Crews work to remove a pine tree from Fort Sherman Chapel on Thursday.
BILL BULEY/ Coeur d’Alene Press

By BILL BULEY
Staff Writer, Coeur d’Alene Press | January 15, 2021 1:00 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — When Britt Thurman was told a large tree fell on Fort Sherman Chapel during Wednesday’s windstorm, she didn’t want to believe it.

She wanted Coeur d’Alene’s oldest church, built in 1880 by the U.S. Army, to be standing strong.

“I was hoping they were mistaken,” she said.

They were not.

The pine tree uprooted by strong winds fell into the south side of the red church, coming to rest on its roof at 332 Hubbard St. next to North Idaho College.

Thurman, executive director of The Museum of North Idaho, quickly went to check on the damage.

“It was heartbreaking,” she said.

There was good news and bad.

The good: the tree didn’t break through the roof. The bad: there could be structural damage that could affect future use of the church.

“The impact of the tree falling and the weight of the tree caused it to shift and bow and lift off of its buttresses,” Thurman said in a phone interview with The Press Thursday.

Specialty Tree Services arrived Thursday with a crane and was able to remove the tree in about three hours.

“It went better today than I was expecting,” Thurman said.

They didn’t venture inside the building, which also has served as a library and the area’s first school. She said they feared opening doors might change the pressure, shift the balance of the chapel and create more problems.

A contractor may inspect the interior today and Thurman is hopeful they’ll be able to shore things up.

“I’m leaving it in the hands of the experts,” she said.

The Fort Sherman Chapel is dear to many people.

Fort Sherman was abandoned in 1900 and the buildings and property sold at public auction in 1905, according to a press release.

Developers bought what is today known as the Sherman Park Addition, which included the chapel. Concerted effort began in 1934 to preserve the chapel.

In 1942, The Athletic Round Table held the chapel in trust and began repairs.

To ensure the preservation of Coeur d’Alene’s oldest standing building, The Athletic Round Table donated the chapel to the Museum of North Idaho in 1984.

Since then, the Fort Sherman Chapel has provided a setting for weddings in the Coeur d’Alene area, with three planned for February.

Thurman said she appreciated the quick response to protect the chapel from more damage.