In Sandpoint, Idaho, along the Lake Pend Oreille, you’ll find the Bonner County History Museum. The museum is in the beautiful Lakeview Park, with, of course, a view of the incredible Lake Pend Oreille. Along with the museum, the park contains many different picnic areas, a playground, tennis courts, and the Native Plant Society arboretum. The Bonner County History Museum is an incredible piece of history, collecting and preserving stories and history from the Bonner County area for over 40 years.
The Bonner County History Museum is a private and non-profit educational organization. It exists to preserve the history of the area, and it is open to everyone. It is primarily funded by community support, donations, and grants from private foundations. As a membership organization, the museum is also funded by membership fees, as well as retail sales. The Bonner County History Museum wasn’t the original museum, but it came about because of that.
The Museum of Natural and Human History
The first museum in the Sandpoint area was created in a room of Sandpoint High School. The year was 1953, and the museum was the Museum of Natural and Human History, created by Dr. Ethel Page Westwood. She displayed her extensive rock and fossil collections, as well as artifacts that had been donated by local residents.
A year passed, and the museum moved to the annex of the Sandpoint Community Hall. Shortly after, the museum was moved again, this time to the basement of the Sandpoint Library. Because of the numerous moves, and no permanent home, Dr. Westwood’s collections became damaged. There were also limitations in how the exhibits could be displayed, which caused further issues. The long search for a permanent home began. The David Thompson Sesquicentennial Commemoration in 1959 started the fundraising efforts.
But it wasn’t until 1972 that the Articles of Incorporation were signed, and the Bonner County History Museum was originally founded. But they still weren’t any closer to finding a permanent building for the museum. Their primary goal, though, was to find a building where collections and research materials could be available to the public.
Finding a Building
It wasn’t until the nation’s bicentennial celebration in 1976 that the project for building a new museum took hold. The Bonner County History Museum was able to raise $50,000 in cash and pledges, over just a few weeks. Construction of the build began on the old Fairgrounds, now the Lakeview Park. In 1980, with construction complete, the Bonner County History Museum celebrated its grand opening.
The museum has grown over the years, thanks largely in part to the generosity of residents that contributed photographs, documents, and artifacts related to their family and community histories. Now, after 30 years of collecting artifacts and exhibits, the Trustees are looking for ways and opportunities to expand the Bonner County History Museum. They still seek to preserve the history of Bonner County and its residents, while still providing quality exhibits, research, and programming opportunities.
The Museum Today
The Bonner County Historical Society, and the Museum, were created as a non-profit organization. As such, the organization is run predominantly by volunteers, including the volunteer Board of Trustees. The museum itself is managed by a full-time Director, with a staff of dedicated volunteers. The museum does receive yearly funding from the Bonner County, as the museum serves as a repository for county records.
The Bonner County History Museum’s operating expenses are covered by admission fees, memberships, research fees and grants, gift shop sales, and fundraisers. But the museum has done well. In 2001, it was awarded the Esto Perpetua Award, in honor of preserving Idaho history. In 2008, the museum was honored again, with the Sister Alfreda Elsensohn Award for excellence. This award was presented by the Idaho State Historical Society, Idaho Humanities Council, and the Idaho Heritage Trust.
The mission of the Bonner County History Museum is “history creating community.” The museum is a community centered organization, and it serves to preserve the history of the community. If you are ever in Sandpoint, Idaho, you should stop by and take a look at the Bonner County History Museum. It serves not only as the history of the community, but as a place to explore your past, through research and exhibits. The museum also reaches out to education, allowing students to visit the museum, or by bring the museum to the classroom.