The maps and much of the information contained in this article were researched by Michael Houser and edited by Kas Dumroese to fit the Friends of Cordelia Newsletter published in June, 1995. This is a fresh look into the “history of the land”.

When Idaho was forming a territorial government in 1863 at Lewiston, the hills of the Palouse were considered worthless except for grazing. Early ranchers included Hall and Caldwell (1868) and Jacob Kambitsch (1871). Initial surveys laying out townships and section corners were made in 1866, but land near Cordelia was not surveyed until 1870. The land to the west of Cordelia was described as agricultural land in the August 18, 1870 survey notes. The survey was approved on January 25, 1871, allowing homesteaders to begin filing for claims. Other land in the Palouse opened for homesteading and agriculture as early as 1867 under the authority of the May 20, 1862 :Homestead EntryOrginall (12 Statute 392). The Homestead Act of 1862 allowed people to settle up to 160 acres of public land if they lived on it for five years, grew crops and made improvements. The land was free, but the settler was required to pay a filing fee of $1.25 per acre. This act is no longer in effect and the last homestead deed for Latah County was issued in 1924.

The first homesteader to receive a land patent deed for what was to become Latah County was Lorettus Haskins in 1872. His homestead was located about 2 miles to the west and 5 miles north of the Cordelia Church site. Records show Joseph S. Howard applied earlier than Haskins, but the deed for his property was not issued until 1877. Howard’s homestead was 4 miles to the west and 6 miles to the north of the church. The United States Census for 1880 reported there were 3,784 residences of Nez Perce County (which included what is now Latah County). The county had 21 individuals originating from Sweden and 23 more claiming one or both parents from Sweden. The 1880 census identified 9 individuals living near the church originating from Sweden and 5 more with parents from Sweden. The 1900 Census indicated there were 13,260 individuals in Latah County. The county had 69 individuals from Sweden and 1,183 claiming one or both parents from Sweden. It also indicated there were 14 individuals living near the church from Sweden and 18 more with parents from Sweden.

Pastor Peter Carlson, first pastor of Cordelia, sent his sons to Lenville where they homesteaded in the summer of 1880 and he followed that fall. In November of 1880, Carlson nearly froze to death in the poorly built house which his two sons had erected, and he had a bad cold and sore throat most of the winter. Despite poor health he was able to meet with local members of the Swedish community at Lenville, and started Cordelia Lutheran Church. Organization papers for “The Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Congregation, Cordelia, Nez Perce County, Idaho Territory” were signed on November 14, 1880 by 18 members. It was the first Swedish Lutheran Church in Idaho. Carlson wrote in a letter dated November 15, 1880 that Cordelia was the name of the mountain district to the north. Today the Cordelia Mountains are recognized as Montgomery and Tomer Butte and Fix Ridge, but for the flatlanders of Minnesota who homesteaded the area they were mountains with timber for buildings and good farmland.

At a meeting on January 20, 1881, two different building sites were proposed for a church for the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Cordelia Congregation. A tie vote resulted in a committee of five to study potential options and select a suitable location. The committee members included C.A. Hagström, Carl P. Anderson, Carl J. Lindquist, J. Rosell and Peter Bohman. There must have been much discussion on the merits of being close to the school or to the trading post at Lenville or close to the Pastor’s homestead. After two years of discussion, a building site selection had not been made.

Andrew S. Olson decided to get things moving with a donation of land. On May 15, 1883, it was reported at the congregational meeting that he had donated one acre of land from his homestead as a site for the new church and would sell an additional acre for the cemetery for $25.00. It is interesting that proven farmland was selling for $15 per acre near Genesee at the time. The congregation accepted his gift and offer to sell. Construction on the building started in October and was completed in late December 1883.

Upon building completion, Mr. Olson had the deed transferring land ownership to Cordelia Congregation formally written, and signed on January 23, 1884. It was not filed until December 28, 1901 at 1:55 pm at the request of Mr. Olson. The filing fee was $1.35 and the deed indicated Mr. Olson bequeathed the land over to the church for a sum of “fifty and no/dollar, gold coins” (Deed #23669, Book 30 page 473).

The church stopped holding regular services in 1918, and care for the property shifted to the Augustana Synod. The church was used for funerals and weddings. In 1938 the church was sold for $75 for destruction, but members of First Lutheran in Moscow (Victor Ramstedt, C. B. Green, Frank Gustafson, Gust Anderson and others) saved the church and funded needed repairs. A stone marker was established south of the church indicating the location of the building for fear it would be destroyed some day. Care for the property shifted to the small group rescuing it from destruction, but for the most part the building was left abandoned and used as a hunting cabin. The grass around the church was hayed by those farming the Olson homestead.

Mrs. Frances Olson Graham, daughter of Andrew S. Olson, visited the church when she came home for her father’s funeral. She found the windows broken out, hay bedding on the floor, the small wood stove missing, tomb stones overturned, and the organ a shambles. She was appalled by the sad condition of the church and funded the complete restoration in 1941 with work completed in 1948. Care for the property continued to be under First Lutheran and a lock was added to the inner door to restrict unauthorized use.

Care for the property shifted from First Lutheran to Troy Lutheran in 1960. The shift was a result of First Lutheran's merger with Our Saviors Lutheran of Moscow Idaho in 1960. Members of Troy Lutheran replaced the roof and painted the church. Sometime in the late 70's the metal rod was added to the church for more wall support and to reduce the impact of the settling foundation. The church was regularly cleaned by members of Troy Lutheran Church who also held picnics at the church.

In June 1979, members of Troy noticed the church was not really built on the one acre given by Olson, but on land owned by Ken and Maxine Meyer (old homestead of Andrew Olson). This began a series of letters between Troy Lutheran and the Pacific Northwest Synod (holder of the land title for Olson’s gift). Troy proposed moving the church 20 feet to the east so it would sit on the original property. Most of the letters passing between Troy and the Synod dealt with the funding of the insurance coverage for such a move. It was finally decided the structure could not survive the move and preparations were made to do some “land swapping” with the neighbor. Fortunately, Mr. Meyer was receptive to the idea. Gerald Willet, Jr. completed his survey of the land on March 8, 1982. On April 27, 1982, the Pacific Northwest Synod gave Mr. Meyer land off the south end of the original Olson parcel (Deed #322592), and Mr Meyer, on July 14, 1982, deeded the Pacific Northwest Synod the land the church and cemetery were on (Deed #322637).

Original property given by Olson.

Church on exchanged land.

In 1992, Michael Houser’s senior project started the latest church restoration activity. He was instrumental in transferring the deed for Cordelia from ELCA Eastern Washington-Idaho to Emmanuel Lutheran. Emmanuel voted to accept the deed from the synod at the annual meeting on November 15, 1992. Michael’s project stimulated the formation of Friends of Cordelia in 1992 and a trust fund was established for restoration and maintenance. On March 23, 1993, Emmanuel Lutheran Church obtained the deed for Cordelia Church and property from the ELCA Eastern Washington-Idaho Synod (formerly Pacific Northwest Synod), signed by Bishop Robert M. Keller (Deed #395301).

Later that same year, Beverly Innocenti provided a $42,000 gift to purchase 35 acres south and west. Emmanuel voted to accept Beverly’s gift at a special September 15, 1993 meeting. Emmanuel Lutheran purchased 35 acres west of Cordelia property from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (owner) on November 9, 1993 (Deed #400410). That summer, she provided Friends of Cordelia seed funds for a building and well. Beverly’s vision for the property involved financial support for the historic building and adult education and recreation facilities.

In 1994, Friends of Cordelia and Emmanuel Lutheran signed a management agreement. Friends of Cordelia has authority over the following items: a) All restoration, maintenance and rental/use of the Cordelia Lutheran Church, b) Administration rental of the 35 acres of farm ground including property taxes, c) Use, without congregational or council approval of funds donated to Friends of Cordelia, the income on the 35 acre parcel and from rental/use of Cordelia Lutheran as long as those funds are used to enhance Cordelia Lutheran Church or preserve its history. Accounting for such funds in Emmanuel’s annual report or at any request of the council, would be provided. d) Converse with Beverly Innocenti over development of modest facilities at Cordelia and be consulted concerning any future development of the 35 acres not initiated by Friends of Cordelia.

Friends of Cordelia were elated with the addition of 35 acres in 1993 and reached agreement with Mr. Meyer to rent him the ground, planning to use the rental proceeds to help fund restoration work at Cordelia. Unfortunately a deeded right-of-way bisected the 35 acres, and according to Latah County subdivision laws, the agreement was in violation. A year later, the owner of the right-of-way, John Meyer of John Meyer Five, Inc., and Kenneth Meyer’s cousin, agreed to sell it to Emmanuel Lutheran in exchange for $750 cash and an easement. The securement of the right-of-way legalized the LDS Emmanuel land purchase and Emmanuel Lutheran owned all of the original ground deeded by Mr. Olson in 1884 as well as 35 acres to the west.

In 2015, Emmanuel Lutheran took steps to evaluate land holdings and funds to refocus their ministry. Emmanuel Lutheran Church Council expressed an interest to sell at least half, if not all, of the acreage of Cordelia and to use funds donated to/for Cordelia to fund the new ministry. After discovering their intent, Friends of Cordelia took steps toward purchasing the 35-acre property and historic Cordelia.

The Friends of Cordelia Board believed it was necessary to obtain ownership and sever relations with Emmanuel Lutheran. We wanted to keep the lands associated with Cordelia as one parcel and saw the value of Cordelia as an historic site for all to enjoy.

The purchase:

  1. Preserves Historic Cordelia for future generations.

  2. Preserves gifts that were intended to restore and protect Cordelia.

  3. Establishes Friends of Cordelia as owner so future gifts will always remain with Cordelia.

  4. Terminates all past legal and financial agreements between Friends of Cordelia and Emmanuel Lutheran.

  5. Strengthens community participation.

In 2018, Emmanuel Lutheran agreed to sell Cordelia and land gifted to Cordelia to Friends of Cordelia. We were excited Emmanuel's vote was unanimous and without discussion. The sale price for Cordelia was $90,000 for both building and associated land. Funds for purchase came from interest and dividends on investments and farm income. The title was transferred on April 20, 2018. It was a clean break from Emmanuel. The purchase insured gifts given for preservation of Cordelia will remain at Cordelia.

In 2019, Friends of Cordelia strengthened our partnership with Latah County Historical Society and designated them as our successor organization. This preserves Historic Cordelia as a public place for future generations to enjoy.