The name of this park in Idaho’s panhandle is the biggest clue as to what you’ll find here, but what the moniker doesn’t specify is that it is home to the oldest standing building in all of Idaho—the Sacred Heart Mission. Completed in 1853 by the “black robes” or Jesuit priests and the Coeur d’Alene Indians, this historic mission sits on a high, grassy knoll overlooking the Coeur d’Alene River, and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In addition to the Mission, you can tour the 1887 restored Parish House next door, two cemeteries, and a new 9,000 square foot Visitor Center.
Besides its age, the most amazing fact about the Sacred Heart Mission is that it was constructed entirely without nails! Built under the direction of Father Anthony Ravalli, it is made from large, hand-hewn logs that were latticed with saplings, woven with grass, and caked with mud (known as “wattle and daub”). The exterior walls are over a foot thick. The interior walls were adorned with hand-painted newspapers and fabric, partly visible even now. Although made from tin cans, the chandeliers are quite elaborate, as are the gilded crosses carved from local pines. You’ll also be impressed by how carefully the wooden altars were painted to resemble veins found in natural marble. Sacred Heart Mission might not be as elegant as the European cathedrals it was modeled after, but considering that it was built in the middle of Idaho wilderness and furnished using materials on hand, it is a true work of art!
At first, the Mission served primarily as a place of worship for the Coeur d’Alene Indian Tribe, and is still honored as their ancestral homeland. Later, the Mission served as a supply center for early settlers and military personnel moving into the area, and was also a working farm. When Idaho’s rich silver deposits were first discovered in the early 1880s, the Mission’s location made it an ideal disembarkation point for boats carrying miners. In fact, the Coeur d’Alene Mining District is still one of the largest silver mining regions in the world today, and has produced more than a billion ounces over the past century.
The next time you are driving through Idaho’s Silver Valley, stop at this National Historic Landmark and learn more about the story of the Coeur d’Alene Indian Tribe, the Mission, and the missionaries who brought them together.
IF YOU GO:
Old Mission State Park
31732 S Mission Road
Cataldo, ID 83810
Located one mile E. of Cataldo, off I-90, Exit 39.
The Visitor Center, Sacred Heart Mission, and Parish House are open daily 9 am to 5 pm. $5 admission per vehicle.