By Phyllis D. Slayton
Every year excited families make the summer trip to Jump Off Joe Resort just outside of Valley, Washington, approximately 35 miles north of Spokane. The resort property at 3290 Jump Off Joe Road is nested away in fir and pine trees surrounded by mountains on 13 acres. You wouldn’t even know it was there except for the sign. A truly hidden gem. As you enter the quiet resort, you will meander around RV spots, tents, cabins and then reach a large pristine beach on the lake. Twelve of the 23 RV spots are permanent residences. Five rustic cabins line the lane. Huge old trees create a wonderful park-like setting and the cool breeze off the lake can make a hot summer day quite comfortable. Boat, pedal boat, and kayak rentals offer a fun experience for simple recreation or fishing on the lake.
According to the Washington Fishing Lakes report, “Jump Off Joe Lake is a large freshwater lake located in Stevens County, Washington. At an elevation of 2034 feet and 114.9 acres, it’s home to several species of fish, including brook trout, brown trout, yellow perch, rainbow trout, largemouth bass and pumpkinseed sunfish. Jump Off Joe Lake provides good shoreline access and a boat launch.”
When you walk into the small resort store, which has loads of fishing tackle, you will be greeted by many local wildlife mounted on the walls. Some look to be quite old. This quaint resort has many amenities, including shower and laundry facilities.
The resort is open mid-April until mid-October and as I spoke to current owner LuAnn Horswill on April 18, her phone kept ringing. She explained, “We are already booked up for this weekend because many people believe this weekend is the opening day for the fishing season at the lake. However, Jump Off Joe Lake is open year-round as of a couple years ago.” Today, the rustic and relaxing Jump Off Joe Resort and lake stands as a serene and eclectic reminder of the past.
The Jump Off Joe area was quite a happening place back in the day. Just down the road from the resort was a church, grange with a dance hall, school, and sawmill. The only evidence today is the old St. Joseph Catholic church and cemetery (see photos) on Church Road off Bulldog Creek Road, two miles north of the resort.
There have been several owners of Jump Off Joe Resort, which was last purchased in 1993 by LuAnn and Jeff Horswill. They raised a family over those 29 years and have seen many familiar faces every summer during that time. Sometime in the 1930s, Louis Tomsha, somewhat of a local legend and the author of “For Whom The Bell Has Tolled” about the pioneers of Valley and Jump Off Joe area, built the original home for a single woman in the 30s, which is the current resort store with a loft cabin up above. The woman who owned the house originally served homemade shaved ice, ice cream and moonshine to the locals. According to LuAnn Horswill, “Area people would come once a week for their bathing in the lake and buy ice cream, shaved ice and moonshine after a hard week.” From sometime in the 1950s to the 1970s, Roy and Freda Kirby owned the resort and built the rental boats and cabins. Louis Tomsha, milled the lumber for the cabins at his sawmill at the opposite end of the lake. In the 1970s, John Caudill owned the resort for nine months and sold off three of the original cabins.
According to Louis Tomsha’s book, the Jump Off School was incorporated as a district in 1893. It was a log building built by the first settlers in the area (see photo from 1911). St. Joseph’s Church at Jump Off was built sometime prior to 1909. (see photo). The dance hall opened in July 1950 and was quite the hotspot according to locals who still remember, like Irene Herbi Thompson: “I can remember the dances at the old Jump Off hall that they used to have back in the 1950s and 1960s. My Uncle Nick used to play in the band. The Jump Off Altar Society always served Coney Islands during intermission. My mom (Agnes Skok Hurbi) used to make the sauce for the Coney Islands sometimes, and she gave me the recipe years ago (see photo), and now I can’t find it. Some ingredients I remember were ground beef, tomato juice, and a little flour. I was wondering if anyone else still has the recipe after all these years!”
Area local Susan Jensen also recalled her memories of the dance hall, “The Catholic church owned the building. I think the ladies from the church served the food. During the 50s and 60s when my parents would go many people brought their kids. Dances were held about every two weeks. Alcohol must not have been allowed in the hall because at intermission the grown ups all went to their cars. My folks mixed up a gallon jar of vodka and orange juice. My dad usually had a bottle of some kind of whisky. Drinks were often shared and everyone just took a swig right out of the bottle or jug.” Jensen went on to say that many times the crowd would all donate money to keep the band playing into the morning hours. “There were two outhouses outside, one for women and one for men. In the wintertime it was cold!!”
The origin of the name Jump Off Joe has been a point of speculation for decades. According to The Spokesman Review Sun article entitled, “Stories About Jump Off Joe Lake Give Forum Editor Quite a Headache” several replies to the paper included some clever verse. “Let’s have more history on Jump Off Joe, it’s a good colorful story as we want to know! What tribe of an Indian, what kind of a Joe? Where did he come from and where did he go?” See more of the story pictured.
However, someone quite knowledgeable of Jump Off history, according to Tomsha’s book, was Joseph Stare. His family homesteaded at Jump Off Joe starting in 1911 and according to him, “My belief is that it was named after some Native American (Indian) that lived near the lake. There were still some Indian families living along the north shore of the lake and the outlet along Jump Off Creek when the first homesteaders came here, mainly the Tomshas and the Mallys.”
Yet another legend, which is much more dramatic, is the one described in the Horswill’s resort flyer. “… sometime in the late 1800’s a stagecoach driver named Joe drove the old Walla-Spokane-Colville route. In bad weather the road was almost impassable, and the passengers would have to get out and hang on the sides of the stagecoach to keep it upright as Joe drove the horses. One day the coach began to slide and the passengers shouted Jump Off Joe! This happened near the lake and from that time on it has been called Jump Off Joe Lake.”
Another widely known, but more tragic story of Jump Off Joe Lake also involved a member of the Stare family. In 1930, Joseph Stare’s grandson, 11, saved a young man from Spokane who was swimming at Jump Off Joe. Edwin Stare swam out and saved one of two boys that fateful day. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get back in time to save Frank Collins, 14. Local papers stated, “[He] proved himself a boy of courage.” Edwin was touted as a local hero and doctors who attended the scene “praised his heroic efforts.”
In 1961, the Chewelah Independent ran a story of a similar tragedy at the lake when two men from Spokane capsized their small boat and both drowned.
Many generations of families who immigrated to the Jump Off Joe and Valley area have fascinating pioneer and homesteading stories to tell, but we’ll save those for another day. In the meantime, visit ‘You Know You’re From Valley If…’ on Facebook for more history posted by those who remember and the Valley Historical Society.
To contact Jump Off Joe Resort, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (509) 937-2133.