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Thirty Years and Bursting

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Bonner County Historical Museum outgrowing its collections

Since 1980, the building at the far end of the lawn at Lakeview Park in Sandpoint has been home to the Bonner County Historical Society museum. In that time it’s attracted artifacts that include a caboose, complete with track, ties and signal pole; an air raid siren that signaled curfew for several generations in Sandpoint; a waterwheel from Hoodoo Creek; a cabin of hewn logs with a hand-split cedar shake roof; and the anchor from one of Pend Oreille Lake’s steamboats. Slated for a spot nearby is a shingle mill that operated for six decades in Bonner County. 

But wait, there’s more. Much more. There’s just not quite room for it all.

In a museum bulging at the seams, Bonner County Historical Society celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. The dedication of its members and volunteers who staff the museum is obvious in the well-cared-for building and collections housed inside and out. 

Curator Ann Ferguson and Museum receptionist Karlyn Brown are the only employees of the Society, which has a membership of just 150, yet has accomplished near-miracles, including establishment of an incredible collection of research materials they make available to the public Tuesdays and Thursdays.

“We have volunteers here to help researchers from 11 to 3,” Ferguson said. “Our collection includes microfilm of Bonner County newspapers back to the last century, cemetery records, maps dating back to the 1890s - a little bit of everything.”

One valuable asset of the Museum is the collection of photographs housed there, just increased exponentially with two important donations. Bonner County Daily Bee donated 5,000 photos from their archives; and the Society recently accepted the Chuck Peterson Collection of some 17,000 images from the Peterson family of Hope. Peterson, who died in 1998, spent much time chronicling current and pre-history of the area, including many images of great interest to the Kalispel Tribe. 

If research isn’t what you are looking for, this museum also harbors a fascinating, artifact-laden, walk-through timeline of early days, including the time of the Kalispel, the steam, big timber and “stump ranch” eras, and the beginning of civilization as we know it in Bonner County. 

Other exhibits change over time. Currently the upper floor of the museum houses a fishing display that will stay through the Thanksgiving K&K Derby, and then give way to a retrospective of Christmas in Bonner County. Down the hall left of the reception desk is a room full of Sandpoint history that Ferguson will replace with selections from the Peterson Collection in the spring. 

And still, there is more trying to find its way into the museum. 

But there is hope. The Society just received an incredible gift of six acres at Kootenai where Ferguson hopes a new museum will be eventually built with room to house the rest of the large items the museum has stored here and there, as well as the plethora of artifacts piled in the back rooms of the building at Lakeview Park. 

“We see this building becoming a research facility,” Ferguson says, with great hope, “and the main museum being at Kootenai." 

If history is any indication, the Bonner County Historical Society will get it done, just one more near-miracle of dedication to the task of preserving the past. 

Membership in the BCHS is just $15 a year, or $8 for seniors. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 to 4. Admission is $2 adults, $1 kids. Call for more information at 263-2344.

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Author info

Sandy Compton Sandy Compton Sandy Compton is one of the original contributors to The River Journal, and owner and publisher at Blue Creek Press (www.bluecreekpress.com). His latest book is Side Trips From Cowboy: Addiction, Recovery and the Western American Myth

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Sandpoint, Bonner County Historical Museum, Ann Ferguson

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