Located between Sandpoint and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho on the southern end of Lake Pend Oreille, the historic Farragut Naval Training Station was a first stop for many fresh recruits during World War II. During its thirty months of existence, more than 293,000 sailors received basic training at Farragut. As the base grew, a city emerged from the land and permanently impacted the environment. The inland naval training location, the unique land attraction, a short but eventful life, and the park that remains all celebrate Farraguts rare and complex history.
Farragut added jobs, houses, and people to lands that were once used by early tribal affiliation and pioneer explorations. In 1941, the U.S. government purchased the 4,160 acres from two private owners: Kootenai County and a small railway company. The unique inland naval base is 300 miles away from the western coastlines. Walter Butler Construction Co. employed approximately 22,000 men to build libraries, living quarters, mess halls, chapels, recreation facilities, and other buildings for the base. Neighboring communities, including Sandpoint and Coeur d’Alene, still struggled from the Great Depression. Farragut provided jobs, higher wages, and more opportunities to these communities.
The groundbreaking for Farragut took place in March 1942. By September 1942, the base population reached 55,000, making it the largest city in Idaho at the time. Farragut was also the second largest naval training center in the world. Recruits left home for the first time, came to Farragut, and learned how to march, row, swim, and use firearms before either heading to the Mediterranean Sea or the South Pacific. The base also contained nearly 900 German prisoners of war who worked beside American soldiers as gardeners and maintenance men.
The land was attractive to the navy for many reasons. Lake Pend Oreille provided natural aesthetics and raw functionality. The lake’s deep waters, large size, and cool temperatures, along with the steep, tree-lined shores and quiet conditions all created an attractive land-locked location that could closely mimic the ocean without the risks. The base allowed for ground and water training and effectively taught sailors how to take care of themselves in war. The base supplied economic benefits and a textbook location for training; however, the rapid urbanization created pollution and habitat loss to the land and water.
The once naval training station is now Farragut State Park and remains a tribute to the base. It now caters to tourists with outdoor activities. Bikers, runners, horseback riders, and swimmers can enjoy the land traveled by World War II naval trainers and trainees. Although the land has been transformed and the environment has changed, the natural beauty of the land is protected and maintained by the state.