Buckskin Bill, Lonesome Larry, Sacajawea, Polly Bemis

Idaho’s rich history will be told through a multitude of communication platforms in the newly remodeled Idaho State Museum.

The renovation took four years and nearly $17 million, but offers an educational and interactive experience for children and adults. Most of the investment came from state tax dollars but 500 donors contributed more than $4 million.

Videos, photos, words, structures, artifacts and games assemble a digital tapestry of displays that will take hours for a visitor to absorb.

“This state museum tells stories as well as human experiences of love, perseverance and bravery,” said Janet Gallimore, executive director of the Idaho State Historical Society.

Museum officials are giving invitation-only guided tours through the end of the month. The building opens to the public on Oct. 12.

“We had kids crying yesterday because they didn’t want to leave the museum,” Gallimore said.

This game teaches the history of Idaho agriculture.


A large portion of the museum’s mission is to educate Idaho children because “history is the mothership of all disciplines,” Gallimore said. The museum has classroom space and learning labs and is set up for formal field trips as well as informal family learning tours. An Education Advisory Committee of 30 teachers developed teaching materials catered to all grade levels that are aligned to Idaho standards.

Kids can send a Morse code, load and “explode” dynamite and blow a train whistle in a section designed specially for young children. Virtual fieldtrips are in the museum’s future.

Four years ago, museum curators began designing the exhibits by asking: “What are the big stories for Idaho?” They concluded on two ideas:

  1.  The people shaped the land and the land shaped the people.
  2. Water is the life blood of Idaho.

“The shape of this state drove development and the water has always played a big role in recreation and commerce,” Gallimore said.

This timeline shows pictures of time period’s dress code.


The building hosts 46 multimedia elements that illustrate events such as the Stampede for Gold, Crossing the Oregon Trail and Surviving The Big Burn of 1910.

The museum also tells the story of characters that shaped history — Buckskin Bill, Lonesome Larry, Sacajawea and Polly Bemis.

“We talked to people all over the state in focus groups and found their No. 1 interest was tribal history,” Gallimore said, as she walked a tour through a theater experience showcasing Idaho’s five tribes and an exhibit labeled “Meet Idaho’s First People.”

Some displays are more modern — from gowns of former first ladies to Boise State University’s blue turf. While others are more dazzling, such as the old Owyhee Hotel’s dome and its hundreds of glass panels preserved for more than 100 years.

“We’re so proud of this collection,” Gallimore said.

Entry to the museum costs $10 for adults with discounts for children, seniors, military and others.

These gowns were worn by Idaho dignitary.


This is a collection of Idaho memorabilia.


The 1909 dome from Boise’s old Owyhee Hotel was preserved and donated to the museum.


Jennifer Swindell

Jennifer Swindell

Managing editor and CEO Jennifer Swindell founded Idaho Education News in 2013. She has led the online news platform as it has grown in readership and engagement every year, reaching over two million pageviews a year. Jennifer has more than 35 years of experience in Idaho journalism. She also has served as a public information officer for Idaho schools and as a communication director at Boise State University. She can be reached at [email protected].

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday