Norwegian-born Captain Peter Sorenson was the “Father of Coeur d’Alene Boating”
Barbara K. Rostad
Coeur d’ Alene, Idaho
The “Father of Coeur d’Alene Boating” was Norwegian-born Captain Peter Sorenson, who built the first steamboat on Lake Coeur d’Alene, which at one time, according to author Ruby El Hult, “was the scene of more steamboating than any other lake west of the Great Lakes.”
Captain Sorenson, a native of Kragero, Norway, not only built or supervised the local construction of about 20 steamers, but also named many bays, points, and landings around the lake.
Another grand achievement was the 1890 construction of the Victorian-style Sorenson House hotel on the lakefront at the base of Tubbs Hill not far from where the Coeur d’Alene Resort is located today.
This Norwegian’s path to Coeur d’Alene was circuitous, as with many immigrants. Born in 1833, he left Norway in 1864 after a boat-building apprenticeship in his home town. He also spent time in Denmark learning drawing and wood carving.
He and his brother Lars built boats on the Great Lakes at Manistee, Mich., and by late 1879 were in Portland, Ore., where the U.S. Army sought someone to supervise the construction of a steam launch for Fort Coeur d’Alene, newly opened in 1878.
His first steamboat for the Army at the post later renamed Ft. Sherman was the Amelia Wheaton. It is reported that he said of its construction, “Here is where the Viking plane that I brought from Norway came into good use.”
Launching his new steamer in 1880, Sorenson made the first extensive exploration of the lake and rivers for the Army, steaming about aboard the Amelia Wheaton in the uncharted waters of Lake Coeur d’Alene.
Among his numerous boats, North Cape I and North Cape II reflected both his heritage and the name he gave his home on the bluff above the lake’s Kid Island. His last boat, built in 1907 when he was nearly 74, was called North Star.
Though Sorenson’s wife died before he emigrated, he had a daughter Christina who eventually came to Coeur d’Alene with her own two daughters and ran the Sorenson House hotel where Captain Sorenson also lived until it burned in 1904.
Captain Peter Sorenson died January 16, 1918, and is buried not far from the lake in the city’s Forest Cemetery. He is but one key figure in the Scandinavian legacy found in North Idaho.
Photo and materials for this report are from the Museum of North Idaho, the primary source being an article by John V. Wood, Museum of North Idaho Newsletter, Spring 2010.
This article originally appeared in the June 19, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.