Robert Singletary stands at the door of his office at The Museum of North Idaho.
BILL BULEY/ Coeur d’Alene Press

By BILL BULEY
Staff Writer, Coeur d’Alene Press | March 3, 2021 1:00 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — Robert Singletary knows Kootenai County’s history perhaps better than anyone.

Even he thinks so.

When asked if anyone knows this area’s history as well as he does, Singletary smiles and pauses before answering.

“Probably not.”

He quickly adds that’s he’s not bragging. He doesn’t want to come across as arrogant. It just happens he is a historian, among his talents.

“That’s just the way it is,” he said.

Another thing that’s just the way it is: Kootenai County’s history is a large part of Robert Singletary’s life. He has researched it and studied it. He has lectured on it. He has literally walked, talked and portrayed it.

“It’s not dead,” he said firmly. “Most people look at it, ‘Well, it’s old dead stuff.’ I said ‘No, it’s part of who we are.’”

So a few weeks after being denied another three-year seat on the Kootenai County Historic Preservation Commission, one might expect to find Singletary upset. Miffed. Perhaps accusing someone of age discrimination. He’s not.

The 85-year-old said he understands that new blood can be a good thing for the commission. He has done enough there.

Sitting back, however, is not on his radar.

“The interest is still there, and there’s still so much to do,” Singletary said.

Robert Singletary sits at his desk in his office at The Museum of North Idaho.

He’s already done quite a bit. The evidence is all around. His office at the Museum of North Idaho is decorated with plaques, awards, books and pictures.

He displays pictures of himself wearing costumes over the decades as he portrayed historical characters. He’s been a fur trader, Civil War soldier, lumberjack, gambler and a member of the Lewis and Clark team reenacting their journey.

He is relaxed, optimistic and looking forward to what’s ahead. He is far from finished with this race.

“It’s been an amazing ride for me,” said the accomplished musician, historian, college instructor and world traveler.

He still has much to do, starting with preparing for the Nell Shipman exhibit scheduled to open this year at the museum. The silent screen actress spent several years at the north end of Priest Lake making silent movies. She built a movie camp called “Lionhead Lodge” during the winter months of 1921-1922. Shipman Point, at Lionhead State Park, was dedicated in her memory in 1977, according to visitidaho.com.

She is a fascinating figure to Singletary and he’s excited to share her story.

“I’m going back and digging into all my Nell Shipman stuff,” he said.

Singletary, in his research, found he has much in common with Shipman, like visiting cabins in Coeur d’Alene, the historic Charbonneau Hotel in Priest River, and a number of cities.

“As I studied her life, I’ve been there. I’ve been there,” he said. “The more I learn, it’s like I’m following the footsteps of Nell Shipman.”

There have been changes over the past months in his role with the Museum of North Idaho.

“I’m finally getting to do what I really started to do,” he said. “Basically, I am the historian for the museum. It’s where I really wanted it to go in the first place.”

Singletary, who still serves on the city’s history commission, plans to lead his walking tours of Coeur d’Alene this summer. He plans to continue with his lecture series. He plans to write more books on the early years of this area and Fort Sherman.

The book may look at what he called the “boom years” of Coeur d’Alene, from 1900 to 1917.

“That’s when this town went from 400 population to almost 10,000. It was just incredible,” he said.

There is no secret for his relative youth, health and positive outlook. He rises at 5 a.m. He walks. He practices yoga. He reads. He writes.

“I don’t know,” he said. “I don’t know what it is. I don’t do a lot of strenuous type things. Maybe it’s just good genes. I stay interested. I keep my mind going. I just keep very busy.”

After eight and half decades on Earth, Robert Singletary knows time is not on his side. He has only so many years left. So he won’t waste them. So much to do. So many plans. So many hopes and dreams still alive and well.

“I’m thinking if I live long enough, I can do a lot more,” he said.

History will tell.