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Ask a child to explain a museum and the answer is likely to be “a lot of old stuff.”  But “old stuff” alone is not a sufficient definition, since most garages, basements, and even garbage dumps could meet that criteria and are not even close to being museums.  Luckily, Payette County has a museum, and many area teachers make a point of bringing their students to visit this collection of our community’s history.  As shown in this photo, Payette County is proud of famous sons like baseball player Harmon Killebrew. Sports, military, and farming displays are prominent in the museum.

The Payette County Museum, located at the corner of N 9th Street and 1st Avenue S, in Payette, Idaho, is run by the Payette County Historical Society (PCHS) and manned by volunteers and a dedicated museum administrator.   

The building housing the museum collection is as historical as almost anything inside it.  The land for the original church had been donated by dedicated church member Peter Pence, using a portion of his homestead.  After several years in a wooden structure the congregation decided they needed a larger and sturdier place of worship so they raised money to build a brick church. Erected in 1904 as the Methodist Episcopal Church the building includes lovely stained glass windows donated by early church members.  The largest of these are the east window depicting Jesus with a small flock of sheep and the south window which shows Jesus praying beside a large boulder.  While the men of the congregation provided the muscle to build the church, the women held suppers and raffles to raise funds and paid off the mortgage in only two years.

Now, 108 years later, the building is still sound, but years of low funding is taking its toll. The museum recently required a new roof, then the air-conditioning system had to be replaced. The Payette County Historical Society barely has enough money to keep the museum open another year if we no longer have a paid employee. Because of this fact our coordinator Ann Curtis has resigned and will join the ranks of the museum volunteers.  People with fund-raising ideas or experience are much needed within PCHS and anyone willing to help or donate is encouraged to contact the museum.

Over the years the museum has been given thousands of photos spanning the last century of Payette County’s history.  Many of these photos show buildings and people yet to be identified.  An open invitation has been given for long-time area residents to visit the museum, view the photos, provide the correct names and locations and help preserve this vital part of local history.  Most of the identified photos are on display in the museum and some are also shown on the PCHS web site.  These include hand-colored photos of the old Payette train depot, the downtown area, sports teams, and historic buildings. 

Ann Curtis, the museum administrator, is dedicated to preserving the history of Payette County.  All it takes to get on Curtis’ good side is an honest interest in the history of this county.  Bring your questions, research, and ideas to Curtis and she will go out of her way to help you learn more about this area and any artifacts that you may have discovered.  Recently Curtis has been working with a group of interested residents attempting to identify former uses for the historical buildings in Payette County.

People often bring in old objects they can't identify, or collections of tools they found at estate sales.   These tools were brought by Pat Townsend.

Research consists of collecting any printed information on the articles then checking with other collectors, museums, schools, libraries or Internet sites in hopes of finding more information.                                                                                                  One of the challenges in 2009 was identifying school uniforms and costumes donated from the Payette School District through Pat Townsend.  Thanks to an article in the local paper and the help of interested citizens, the clothing was identified according to the groups and years they were used.

There are even carbide lamps, the exact use of which Curtis is still researching.  Shown here is museum volunteer Jewell Dudley with a carbide lamp obviously designed to hang from a ceiling.  Visitors to the museum quickly realize that it is constantly changing and growing.  The Payette County Museum is a work in progress because of the dedication of the volunteers, the interest of the community, and the responsibility taken on by the board of directors.  Everyone associated with the Payette County Historical Society and Museum has reason to be proud of their accomplishments.  You are invited to visit the Payette County Museum soon and often.  The museum is open Wed.- Sat.from 12 noon until 4pm.  Admission is free and donations are much appreciated.

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All text and photos not otherwise attributed are provided by museum volunteer and web designer Lucinda Sutherland of Payette, Idaho.  E-mail your comments to Sutherland at lucisept61@yahoo.com .