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While not one of the most populous nor one of the most wealthy counties in the state, Bingham county does not by any means stand at the foot of the list.
In 1891 the Idaho Register, published at Idaho Falls, in giving a description of Bingham County, stated that it was the largest county in the state. Its length was one hundred and seventy-six miles, its width ninety miles, and it contained about fourteen thousand square miles, or about eight million acres of land; it extended from the Montana line on the north to within about twenty-one miles of the Utah line on the south. By an act approved March 6, 1893, a strip of about fifty-six miles was taken from the south end of the county and a new county formed, called Bannock county, and by an act approved March 4, at the same session of the legislature, a strip of about seventy-five miles was taken from the north end, forming a new county, called Fremont. This left Bingham county about ninety miles east and west and about forty-five miles north and south.
The central portion of the county is traversed by the Snake River, and what is known as the great Snake River valley composes a large part of the central portion of the county. It is a very fertile section of country. The most extensive yield of wheat, oats, hay and potatoes is here shown. Many fields of wheat average fifty bushels to the acre, machine measure, which would usually hold out to nearly fifty-five bushels by weight, as nearly all the wheat runs sixty-two to sixty-three pounds to the bushel. Oats at ninety bushels to the acre, at forty pounds to the bushel, is not an unusual yield, in fact it is seldom that oats run less than forty pounds to the bushel and sometimes as high as forty-four.
For quantity and quality of production there is no country that can excel and few can compare with this valley. All kinds of vegetables are raised, such as squash, pumpkins, turnips, beets and tomatoes, and while it cannot be called a corn country this product is often raised and matured.
About two-thirds of the area of the county is mountainous. The foot-hills, valleys and canyons furnish most excellent feed for cattle and horses, and during many seasons they are (especially horses) allowed to roam during the entire winter to hunt their own feed, and they usually come out in the spring in good condition. The snow in the mountains does not commence to melt until June, when it furnishes an abundance of water for irrigating, the highest stages of the river being usually between the 15th of June and l0th of July.
The climate is mild, not exceedingly hot in the summer, the nights always being cool. The winters are not severe, although the mercury often indicates from fifteen to thirty degrees below zero. The atmosphere being dry, the cold is not felt to the extent the same degree of cold would be in a damper climate.
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The mountains abound in game such as elk, deer, antelope, moose, bear and mountain sheep, while small game, such as sage hens, prairie chickens, partridges, grouse, geese, ducks and rabbits, are found in the valleys, and the Snake River and its tributaries abound in trout.
The altitude of the valley is from forty-four to forty-eight hundred feet above the sea, or about three hundred feet above Great Salt Lake, and in most instances the great storms that traverse the continent, especially those from the west, pass either to the north or south of this section. A blizzard or a cyclone is unknown in this valley. Whenever the weather is severely cold there is hardly a breath of air stirring. It is a beautiful sight on a frosty morning when the sun is just beginning to cast its first rays over the mountain tops to see the smoke from the scores of chimneys rising straight toward the sky for hundreds of feet.
All crops are raised by irrigation and a failure on account of drouth or excess of rainfall is not known. Being at the head of the water supply of the Snake River, there is no danger whatever of the supply being exhausted. A large amount of money has been expended in this vicinity in building irrigating canals. There are probably more miles of completed irrigating canals in this valley, and the greater part of them in this county, than in all other portions of the state combined. None of these are prospective canals, but each and every one of them is completed and supplying water to those having land under them, and. as before stated, these are all in Bingham County or its immediate vicinity.
The immense canal system of the American Falls Power & Canal Company, consists of a main supply canal eighty feet wide at the top and sixty feet wide at the bottom. This canal is sixty-five miles long and one hundred miles of laterals convey the water to the lands to be irrigated. The company has constructed an emergency reservoir covering three hundred acres of land, which will be used as a feeder on the lower end of the system. The canal leaves the Snake river about nine miles north of Blackfoot, on the west side, and takes a general southwesterly course, crossing the Oregon Short Line at American Falls. The system will water about seventy-five thousand acres of the finest and most fertile lands in the west, and as the canal has a carrying capacity sufficient to water ninety-six thousand acres, there will at all times be an abundance of water and the farmer who secures water under this system will be fortunate. The system is one of the most complete and extensive in the west, and one of the chief features to recommend it to a man looking for a home is the wise provision made by the company to the effect that whenever sixty per cent, of the stock is sold the control and management of the company passes to the farmers, thereby giving each man entitled to water from the canal a voice in the management of the company.
The Snake River rises in the Yellowstone National Park, among the snow-capped peaks of the Teton Mountains, and is one of the most beautiful rivers on the American continent. It affords an abundance of water at all times to irrigate the immense tracts of land lying along its course, and at the same time would furnish power enough to turn the wheels of every manufacturing plant in the Union. The land under this canal can be obtained at a nominal cost, and crops of all kinds can be raised at once. This makes it most desirable for the poor man or man with moderate means, as he can make a good living and at the same time meet his payments on the land. He has the best of markets and all the comforts and conveniences of society, schools and churches, as towns are being established every few miles along the canal.
The Oregon Short Line Railroad passes through the county north and south, crossing the Snake River at Idaho Falls.
The principal towns of the county are: Idaho Falls, Blackfoot (which is the county seat and location of the United States land office). Basalt, Shelly, Iona; with the settlements of Riverside, New Sweden, Tilden, Bryan, Presto, Leorin, Taylor, Ammon, Fairview, Gray, Coltman, Rosa, Goshen and Prospect.
The population of the county is about eight thousand.
In regard to schools Bingham County is not behind any of her sister counties, and she has reason to be proud of her facilities in this line. There are in the county thirty-four districts and thirty-six schoolhouses, the total value of buildings and other property aggregating nearly forty-four thousand dollars.
The attractive village of Blackfoot is located on the Oregon Short Line Railroad, distant to the north twenty-four miles from Pocatello and one hundred and fifty-eight miles from Ogden, Utah; while the city of Butte, Montana, is two hundred and thirty-nine miles northward.
Its population is one thousand, grown thus from its birth in 1880, but a conservative forecast of its population five years hence is two thou-sand. It is the capital of Bingham County, and was formerly the mother county seat of this, Bannock and Fremont counties, before their segregation, and a twenty-three thousand dollar court-house is here. It is the home of the State Insane Asylum since 1885, in whose one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollar structure some one hundred and seventy-five unfortunates are kindly kept captive. The original asylum was destroyed by fire in 1887, only to be replaced by a much better one. Since 1887 the United States land-office has been located here, and the following facts hint the magnitude of its transactions and its vital import to Blackfoot: In May, 1898, there were of homestead entries 84, with an acreage of 12,766; June, 95 entries, acreage 13,996; July, 122 entries, acreage 18,330. In the corresponding period of homestead proofs there were in May 1898, 36, acreage 5,475; June 22, acreage 3,776: July 35, acreage 5,404.
Industrially there are here: A fifteen thousand dollar roller flouring mill, fifty barrels daily capacity, and as an adjunct a five thousand dollar elevator with a storage capacity of thirty thousand bushels: a creamery is completed, which will give a high cash market price for milk, but-ter and cheese; the town has one hundred business and professional representatives, and its yearly trade transactions are about two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Its trade territory is twelve miles north and south and one hundred and eighty miles west, beyond even the great Custer county mining district, one hundred and fifty miles distant, whose gold, silver, lead and copper propositions sometimes employ four thousand men, supplies for all of whom are bought in Blackfoot, a daily stage line running between here and Challis, the center of the famous camps. A tri-weekly stage also runs from here to Tilden, thirty-five miles southwest. A goodly quota of trade is likewise drawn from the Indian industrial school, nine miles eastward, where one hundred and fifty students are under the supervision of thirty government employees.
The immediate environing country is agricultural, prodigal in its products, though as yet but in the infancy of its development and utility.
Blackfoot maintains an advanced position in regard to educational and religious advantages. Its attractive brick schoolhouse was erected at a cost of twelve thousand dollars and is an enduring monument to the zeal of the citizens for the mental uplifting of the rising generations. Of the religious societies the Methodists, Baptists and Episcopalians have attractive houses of worship here, and the Mormon Church also has an organization here. The various fraternal organizations are well represented and are in flourishing condition.
The business portion of Blackfoot is of attractive brick and stone structures, the stone being quarried near by. The town is tented in trees, hence is called “Grove City.” The great Snake River is but a mile to the west, and the largest canal in Idaho is near by, supplemented by four others. Both business and resident lots are 25×125 feet; the former sell at from two hundred to four hundred dollars; the latter at from twenty-five to seventy-five dollars. Blackfoot’s altitude is four thousand six hundred feet, and one can see with a nude eye seventy-five miles to the west. Blackfoot is the seat of government of Bingham County, with a population of one thousand wide-awake, prosperous, happy and contented people, surrounded by the comforts of life. The history of Blackfoot has been one of steady growth and development. Its streets are dotted with cozy cottages and handsome homes, which form the border for substantial brick and stone business blocks, and it has the general appearance of solidity and commercial activity. Vigorous and strong, its future growth is assured. The city has a good system of water-works and a well-organized fire department, which affords protection to life and property.
Idaho Falls is an old and a new town. Away back in 1865, when the Indians had possession of nearly all of this country, parties who had gone up the Missouri river and discovered mines in Montana, the trail from these mining camps to Salt Lake City, and to connect with the great overland stage line to California, was opened through this section and Snake river was crossed here. A bridge was built, and in order to get required bolts, one hundred and fifty dollars was paid for an old freight wagon, for the iron it contained.
When the Union Pacific and Central Pacific Railroads were completed, a few years later, there was considerable travel between Corinne, about thirty miles west of Ogden, and Montana points. This place was then known as Taylor’s bridge. It was afterward changed to Eagle Rock, on account of a large rock in the river, a short distance above the present town, where eagles built their nests.
When the Utah Northern Railroad was completed, in 1881, this was made a division and the machine and car shops were located here. In 1882 and 1883 the town grew rapidly, and in 1885 the population was fully fifteen hundred, and it was one of the best towns in the south-eastern part of the territory.
In 1887, however, the railroad company removed the shops to Pocatello, and at least sixty other buildings, mostly dwellings, were removed, and the population of the town was greatly decreased, leaving it not to exceed three hundred.
With the completion of some of the irrigation canals, however, the county began to settle up and the town began to grow. In 1890 the name was changed to Idaho Falls, and a new impetus given it. It was advertised throughout the east, until today it is one of the best business points in southern Idaho, and we doubt if there is an-other town in the state of equal population that can show the volume of business that Idaho Falls can.
Its growth has been substantial. Fine brick or stone buildings have taken the place of shacks. The dwellings are more commodious and pretentious. The population is about one thousand four hundred and is steadily increasing.
Idaho Falls is situated on the east bank of Snake River, where the Oregon Short Line Railroad crosses on a substantial iron bridge. There is also a first-class iron wagon-bridge. At -this point there is a succession of rapids in the river, the fall being twenty-two feet in a little over a quarter of a mile, making one of the grandest water powers in the Rocky mountain region. Competent engineers have measured and placed it at twenty-six thousand horse-power.
In respect to schools and churches Idaho Falls is well supplied. The first society to build a church was the Baptist, who have a commodious building that will seat about two hundred per-sons comfortably. The society also has a fine parsonage. The Presbyterians were the next to build, but eventually they found they were short of room, and built a large addition for a Sunday-school room, which is shut off from the main room by folding doors.
The Mormons built a small church several years ago, but it was found entirely inadequate to their needs, and in 1896 they erected a large stone building capable of seating four hundred.
The Methodist society started to build in 1895, but many things retarded the completion of the building, which is the finest church edifice in the town. The Episcopal society has been organized for some time and in 1896 a handsome brick church was completed except seating. The Catholic society has been organized for some time, and on the west side of the river, where there is a large Swedish population, a fine church was built in 1895. Services are held every Sunday.
The public schools of Idaho Falls are second to none in the state. A large two-story brick building stands in the center of a block and presents a commanding view. The various secret societies are well represented in the village.
Idaho Falls is incorporated as a village. The affairs are conducted by a board of five trustees, elected every year on the first Tuesday in April.
There are probably few towns of the size that can boast of as good a system of water-works, which supplies a large portion of the town with fine water from Snake River. There are about three thousand feet of four-inch mains, with a large amount of one-and-a-half-inch connections and four large hydrants for fire purposes. The power is supplied by steam and a windmill. There is also a chemical engine, which is always kept ready for use, but Idaho Falls has been very fortunate regarding fires. Only two fires, where there has been any considerable loss, have occurred.
The United States weather bureau is located here. Reports are received from all over the state during the summer months and a regular monthly bulletin published. Reports of the weather forecasts are received and sent out every day.
The following pen picture was written by a citizen of Butte after he had passed a few days in Idaho Falls:
“Standing on the terraced foothills of the Teton Range, seven miles east of Idaho Falls, Idaho, the wondering eye is met by a scene unsurpassed in beauty and grandeur. The towering mountains are behind you, rising high above the foothills, high above the timberline, until their hoary peaks are bathed in lofty regions of perpetual snow. Standing thus, you have laid out before you the rich and fertile valley of the -Snake river, with her three million acres of farming lands, like a great map. The solemn magnificence of mighty crags and peaks is above you, while the sound of rushing torrents from many waterfalls is sweet music to your ears. Numerous rivulets and streams of water, all carrying the wealth of Ophir in their pure and limpid depths, wend their way to the verdant plain below, and in the western distance, some seven miles away, there stands in all her newness, beauty and promise, Idaho Falls, the ‘Orient of the West,’ upon the banks of the mighty Snake river, containing oceans of water, and beyond to the westward, across the broad and level valley, the purple mountains rise again in majesty and grandeur, while the afterglow of the sun’s reflection turns the waters of the irrigating canals throughout the valley into liquid gold.”