Local treasure saved from demolition now listed on the National Register of Historic Places By Jillian Chandler | Photo By Cindy Nunn
The state of Idaho is still relatively young compared to other states. Coeur d’Alene didn’t become a town until 1887; a city with an elected mayor in 1906. “And during the big timber boom between 1900 and 1920, Coeur d’Alene grew by over 1,000 percent!” states Deborah Mitchell. Many beautiful homes were built during this time, including the Hamilton House, which sits at 627 Government Way in the historic Forest Heights neighborhood.
In the spring of 2019, Deborah read an article in the Coeur d’Alene Press about the county commissioners’ plan to tear down the longstanding Hamilton House to build a modern office building. “Growing up here in the ‘60s and ‘70s, most people knew that elegant house as the Hawkins’ home. Agnes and William Hawkins were pillars of the community,” she recalls. “When it became the law office of Romer Brown about 1975, my brother had a real estate upstairs office for a while.”
When the neighborhood petition had failed to halt the plans for demolition, Deborah felt compelled to uncover the history of the home.
Deborah wasn’t alone. When Cindy Nunn discovered that the home was set for demolition, she remembers, “All I could think was that this beautiful old home needed to be documented with photographs and a history before it was gone forever.”
She made an appointment with the County to gain access to take the photos, and she also began researching the history of the home. “This is when I found out that Deborah was also researching the house and that the petition had failed because nobody was able to provide a compelling historical reason for saving the house,” details Cindy. “They didn't even know when it had been built or by whom.” This is when Deborah and Cindy teamed up and took on the challenge.
“We knew this was our calling, our mission, when we started to learn about the original history of the house and the important role it played in the formation of Coeur d'Alene as a city,” shares Cindy. Deborah adds, “The call deepened once we learned that Boyd Hamilton, the second mayor, had the house built on what was part of the original Fort Sherman grounds.”
After months of intensive work and research, the pair convinced the County to sell the house instead of tearing it down, and Cindy and Deborah began the laborious task of writing the full application required to get the Hamilton House listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
On October 9, 2020, after more than a year of trying to raise awareness and funds to stop the Hamilton House from demolition, local businessman Donald “Pepper” Smock and Mayor Steve Widmyer purchased the property for $501,000—saving the home and allowing it to continue its long legacy.
“With so much of Coeur d'Alene's history being bulldozed by property developers and lost before it can be properly recorded, what normally might seem like a minor win has become a major victory,” affirms Cindy. “This was about more than saving a house. It helped to preserve the aesthetic and physical integrity of the historic Forest Heights neighborhood. It could be said that Hamilton House acts as a buffer zone, creating a demarcation between Forest Heights and the rapid modernization taking place downtown. This feels like a much-needed triumph for those who value and appreciate history, setting an example for others that, with enough determination and tenacity, you can fight and win.”
Deborah and Cindy are considered the Historians of Record for the Hamilton House, and throughout the entire nomination process, the pair worked closely with the Idaho State Preservation Office. “Matt Halitsky, Dan Everhart and Jason Tippeconnic Fox provided valuable support, guidance and assistance,” says Cindy. “We would have been lost without them.”
Truly a project led by passion and commitment, the women spent hundreds of hours editing, compiling and finalizing the application before submitting it. And their work was not in vain. In October 2021, a little more than a year after the house’s future was secured, the Boyd and Alta Hamilton House was listed in the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).
Cindy and Deborah feel a deep sense of pride seeing this beautiful house, a part of Coeur d’Alene’s early history, still standing—and formerly recognized as a historic piece of Coeur d’Alene’s history. And they would love to see a plaque hanging outside the door. “After so much hard work, the house deserves a plaque of recognition. We are hoping that the owners or a historical society will help us to acquire one,” smiles Cindy.
She adds that a common concern from locals is “Coeur d’Alene history disappearing under the bulldozers of developers.” As she can attest, “It's noble to be concerned but is wasted emotion if you aren't prepared to act and do something. We saw yet another beautiful historic building getting ready to become a parking lot and decided to be proactive. Instead of crying on social media, we actively fought against the demolition of Hamilton House”—and succeeded.
Deed restrictions require that Hamilton House only be used to operate a nonprofit or a museum. Today, the house is home to the Music Conservatory of Coeur d’Alene.
Donations help to keep the doors open and preserve the house for future generations.
For more information on how you can donate, visit CdAConservatory.org/donate. For those who would like to learn the fascinating and in-depth history of this remarkable house, Cindy invites you to visit HHHCdA.wordpress.com.