ASHTON – Eastern Idaho is filled with hidden gems, spots of interest celebrating the culture and history of the area and its people. These spots include the Museum of the Henry’s Fork.
Nestled into a group of shops on Main Street in Ashton, the Museum of the Henry’s Fork documents the history and residents of the town. The museum celebrates Bear Gulch ski area and The American Dog Derby, the oldest sled dog race in America. The museum also highlights the agricultural and military history of the area.
“This is the only museum in Fremont County,” said the museum’s owner, Tom Howell. “Being here in Ashton, we tend to tell the story of Ashton more than the story of St. Anthony or Island Park.”
The Museum of the Henry’s Fork started up around three years ago when a similar museum in St. Anthony lost access to the building they were in. The artifacts and exhibits from that museum were shoved into storage for over a decade until Howell and his wife decided to buy a space and start up the MHF.
“We talked to the county commissioners and they kicked in a little money and they gave us all the stuff that was in storage from the previous museum,” Howell said. “We went through it and you know how going through a storage unit is. There were some treasures there and the rest of it you just heave right out straight into the garbage.”
The treasure from that storage unit served as the seed from which the Museum of the Henry’s Fork sprouted. Howell estimated those items make up about twenty percent of the museum’s current collection. The rest of the artifacts have come in mostly through donations from Ashton community members.
Driven by a desire to tell the story of Ashton, Howell and a small group of volunteers got the museum up and running and continue to maintain it today.
“My motto is I’m gonna do something nice for this town whether they like it or not,” Howell said. “My folks were always historians and collectors and I’m kind of a historian. I’m kind of an idiot savant and all through high school I got the better part of straight Fs, but history was one thing I enjoyed and my brother was the same way and he told me as much. He told me ‘You fail at a lot of things but if one thing interests you, that’s what you do.”
What Howell and company have done is bring together a collection of pieces that range from arrowheads to animal pelts to home furnishings. A spot on one wall is dedicated to the history of Bear Gulch ski resort. Another section chronicles the history of Ashton citizens who have served in the various branches of the military.
There’s also the museum’s connection to the American Dog Derby.
“We’re the main repository for all the dog race stuff,” Howell said. “They usually have it right here on Main Street and there’s a thousand or so people wandering up and down. They all come in and do this and that and watch the races. It’s a pretty big deal and it’s the main event for this town.”
Those interested in spending some time learning about the American Dog Derby or many other important aspects of Ashton’s history can drop by the Museum of the Henry’s Fork on Main Street in Ashton. Visit the museum’s Facebook page for more information.