The History of the Idaho Museum of Mining & Geology
The Idaho Museum of Mining and Geology (IMMG) is over 25 years old. The plan to open an Idaho museum that focused on the history of mining and geology in Idaho was sparked in 1988. The man behind this idea was Fred Shute, a geologist and a Boise jeweler. Fred was assisted early on by a dedicated and influential group of Idahoans. This small but enthusiastic band of engineers, businessmen, and geologists worked tirelessly for almost 5 years to bring their dream of a museum to fruition.
Those first years were filled with both satisfaction and frustration. The museum board got off to a strong start and on January 26, 1989, the Idaho Museum of Mining and Geology became incorporated as a Foundation. The board leased 450 square feet of office space in Boise at 106 N. 6th as they worked on plans for a permanent museum site at 6th and Myrtle.
The IMMG functioned early on under the eye of an advisory council but, by 1990, elected its first board of directors: Fred Shute (president), Terry Maley (vice president), Don Haas (treasurer), Dan Yanke (secretary), Ken Swanson, Robert Richins, and Ed Romack (liaisons to committees).
In 1990 they moved the IMMG office to 1106 W. State in the BB&W building. The IMMG Bylaws were written, the logo designed, and the first membership meeting was held. In the beginning there were 32 charter members of IMMG. The IMMG’s first newsletter, the “Bonanza”, was published.
The board’s goal of purchasing the land at 6th and Myrtle fell through when they were unable to raise the $500,000 necessary for the purchase option on the property. Even though Fred Shute had passionately and exhaustingly pursued every political and business lead he and the other board members had in the state, he and the board found the fundraising challenge too great.
The board forged on. They were soon talking with state and local political leaders about acquiring the historic Log Cabin at 801 S. Capitol Boulevard for the IMMG permanent site. The talk and letters of support for this plan made it appear a done deal.
But in 1991, IMMG learned that the state and city had dropped the ball when they neglected to formally transfer the Log Cabin site to the city, making the property unavailable to the IMMG. By now Fred Shute and the other IMMG board members were frustrated with the lack of commitment from Idaho’s political leaders. However, their own dedication to and dream of a permanent site for a museum kept them going. In a State Fair newspaper, Fred jokingly renamed IMMG “The Museum of Persistence and Perseverance”.
Boise State University donated the continuous use of office space to IMMG, including the cost of electricity. This real gesture of support must have lifted the hearts of a weary board. While Fred and the board were busy continuing their quest to secure a permanent museum site, the regular activities of the museum kept going. These included mining and geology seminars and discussions, State Fair exhibits, presentations in schools, and much more. The IMMG’s Public Information program included sending an IMMG representative to a variety of sister meetings, including Idaho Gem Club, Association of Mining Engineers, Idaho Association of Professional Geologists, and Idaho Gold Prospector’s Club.
By 1992 there was still no sign of a permanent museum site. At this point, IMMG was renting the auditorium at the Old Penitentiary in east Boise for its annual membership meeting. By now there were 100 members of IMMG. The board was beginning to offer field trips to historic mining towns in southern Idaho. The IMMG began talks with the Idaho State Historical Society (ISHS) and Parks and Recreation to renovate a storage building in Julia Davis Park to use as a museum. This was another great idea that never panned out.
Then in May of 1992, the IMMG learned the Trusty Dorm at the Old Penitentiary was available. With new-found vigor, the board took the steps needed to rent the old, fixer-upper, 2,300-square foot building for $100 a month. What Fred Shute had envisioned was now unfolding before him–but not without approximately 1 1/2 years of clean-up and setting up displays before the Idaho Museum of Mining and Geology opened.
By the fall of 1994 the museum was close to opening but still needed to take care of business. The board of directors who oversaw and helped with the necessary renovations included: Robin McRae (president), Terry Maley (vice-president), Joe Icenhower (secretary), Ed Fields, Bill Ewing, Fred Shute, Sue Whitted (member representatives), and Marilyn Allen (treasurer/administrator).
The IMMG joined the American Association of Museums and extended their lease of the Trusty Dorm for 5 more years. At this time there was the possibility that the museum would move to the Assay Office at 210 Main at the end of the 5-year lease. The ISHS told the IMMG board a longer term lease of the Trusty Dorm would not be possible because of site plans at the Old Penitentiary complex.
Work on the museum continued at an intense level. The ISHS provided mining artifacts from their collection, and Jim Lindsay gave the museum a steam crank drill. Bill and Marge Ewing donated the large wall ventilation fan. Jim Allen built 6 display cases; Terry Maley and Robin McRae worked to acquire geology and mining photos for display; Joe Icenhower built the mining camp; Lynn McClure focused the gift shop on retail and admissions and got the area carpeted. A 3-person committee was established to run the gift shop and a $300 start-up budget was approved for the store. The Gem Club loaned the IMMG its black light display, and the Idaho Mining Association donated $5,000 for the “Mineral Uses” exhibit—built by Creative Productions of Boulder, Colorado. Fred Shute donated $500 to have a large geologic map painted, and Dan Yanke donated mining equipment. In addition, wheelchair accessibility to the museum was addressed, and IMMG began Idaho Community Foundation involvement.
In early 1994, the IMMG balance was approximately $1,700. But expectations were high as the board prepared to open the museum. The board estimated an annual income of $97,000, with expenses at $90,000.
With much anticipation and after numerous delays, the museum held its grand opening on October 22, 1994. One hundred seventy-five enthusiastic supporters attended. The IMMG charged admission from the beginning, $2 for adults and $1 for seniors and kids.
While the educational program did well with school tours led by Ed Fields, the year’s lecture program was disappointing with 4 lectures and a $60 profit. Membership proved to be an ongoing challenge. After two mailings to 150 members, IMMG had 48 renewals. The 500 new anticipated memberships never materialized. So the museum board turned their attention to projects within reach.
In 1996, the Henry Fujii family descendants (Edson and Mary), donated a significant rock, gem, and fossil collection to the IMMG. In 1999, the Table Rock Trail Project got underway under the guidance of geologist, Don Adair. The project improved hillside trails and provided specific trail signs. By 2000, the IMMG reported 3600 adult visitors and 2,100 students from 33 school tours. The same year, Sherry Dunbar and Don Adair worked with Dan Yanke to move ore carts and railroad ties into newly organized historic mining exhibit. In 2007-08 Greg and John Sandmeyer built three new display cases for the museum, each as part of an Eagle Scout requirement for John. Greg prepared an extensive Idaho mineral collection that is on display.
In January, 2009, the IMMG board signed a five-year lease for the entire bottom floor of the Trustee Dorm. That included two rooms totaling 600 feet of new space. One room eventually became a Learning Center, and the other a storage room. In addition, the lighting in the main museum was upgraded with track lights, and wall switches instead of power strips throughout. The electric upgrade was completed by Heavy Duty Electric, Justin Congelton, with labor being donated and materials purchased at cost. The Botanical Gardens and the IMMG began working collaboratively for the first time, to plan a rock and garden party for fall. The IMMG January, 2009 bank account showed a balance of approximately $22,200 with a working yearly budget of about $10,000. The difference of about $13,000 was in CDs. Approximately 25 volunteers kept the museum open and running 5 days a week for 7 months. Admission has been free for years. There were 75 members of the museum in 2009.
In 2011 the Board of Directors approved a strategic plan for 2013 and beyond. It was the first time a “Strategic Planner” (Sherry Dunbar) was contracted to facilitate both developing and implementing a plan. Objectives included four key areas: museum operations, visitor experience, educational programs and outreach activities. Shirley Ewing functioned as Museum Manager from 2009 to 2015. Many of the objectives of the Strategic Plan have been met, and work is being done on 2015 objectives.
Each year the financial position of the museum continues to improve due to increased purchases in the Gift Shop, donations, Field Trips, and our annual Rock Party who boasts attendance of over 600 in 2014.
In January 2014 the budget was approximately $52,000, with about $20,000 budgeted for expenditures allowing the museum to set aside funds for big projects as well as for stipends and contracted services. The Collections Project was started using Past Perfect software, and a new hand-held microscope program and seismology software were purchased, as well as new flat screen TVs for use with each. Improved signage and stories are adding depth to exhibits. The board has grown to nine, with the addition of a technology whiz. The museum received two financial grants in 2013, one from Idaho Power ($450) and one from the Idaho Humanities Council ($750). Membership has grown to 102 in July, 2014.
The United States found itself in a financial crisis in 2009 with Wall Street scandals, bank closures, and billions of dollars of bailouts by the federal government. This was followed, in 2010, with Congress passing the biggest Healthcare reform package since Medicare and Social Security. In 2015, the economy is improving, but it is generally agreed it may never return to the 2008 boom days. The museum did well during the deep recession of the past, primary because it is run by volunteers, and prices are low for activities and for merchandize in the Gift Shop. Admission is still free.
The IMMG will continue to focus on educational opportunities for both children and adults by providing seven monthly geologic/mining field trips, several workshops, monthly lectures, conducting school tours, holding summer geo-days for kids, and hosting a Rock Party in the fall. In 2014 the museum collaborated with the Idaho Botanical Garden for a free day in May. The museum saw about 250 visitors and profited by about $250 in the Gift Shop. A 25th year Celebration was held in October, with approximately 10 ‘Founders” in attendance. In 2015 the museum received its 5th year of financial support from the Idaho Humanities Council for the Rock Party, $750.
The museum has never looked better or run more smoothly.
The challenges remain the same as when the museum first opened: volunteer staffing, fundraising, and increasing memberships. At this time in history we celebrate the uniqueness and depth of the Idaho Museum of Mining and Geology. Our founding members must be smiling.
Researched and written by Shirley Ewing, IMMG board member since 2004