SALMON — The Lemhi County Historical Society and Museum is expanding its ability to tell the story of the Salmon River valley by buying the former library building in Salmon.
The acquisition of the library is expected to be finalized at some point this spring. Dr. Hope Benedict, head of the Lemhi County Historical Society, said that acquiring the building will greatly help the society fulfill its mission to tell the story of the area’s history.
“We were interested in gaining access to the old library because one, it’s right next door to us, and two, we always need more room for both exhibits and storage, and we wanted to have a place where we could do traveling exhibits,” Benedict said.
Upon expressing their interest in purchasing the building, the Historical Society struck a loose agreement with the Salmon Library Association to lease the building with an option to buy it outright in the future. The Library Association set a price of $150,000, a sum that gave Benedict and her colleagues pause — not because it was an unreasonable price, but because the annual income of small museums is generally low and can vary greatly.
“We were nervous about moving forward because $150,000 for a nonprofitable nonprofit is quite a lot of money, in a very small town,” said Benedict. “So, we didn’t initiate an immediate fundraising effort.”
That’s when the community of Salmon stepped in.
Fundraising began when the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer offered to help launch the money-raising efforts.
“They were very interested in seeing us move on it,” Benedict said. “So, they hosted a fundraising dinner for us and in two-and-a-half hours, we raised $5,000. And we thought, ‘OK, that demonstrates some pretty clear interest on the part of the community.’”
The fundraising efforts drew contributions from donors from all walks of life. For instance, Wayne Johnson and the Salmon River Rafting Company donated a trip for two down the Salmon River that helped generate $10,000. Nikos Monoyios and Dr. Valerie Brackett, owners of the Eagle Valley Ranch, pledged to match all donations up to $35,000 at a fundraiser in July.
But the museum also received smaller donations.
“We received donations from $5 to $35,000,” Benedict said. “Once the Episcopal Church gave the start, it only took another 16 months to raise the full amount. Every dollar made a significant difference to our cause.”
Benedict credits the Lemhi Valley community with helping the historical society achieve such a lofty goal so rapidly.
“I think it demonstrates the community spirit here and their interest in education and educational exhibits and their belief in our heritage,” she said.
The former library has already hosted exhibits. From November 2019 to January 2020, the building hosted the Smithsonian Institution’s traveling exhibit “Crossroads: Change in Rural America.” Benedict said it would house future enterprises and exhibits to help further the understanding and appreciation of local and regional history.
In fact, when the museum is able to reopen after the current crisis, it will showcase (in cooperation with the Sacajawea Center) “In Good Faith,” a documentary and exhibit that focus on the 1868 Virginia City (Montana Territory) Treaty, which was negotiated and signed in good faith by Chief Tendoy (Agaidika Shoshone) on behalf of his people. It was never ratified.
The majority of the space will house an exhibit on the history of the Main Salmon, Middle Fork, Lemhi, and Pahsimeroi Rivers, entitled, “River of History: Connecting Past, Present, and Future.” This evolving exhibit will highlight the lives of those who made their homes within the Salmon River Canyon and also detail the ongoing and wide-ranging economic, ecologic, and cultural importance of the river systems.
Working with the River of No Return Chapter of Trout Unlimited and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, the Lemhi County Museum will offer education on fish and wildlife habitat, streambed restoration, tributary-to-river connectivity and migrating fish.
“In addition, we are establishing the Shirley Walker Lemhi County History Research Center, which will offer a treasure-trove of research material for scholars of all ages,” she said.
Benedict said the new building would allow the Historical Society to display a greater number of the artifacts, giving museum visitors a wider, more detailed view of Lemhi County history.
“We have a tremendous number and variety of artifacts because the community has been very generous,” she said. “But we’ve really never had the space to tell the full story of the importance of the Salmon River and its tributaries to our history and our culture, so this (new building) enables us to do that and more, as well as bring in visiting exhibits.”