he felt it needed a rival. Harvard never became much of a town, instead supported the mining, logging, and farming operations nearby.

(Oddly, Harvard’s train depot was relocated to Princeton, Idaho, and now is a private residence. The Princeton depot, which is architecturally similar, can be visited near Potlatch.)

Sources: family lore and Petersen, Keith. Company Town: Potlatch, Idaho, and the Potlatch Lumber Company (Pullman: WSU Press, 1987) 110. See, too, the City of Potlatch website. The Ultimate Idaho.com website gives May 28, 1906 as the date of the town’s establishment.


And this from the Harvard Crimson’s “Harvards of the World“:

Harvard, Idaho

Tiny is probably the best way to describe Harvard, Idaho.

This northern Idaho town, about 90 minutes from Lewiston, got its name through a quirky set of circumstances.

The neighboring town of Princeton, was founded in 1896 by a native of Princeton, Minn. Shortly after, Homer W. Canfield, who owned land nearby, sold his property to the Wyoming, Idaho & Montana Railroad. The railroad wanted to name the new outpost for Canfield, but he declined, mischievously suggesting Harvard as a replacement, according to Keith Petersen, an editor at the Washington State University Press who has studied the region.

Later, college students working on the railroad during the summer named new outposts after Purdue, Vassar, Stanford and Yale, but only Harvard and Princeton remain.

The town sits at the border between the Palouse–one of the largest wheat-, pea- and lentil-growing areas in the U.S.–and the heavily forested timberlands of northern Idaho. “It’s a real pretty little town,” Petersen says.

Harvard’s residents mainly worked as loggers, hauling wood to a sawmill in the nearby town of Potlatch, until the sawmill closed in 1980. Many of the residents are now retired, but some are wheat, canola and barley farmers.

“Everybody knows everybody and everybody knows everybody’s business,” says Joyce Gilmore, postmaster at the two-room Harvard Post Office (ZIP code 83834), which serves the 235 residents of the town and the surrounding flatlands.

The biggest town issue, according to Gilmore, is water quality–a water and sewer system was first installed in the early 1980s. Previously, residents used septic tanks and ground wells. Often, the sewer pumps have failed entirely. “The sewage doesn’t flush,” Gilmore complains.

There is one connection to the University. In the mid-1980s, someone donated a cast-iron sundial in John Harvard’s name; it now sits in Hylton Park–“the Harvard park, we all call it,” Gilmore says.

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