Potlatch, Idaho, a small North Idaho town, was the location of the world’s largest lumber mill from its construction in 1906 to its closure in 1981. Potlatch Lumber Company employed hundreds of people in the mill as well as in the various company-owned businesses. The town was built by the company to provide housing for its employees. The company provided several options for recreation, often in the now historic gymnasium. Despite the dominant presence of the company, there were other places for entertainment within a short drive. One of the most fondly remembered and universally enjoyed was Riverside, the octagonal building off what is now Highway 95 at the base of Riverside Hill. The building served as a dance hall, concert venue, and later a roller skating rink. The grounds included the building, as well as a racetrack and rodeo grounds.
The first iteration of the iconic Riverside building was constructed in the 1920s. Ray Hanson constructed the building most people associate with Riverside in the 1930s after a fire destroyed the first. Much of the lore surrounding the popular gathering place comes from the oral histories and stories from the older generations that are shared both in private and at the many community events.
Many people look back fondly on the iconic race track and dance hall located at Riverside. The venue hosted some of the most famous country and western singers The Grand Ole Opry had to offer. Those big names include but are not limited to Hank Thompson, Johnny Cash, Tex Ritter, George Jones, and Dolly Parton. Even former University of Idaho Professor and proud Potlatch resident Malcolm Renfrew played his trombone at Riverside. It was thanks to the efforts of owners Leonard and Marlene Zahnow that Riverside drew the star power and surrounding communities to the dance hall. The couple, along with Leonard’s father Wesley, owned the venue from 1957 to 1962. The couple dedicated their time to caring for the grounds and maintaining the building to ensure both locals and performers would come back for another good time at Riverside. Due to yearly floodwaters from the Palouse River and the high maintenance costs attributed to the flooding, the Zahnows sold the dance hall in 1962. Soon after the sale the building succumbed to the years of flood damage and fell into disrepair.
Ask residents of the town who were around in the 1950s and 60s and they will be able to tell you a story about their experiences at Riverside. The joy of a place like Potlatch and its population are the stories the younger generations get to hear at celebrations like Potlatch Days and the new Return to Riverside music festival. The Riverside dance hall will forever be in the memory of Potlatch and the surrounding Palouse.