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Still mining history after 50 years

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The original board of directors of the Upper Snake River Valley Historical Society included, from the back left, Dick Smith, DeWayne Wilding, Orville Larsen, Louis Clements, Norman Ricks and Darrell Huskey. Seated from the left were Dorothy Hegsted, Parley Rigby, Blaine Passey, John Nash and Blair Rich. The organization turned 50 in 2015. | Photo courtesy Rexburg/Madison County Historical Society.

REXBURG – A group that celebrated its 50 year anniversary in 2015 is not resting on its laurels.

The Upper Snake River Valley Historical Society has narrowed its focus and continues its goal to preserve the area’s history.

The group renamed itself the Rexburg/Madison County Historical Society, with the longer, upper valley name as a subtitle. The name change represents the society’s narrowing focus, with homage to the original aims. Originally the group was the sole historical society established in the area. Since then others have formed, allowing the society to drawn back.

One of the founders of the group, Louis Clements, continues as its mainstay. He’s the one who works intermittently in the group’s office in the basement of the beautiful and iconic Rexburg Tabernacle Civic Center, a building oozing with the history he has helped preserve.

His office is next door to the newly renamed Museum of Rexburg, which includes the Teton Flood Exhibit Clements and the historical society helped to create.

Clements, a former Madison High School history teacher, has contributed much of his life to preserving history. His latest contribution is producing the 50th anniversary commemorative issue of the Snake River Echoes.

From its beginnings in 1965 the society has included Clements on its board of directors. He is the only living member left of the original board. His personal historical knowledge of Rexburg and the upper valley is likely unsurpassed.

He has written or collaborated on more than 15 books and is writing another with the working title of “Eastern Idaho History, Voices from the Past.”

Teton_Damn

The Rexburg/Madison County Historical Society maintain an office in the iconic Rexburg Tabernacle Civic Center in the newly renamed Museum of Rexburg. | Photo by Joyce Edlefsen

He and other board members are the go-to sources for answers to historical questions. After years of fielding such inquiries, the society created a website (www.rexburghistoricalsociety.com) that includes its card catalog and most of its historical photographs so curious people readily can find the information.

Plans also are in the works to include collections of oral histories (the society has 500-600 oral history tapes) online.

“BYU-Idaho asked if it could put the new Snake River Echoes 50th anniversary issue online,” Clements said, as well as the entire collection of the publication, eventually.

The society continues its more traditional roles in the community, too. It’s restoring an old hitching post monument at the northeastern corner of the tabernacle and gathering information to include in a time capsule at the front of the building with the aim of opening it in 100 years. And work is under way to move a monument denoting a historical ferry across the North (Henry’s) Fork of the Snake River near Madison County’s Beaver Dick Park.

The monument will be moved across Idaho Highway 33 and installed inside the park, where it will be more protected against vandalism.

The society also hopes to work with the Museum of Rexburg to provide volunteers for living history exhibits once the museum reopens after cleaning and renovations in the spring.

“You would be surprised how many people say they know someone who has a spinning wheel and spins,” Clements said. Demonstrations of such basic pioneer skills are part of the plan.

Also in keeping with tradition, the society hopes to again honor a pioneer family and take a historical field trip this year.

As with any longtime organization, the historical society faces the challenge of enticing new blood to join the cause. Clements said he plans to work to get people to serve on the board. “It’s honestly not a big deal,” he said. “It’s ideas we need, mostly.”

For information, contact Clements at the museum at (208) 359-3063. His special edition of the Snake River Echoes will be available at the museum when it reopens, he said.

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