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Small Town Spotlight: Downey’s Pioneer Cabin offers a glimpse into eastern Idaho history

The Daughters of Utah Pioneers Cabin, in Downey, now serves as a local heritage museum. | Courtesy Sarah Matkin
DOWNEY — A cabin built in 1870 – predating the town of Downey itself – still stands, serving as a de facto museum for the region and offering a unique perspective of that region’s history.
Now known as the Daughters of Utah Pioneers Cabin — or just Pioneers Cabin — this structure has served the people of and around Downey in a great many ways. According to Sarah Matkin, the captain of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers’ Camp Hunt, in its century-and-a-half of existence, the cabin has served as a home, a general store and even women’s clinic before a hospital was built in the area.
Linda Brim, a member of the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, took her first tour of the cabin in the early 1960s and still remembers the connection she had to it.
“I think it’s exciting because this is part of our heritage. Just imagining what it must have been like as a store … it was the first school (in the area). You can just imagine all the things that happened in there,” she told “You have to let your imagination roll.”

An organ and a bookcase displayed inside the Pioneer Cabin. | Courtesy Sarah Matkin
The cabin was built by William Jackson and Cyrus Coffin on Nine Mile Creek, about 2-and-a-half miles northeast of present day Downey, according to historical documents provided by Matkin. For over 40 years it was inhabited by Abigail Starbuck Coffin.
Coffin used the building to serve the growing community, first making regular trips by horse-drawn carriage to Ogden for needed supplies then selling them out of the cabin — making this structure the first store in the Marsh Valley. As the community continued to grow, Coffin donated it for use as a schoolhouse — making it one of, if not the first schools in the Marsh Valley.
The cabin was placed on skids and moved to Downey City Park in the early 1930s. It has stood there since, though it did not take its position as a historic centerpiece of the town until it was dedicated in 1961.
“It was exciting when it finally opened up and was finally established as our cabin and our town museum,” Brim said.
Over the years, visitors have mostly been limited to the Bannock County Fair, during which the caretakers open the cabin door for tours through the past.
But, as Matkin explained, people who want to poke around inside this historical building can do so. And they must go about that in the most small town way possible — by asking locals to give her a call.
“If anyone ever comes to town and wants to see the cabin, the people at the city, the people at the bank, they know who to contact,” Matkin said. “We have times when people will come and want to see it, so we’ll go down and open it up for them.”

Memorabilia from the Marsh Valley pioneer families, displayed inside the Pioneer Cabin. | Courtesy Sarah Matkin
Inside the cabin, visitors will find trinkets of yesteryear. Tools of everyday life. What Matkin called, the sorts of things Idahoans’ grandmothers and great-grandmothers used to feed their families.
“You can really see how life used to be,” she said.
As they attempt to maintain the cabin for future access to the mystique it provides, the pioneers daughters will be renovating the structure in the coming months. This, Matkin said, will be the first major renovation the cabin has undergone since its construction more than 150 years ago.
Among the work that will be done, the wooden floor will be lifted and new footings and foundation installed. While a grant from the Idaho Heritage Trust has made the needed renovations possible, Matkin and her fellow committee members will be fundraising to cover additional costs. Anyone interested in donating to those costs can do so using Venmo.
Donations can be sent to @Annette-Blarer. Matkin asks that “Coffin Cabin Downey Idaho” be included in the “what’s it for?” section.
“It’s a way of preserving our history, because you’ve got to know where you come from and how we all started out,” Brim said. “We need values, and we need heritage.”
Small Town Spotlight wants to shine a light on all the good going on in small-town Idaho. If you know of someone or something in one of Idaho’s many small towns that deserve to be featured on Small Town Spotlight, email and include “spotlight” in the subject line.
The post Small Town Spotlight: Downey’s Pioneer Cabin offers a glimpse into eastern Idaho history appeared first on East Idaho News.

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