From the homestead to the horizon

Community-curated exhibit Storied Futures looks to the past to foster conversations about future development

By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
Reader Staff

In the face of great change, it’s not uncommon to feel helpless. It’s the only constant, after all, along with the passage of time. 

As time marches on and changes follow close behind, it is easy to lose sight of another, more hopeful constant: humanity.

We, as humans, don’t have the best track record with change, and yet, our desire to have our voices heard is steadfast — whether it’s 1893 or 2023. This is a takeaway from the Storied Futures project, a community-curated history exhibit now on display at Evans Brothers Coffee in Sandpoint featuring a deeply researched dive into the history of the Elsasser homestead from the time two brothers secured a deed to the property north of Sandpoint in the 1890s to the 2021 demolition of the land’s last standing home.

Local writer Emily Erickson said those constants came to light while studying Sandpoint’s boom not long after the Elsasser brothers’ arrival.

The Elsasser homestead, photographed in the 1890s. Photo courtesy of the Bonner County Historical Society, donated to the collection by Donna Lee Dicksson Riffle.

“What surprised me was how familiar the conversations they were having were compared to the conversations we are having now,” Erickson said, noting the similarities between current pushback against the proposed Couplet project on Highway 2 and the Elsassers’ opposition to Boyer Ave. running through their properties.

“It’s the same stuff,” she added, “so it feels like a part of this town’s landscape to have questions about development.”

Storied Futures took shape when Bonner County History Museum Executive Director Hannah Combs found herself talking to an excavator with plans to clear the homestead for an impending subdivision. He invited Combs to tour what was left, and soon her friends Erickson and local architect Reid Weber joined her in discovering what stories the homestead had left to tell.

“It was there that we didn’t know what we wanted to do about it,” Erickson said, “but all of this together, — the changes happening around us that felt so out of our grasp —, we said, ‘We need to do something even if it’s just looking at this one property and learning about it and learning from it.’”

“Initially we wanted to just document what was left,” Weber added. “Then we spent a year unfolding these layers of history that we found.”

The homestead explorers spent that year perusing museum archives and piecing together a narrative that told not only the story of the Elsasser family, but of a broader historical context surrounding why, and how, a place changes. As a result, Storied Futures is one part storytelling that pulls at the heartstrings and one part explanation, aimed at understanding the bureaucratic systems at play when land is designated for change.

“For me, this topic is very emotional,” Combs said, “and yet, I don’t have the technical knowledge to know how it works behind the scenes, which [Weber] was able to bring. That lent a lot of credibility to our story as it developed.”

Through historic photos, illustrations and modern-day documentation of the homestead just before its demolition, the Storied Futures team — which also includes local history enthusiast Cynthia Dalsing and Sandpoint High School senior and graphic artist Owen Leisy — created a timeline-guided exhibit now on display at Evans Brothers through Tuesday, May 2.

While Storied Futures serves as a standalone project seemingly at its culmination, the team behind it won’t count out more work in the same community-curated vein. What’s more, they can already see the exhibit starting deeper conversations about how the town has changed, and will keep changing.

A patron sits in front of the new Storied Futures exhibit at Evans Brothers Coffee. Photo by Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey.

“As the county and city entities are doing a lot of work right now to tackle these issues, I know that there are opportunities for public input,” Combs said. “I hope this exhibit gives community members the vocabulary and an entry point of understanding that will help them to participate more actively in those conversations.”

Those conversations revolve largely around development — a word Erickson said she found to have dual meaning through the Storied Futures storytelling process.

“One is that rampant development — the other is to develop, or nurture,” she said.

The latter, Combs said, is “considerate of the needs of the entire community.”

As the Storied Futures team so eloquently writes in the exhibit’s culminating statement: “On one side of development are the themes of sprawl and expansion; of noxious-weed-like growth, of insular profits and benefits only reaching one person or a small group of people — despite its widespread impact. On the other side of development are the themes of cultivation and maturation; of garden-like growth and measured expansion, with benefits extending beyond a single profiteer and reaching the community at large. 

“One side of development simply affects change. The other side of development recognizes the power and responsibility attached to the ability to affect change.”

View Storied Futures at Evans Brothers Coffee (524 Church St.) until Tuesday, May 2.

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