Long before Coeur d’Alene was a retirement, resort and recreation hot spot, the town revolved around a military fort on the shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene.
This early chapter in city history will be remembered with Fort Sherman Days, a monthlong series of events starting Monday at North Idaho College. The lineup includes a “Review of Troops at Fort Sherman,” walking tours of the old fort grounds, an old-fashioned ice cream social with the Fort Sherman Band, and a concert by the Fort Sherman Symphonette.
A lecture and slide show, “In the Shadow of Fort Sherman,” will kick off the celebration Monday at 7 p.m. at Todd Hall in NIC’s Molstead Library. Local historian and living-history performer Robert Singletary will lead the talk and slide show of the historic fort. Singletary will portray Gen. William Carlin, commander of Fort Sherman from 1884 to 1894.
Congress established the fort on April 16, 1878, on the site now occupied by NIC. First called Fort Coeur d’Alene, it played a major role in the development of the city until the fort was deactivated in 1898.
“There may not have been a Coeur d’Alene if not for Fort Coeur d’Alene,” Singletary said.
With infantry troops numbering 300 to 350, the fort soon attracted farmers, merchants, saloons and bordellos in what is now downtown.
The soldiers never fought in battle while stationed here, but they were used in the mining wars when workers tried to unionize. It’s been said the biggest danger they faced were the watering holes in town, Singletary said.
The Fort Sherman Chapel will be the venue for the review of troops 7 p.m. April 23. The event will include demonstrations of life at the fort in the 1890s. The hosts, dressed in period uniforms, will be Mike Feiler representing the infantry, Albert Wilkerson of the cavalry and Mike Dolan of ordnance and artillery. Each will portray sergeants.
Walking tours are scheduled for April 30 and May 7. The 45-minute tours will begin at 6 p.m. at Molstead Library with Singletary, again as Gen. Carlin, as tour guide. Highlights include the three surviving buildings from the days of the fort: the red chapel, the officers’ quarters and the powder magazine, which houses artifacts from Fort Sherman.
The ice cream social will be at 3 p.m. May 6 in front of the powder magazine on College Drive on the NIC campus. The Fort Sherman Band will perform under the direction of Terry Jones.
The lectures, band concert, tours and ice cream social are free, but reservations are required because of limited seating. Call (208) 769-3355.
The final event, a concert by the Fort Sherman Symphonette conducted by Singletary, will be May 16. The symphonette – a 19th-century term for an orchestra – will play popular classical works of the day, including selections by Strauss, Bizet and Dvorak. The concert will begin at 7 p.m. in the Coeur d’Alene Room of NIC’s Edminster Student Union Building.
The student union sits on the site of the old Fort Sherman Opera House. In the 1890s, a concert, play or operetta was presented there on Friday nights.
Tickets to the symphonette concert are $10 and can be purchased at the Museum of North Idaho by calling (208) 667-4990.