Monday, April 19, 2010

North Idaho Parks, Part 1

North Idaho has many great parks.  City parks enjoyed by children, family and community on a daily basis.  State parks which are weekend wonderlands and used by locals and awestruck visitors.  This column starts an ongoing series that will touch on a wide variety of North Idaho parks.  And what better place to start than Old Mission State Park in Cataldo, where Idaho's oldest standing building proudly sits.

In the early 1800's Coeur d’Alene Indians heard about tribes being visited by "medicine men" with great powers and wanted to get in on it. They journeyed to St. Louis three times to invite the Blackrobes (Jesuit priests) to live among the tribe. 

In 1842, Father Pierre-Jean De Smet traveled to the Coeur d'Alenes to meet and live with the tribe.  An original mission site was selected along the St. Joe River about 35 miles from the present location, and was called the Mission of St. Joseph. The river repeatedly flooded the site so in 1846 the location was abandoned in favor of a high, grassy knoll overlooking the Coeur d’Alene River. 

The Mission of the Sacred Heart was constructed between 1850 and 1853.  It became a center hub and spiritual home for the Tribe.  With the completion of the Mullan Road (within sight of the Mission) in the early 1860s, traffic grew from settlers and prospectors.  The U.S. government decided to set up a reservation for the tribe but much to the dismay of the Coeur d'Alenes was that it was located near the south end of the lake.  In 1877 the Tribe moved to what is now DeSmet and built another mission.   

The Sacred Heart Mission at Cataldo was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1963.  By the 1970's the building was beat down.  The Idaho Bicentennial Commission took it on in 1974 and in 1975 it officially became Old Mission State Park.

Today the Park is a centerpiece in the history of North Idaho.  Located at Exit 39 on I-90, the Mission is clearly visible to all who pass.  As a State Park, a $5 vehicle pass is required but well worth that amount.  An interpretive center with exhibits and multi media presentations walks visitors through the daily life of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe and the story of the coming of the Blackrobes.  On the site is the restored parish house, historic cemetery, nature trails and an audio walking tour is available.  

But the crown jewel is the church itself.  A walk around and inside the building provides a glimpse into the waddle and daub construction methods of 150 years ago.  Built in 3 years by the Catholic missionaries and members of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe using only broad axe, auger, ropes and pulleys, a pen knife and an improvised whip saw, it was finished without using one single nail.

The Park is open from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, 7 days a week.  Special events at the Mission include a Historic Skills Fair in July and the Feast of the Assumption Pilgrimage by the Coeur d'Alene Indians and the Annual Mountain Man Rendezvous in August.  If you haven't visited old Mission State Park, make sure you put it on your list of things to do.

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