TWIN FALLS — With the deepest respect for the pioneers who made the Magic Valley possible and for the colleagues who helped him along the way, retired attorney Paul Smith accepted national recognition Wednesday for his contribution to historic preservation.
Smith is only the second Idahoan to receive the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution Historic Preservation Medal. The medal is the highest honor the group awards, Melinda Anderson, local registrar told a large audience Wednesday at City Hall.
Smith has had a hand in most things historic in Twin Falls, and many things in Twin Falls County.
His long journey as an educator and a mentor to the historical community started back in the early 1990s when he was appointed to the Twin Falls County Historic Preservation Commission. In 1992, he was appointed as a trustee to the Idaho Heritage Trust.
Soon after, the city formed a committee — which morphed into the nonprofit Old Towne Corp. — to return life to the deteriorating warehouse district in Twin Falls.
The area “was steadily going downhill,” he told the Times-News, and Smith was tasked “with looking into what should be saved and what shouldn’t.
“I was naive as all get-out and thought none of it should be saved,” he said with a chuckle.
But Smith contacted the State Historic Preservation Office, which sent architectural historian Don Watts and Idaho State Historical Society grants operations analyst Ann Swanson to the rescue.
The group had lunch at the Depot Grill, then took a look at the buildings in the warehouse district.
“What surprised me was we took 10 steps out of the car and (Watts) runs back to get his camera,” Smith said. “Don was all excited and said, ‘Do you know what you have here?’”
When Twin Falls’ warehouse district was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1997, Smith was taken aback.
“I read the letter I had received to the group and they all stood up and applauded me,” he said. “At that point, I realized the people’s desire to recognize the community’s heritage and way of life.”
The accomplishment was a group effort, Smith said.
The Twin Falls Downtown Historic District’s listing on the National Register came in 2000 and was quickly followed by the Twin Falls Original Townsite Historic District’s listing in 2001.
Smith stepped down from the county Historic Preservation Commission and was appointed to the city’s Historic Preservation Commission in 2001. He served two terms on the commission to promote the city’s significant history and advocated for city codes that would transform vacant buildings, rundown streets and weed-choked lots into a vibrant downtown neighborhood, said Anderson, former executive director of the Urban Renewal Agency.
In 2005, Smith and several colleagues formed the nonprofit Preservation Twin Falls Inc. to save historic structures in Twin Falls County. The group purchased the old Twin Falls Silos — previously owned by the URA and slated for demolition — and raised some $60,000 to clean and repair the 100-foot-tall structure and restore the old murals painted on the silos. The preservation group then restored the Perrine Stage Coach, which now sits inside the Visitor’s Center.
“I like projects that create community,” he told the Times-News.
Smith says his most significant contribution to preserving the area’s heritage is the bronze sculpture of surveyor John E. Hayes now standing in the Downtown Commons at Main Avenue and Hansen Street East. Preservation Twin Falls raised $128,000 in grant money to create the bronze, sculpted by Kimberly artist Dave LaMure Jr.
Smith continues his preservation work today as a trustee with the State Historical Society.
“The work of the Historic Preservation Commission today is simply a continuation of the foresight Paul has instilled in us all,” city Historic Preservation Commission chairwoman Nancy Taylor said. “He is a mentor and a friend.
“Paul is truly deserving of this very significant award. His vision and quiet influence — sometimes against all odds — has enriched all our lives by honoring our past while celebrating our future.”