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History saves an old Coeur d'Alene home

Two historians worked for more than a year to prevent the county from tearing down the Hamilton House in Coeur d'Alene.

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — A drive down North Government Way in Coeur d’Alene brings you past the types of buildings you might expect, like a courthouse and Recorder’s Office.

But just across the street, nestled in some trees, in the heart of the city, sits a house you might not otherwise notice. Now home to the Music Conservatory of Coeur d’Alene, the Hamilton House has quite the story to tell.

“It's amazing how close this building came to being torn down,” Walter Burns with the Kootenai County Historic Preservation Commission said of the historic house.

Built in 1910, the house has lived through a lot of history, but in 2019 Kootenai County was planning to tear it down as part of a courthouse expansion.

That likely would have happened, if not for the works of historians Cindy Nunn and Deborah Mitchell.

“We both were familiar with this house just from the exterior. And I thought that was a beautiful house,” Mitchell said.

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The two wanted to save the house and decided the best way to do so was to lean into its history.

“One of the things that has made this house so historically unique is that everything in here is original, everything is 114 years old,” Mitchell explained.

Judge William McNaughton lived in the house in the 1920s and 1930s. He was an Idaho State Supreme Court judge. From the courthouse, he could look across Garden Street to his house and see what his children were doing.

“I think we accepted it as a challenge that when we were told there's no history to that house, it's just an old house, that we were out to prove them wrong,” Mitchell said.

So, the two kept digging for more history.

“We knew if we could find the architect that that would be of historical significance important to the National Historic registry,” said Mitchell of their plan.

“We'd be on the phone till two and three in the morning saying, ‘I found this, did you find this? And can you find another piece of this puzzle?’” Nunn said.

The big discovery though came by accident. Cindy was looking through old trade journals from the era and stumbled across the men who built it, Boyd Hamilton and George Keith. Hamilton was the second mayor of Coeur D’Alene, serving from 1909 to 1911

“This was a major step because this was this was an uphill battle,” Burns said. “And I give these ladies all the credit in the world for the amount of effort that they put in to make this happen.”

It took what Nunn and Mitchell estimate was thousands of hours and well over a year of work, but they were finally successful in getting the house added to the National Register of Historic Places.

“Preserving our history is very important because to know who we are today, we need to know how we got here. And a lot of people are only concerned with progress, without any thought to where we came from, or how we got here, or what was involved in our roots,” Mitchell said. “And the architecture tells history, as well as the personal stories of the families that lived here.”

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