The Historical Museum at St. Gertrude has been called one of the best-kept secrets of Idaho.

Located on the bucolic grounds of the Benedictine Monastery of St. Gertrude, the museum — recently remodeled and structured around the sisters of the monastery and the early pioneers of north central Idaho — draws more than 6,000 visitors a year.

The nucleus of the museum started in 1910 when Sister Rose Hodges, a science teacher at St. Scholastica Academy in Colton, received a collection of minerals from the National Museum of Natural History, later known as the Smithsonian.

In 1931, Sister Alfreda Elsensohn, a teacher at St. Gertrude’s Academy in Cottonwood, brought the mineral collection to the academy and it became the start of the museum. At that time, the museum was housed in the school attic, along with other taxidermy specimens and various artifacts from Sister Alfreda’s science curriculum and collections of interest.

Finally, in 1980, a new museum was built and the ever-growing collection was relocated to its present site. Artifacts from throughout the Northwest, including the Rhoades Emmanuel Memorial collection, named after a Camas Prairie native who went on to become a world-renowned organist, expanded the museum’s offerings further.

Space was crowded and displays were jumbled together in no apparent order until 2015, when the museum obtained large grants from the Idaho State Historical Society, Idaho Humanities Council and the Laura Moore Cunningham Foundation. Under the guidance of former Idaho State Historian Keith Petersen and Mary Reed, of Moscow, the museum underwent a six-year, $100,000 redesign that tells the unfolding story of the sisters, the Nez Perce people, early pioneers and other fascinating local characters such as Polly Bemis and Buckskin Bill.

“Benedictines have always valued history and have always valued tradition,” said Sister Mary Forman, prioress of the monastery. “And one of the best ways to show that tradition and history is to actually honor the artifacts that tell the story. And that goes way back, thousands of years, doing that. So we come by this very naturally.”

Besides the exhibits, the museum also offers a visitor’s center and gift shop at the entrance to the building. Throughout the year, lecture series featuring local historians and other experts are scheduled.

The annual Raspberry Festival, held the first Sunday in August, was postponed during the COVID-19 pandemic. This year the event will be offered Aug. 7 on a scaled-back format and renamed the Raspberry Social. All revenue from that event helps support the museum’s mission of preserving the rich heritage of the Monastery of St. Gertrude, the Camas Prairie, Snake River, Salmon River and the surrounding areas. n

Historical Museum at St. Gertrude

LOCATION: Three miles west of Cottonwood at 465 Keuterville Road.

DIFFICULTY: 1 out of 5

OPEN YEAR-ROUND: Monday through Saturday except for certain holidays, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Closed Sundays, Memorial Day, July 4th, Labor Day, Thanksgiving and the Friday after, and Christmas Eve through New Year’s Day.

WATERING HOLES: The Keuterville Pub and Grub is located 3 miles west of the monastery on Keuterville Road and serves beer, burgers, sandwiches and salads.

ABOUT THE MONASTERY: Because of the ongoing pandemic, the historical monastery chapel is currently closed to the public. The Spirit Center, located next to the museum, is open for gatherings and retreats, and the Inn at St. Gertrude also is open for overnight guests.

FEES: Adults, $6; students 7-17, $3; children 6 and younger, free.

CONTACT: (208) 962-2050; or online at: historicalmuseumatstgertrude.org/

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