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Growing attendance at the Idaho Potato Museum

Business & Money

BLACKFOOT — When people visit eastern Idaho, they typically are heading to see Yellowstone National Park and other natural wonders.

More and more, however, visitors are also putting this stop on their list to must-see: The Idaho Potato Museum.

Located at 130 Northwest Main Street in Blackfoot, it’s easy to get to and is a quick stop for travelers looking for the full Idaho experience. Because who doesn’t think of potatoes when they think of Idaho?

Since Bingham County is the largest potato growing county in the state, Blackfoot calls itself the Potato Capital of the World.

The Idaho Potato Museum celebrates all things potato, including the vegetable’s origins, and the potatoes varieties developed over the years. Displays also highlight the history of how farmers planted, harvested, and stored potatoes and also advances in technology.

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Visitors to the museum learn a lot about where potatoes come from and the different varieties that have been developed. | Carrie Snider, EastIdahoNews.com

Tish Dahmen, executive director of the Idaho Potato Museum, said it’s been amazing sharing the story of the potato to visitors through the museum.

“It’s a rite of passage for vacationers,” she said.

Dahmen started working with the museum in 2012, and in the past several years visitor numbers have spiked, thanks to a renovation, expanded hours (now open Saturdays), and other factors.

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The biggest potato chip in the world. | Carrie Snider, EastIdahoNews.com

“When I first started we had about 7,600 visitors that year. Last year we had 18,000 visitors, and this year so far we’ve have 25,000 due to so many visiting the area for the solar eclipse. It’s been a madhouse.”

The museum has a sign-in book, where visitors write where they are from and how they heard about the museum. Visitors literally come from all over the globe, and they typically find the museum via the freeway sign, on the Internet, or by word of mouth.

The building’s history is an important part of the museum. It’s the former Oregon Short Line railroad depot, which was built in 1913 using stone quarried in Rexburg. The railroad served both passenger and freight for many years, with passenger service discontinued in the early 1970s.

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The Idaho Potato Museum is located in Blackfoot in the former historic Oregon Short Line depot, which was built in 1913. The museum started there in 1988. | Courtesy Idaho Potato Museum

The building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974; the building was donated to the city in 1987. The next year it underwent many interior changes to become The Idaho Potato Museum. The maple floorings and majority of the millworks are still intact from the original depot. Many visitors over the years enjoyed the early exhibits in the museum.

Later in 2013, the museum underwent further renovations, including exterior stones repaired by a local stone mason working with a state historic preservationist. In 2014, funding from the Blackfoot Urban Renewal Agency allowed for interior exhibit spaces to be redesigned. One big change was the addition of a café where visitors can order baked potatoes, French fries, potato soup, potato salad or one of the many novelty potato products such as potato cupcakes or potato bread.

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The Potato Station Cafe was recently added in the former depot’s baggage claim area. The cafe serves what else? French fries and other potato dishes. | Courtesy Idaho Potato Museum

Currently under construction is the renovation of a 1959 Union Pacific caboose, which will eventually be an outdoor washroom facility for museum visitors.

Always on the mind of the museum board of directors is how to improve and offer the story of the potato industry to the world. Many people over the years have donated key pieces and stories that visitors see today, and those pieces have become vital parts of what makes the museum so great.

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Historical photos, pieces, and stories are what help to tell the story of the Idaho potato. The museum is always looking for more local stories. | Courtesy Idaho Potato Museum

For example, the display of potato peelers was a Florida man’s collection that was donated. The list goes on, from pictures to machinery. The museum is always looking for more pieces and stories to help tell the story not just the potato, but of Idaho’s part in it all.

“We want to expand the local history portion of the museum,” Dahmen said. “I think there is always room for improvement. We tell a good story about potatoes: the history, cultivation, etc. But I don’t think we tell the Idaho story, how they pushed and what made Idaho potatoes famous.

“Of course the big players are important, but we also want to tell the story of the lesser known people. I want people who come here from all over the year who know the entrepreneurship and hard work of people from here.”

For more information, visit the museum’s website at idahopotatomuseum.com.

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