City of Ammon
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Posted by: Leon Duce
Ammon is located in the Upper Snake River Valley. Its western boundary abuts the city of Idaho Falls. The nearby foothills and mountains of the rugged Caribou Mountain Range rise to nearly 10,000 feet to outline the city’s eastern skies.
The Blackfoot Mountain Range, rising over 7,000 feet, begins 10 miles south of the city.
Ammon is one of Idaho’s fastest growing communities and Idaho’s 15th largest city. It is growing at double-digit rates due to the availability of open space for affordable residential housing, the city’s hometown lifestyle and its proximity to the urban amenities and job market in Idaho Falls.
In 1879 John R. Poole of Ogden, Utah, returning home from working on the construction of the Utah and Northern Railroad (U&N) from Utah to the Montana gold fields, praised the farmland potential of the Upper Snake River Plain.
Leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (nicknamed Mormons) encouraged those looking for fertile homestead land to consider the region for settlement. On December 26, 1882, Church President John Taylor wrote, “Go into the Snake River Country, found settlements, care for the Indians…and cooperate in making improvements…”
Many families living in northern Utah were recent immigrant converts to the Church. Some of them had also worked with Poole for the railroad and had seen the land of the Upper Snake River Plain for themselves. They needed no persuasion.
The railroad had built its roundhouse at Eagle Rock, now Idaho Falls. By 1882 the area around Idaho Falls was bustling with economic activity.
Around 1883 many pioneer families began homesteading the land surrounding Idaho Falls. A number of families settled along Little Sand Creek. Those settling to the north named their community Iona. Those settling further south near what is now Ammon called their community South or Lower Iona.
Early settlers described the sagebrush that covered the land as taller than a man mounted on a horse. Homesteading required enormous physical effort. Cutting the tall sagebrush and pulling its roots out of the ground was hard and tedious, albeit the large sagebrush trunks were beneficial for firewood.
As the homesteaders cleared their land and planted crops, hoards of jackrabbits came out of the hills devouring anything green. These millions of jackrabbits threatened the very food source and livelihood of the settlers.
Adequate water for domestic use was another major problem. In the beginning, settlers got their water from Little Sand Creek. However, that was often problematic because in the spring, the creek often flooded. In the late summer, it often dried up. When water was scarce, settlers hauled water from the Snake River. In winter, they melted snow. They stored their domestic water in barrels usually kept in their kitchens. Within a few years, many of the settlers had dug or drilled hand-pump wells.
An efficient irrigation system was an integral step in successfully developing the region’s agricultural base. Practically every family became part of the community effort to build diversion dams on the Snake River and a complex system of irrigation canals, ditches and head gates.
The new settlers of South Iona were primarily, if not all, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church). A basic tenet of the Church is the separation of church and state. However, in the case of South Iona and many other early Church settlements, the organizational structure of the Church conveniently became the governmental structure of the community. Matters of common interest were often addressed at their church meetings.
The homesteaders’ 160-acre farms spread out over a large area. Initially, the people came together in homes for school, recreation and church meetings.
On February 12, 1893, the Church membership became large enough to create a separate ward presided over by a lay bishop. Church leaders named the ward Ammon after a prominent Book of Mormon figure. With the creation of the Ammon Ward, settlers began calling their community Ammon.
On January 23, 1899, William F. and Lucinda E. Owen filed the plat of the Ammon townsite at the county seat in Blackfoot—160 acres were donated for the town by their relative, James C. Owen.
The first public building in the new town was a large log structure that served as both a school and a church. It was built by residents who worked cooperatively to haul logs from the nearby mountains and construct the facility.
Around 1898 the residents replaced the log structure with a larger frame building which served as the village school, church and recreation facility they affectionately called “Old Hall.” It had a basement, a large stage and a furnace. Curtains divided the classrooms when public school and Sunday school were in session and retracted when there were large gatherings.
On October 10, 1905, the Bingham County Commission approved the incorporation of Ammon as a village.
On February 7, 1911, the Idaho Legislature split off the northern and eastern parts of Bingham County to form Bonneville County with Idaho Falls as the county seat. Ammon became part of Bonneville County.
On March 7, 1961, Ammon became a city of the second class and retained that designation until the Idaho Legislature changed the municipal law in 1967 that dropped all “village and class” designations.
On January 2, 2003, the city council approved an ordinance providing for a city administrator appointed by the city council.
City Growth and Planning
In the late 1950s the city agreed to annex an area called Hillview. This annexation almost doubled the city land area and promoted a sharp increase in residential and retail construction. This development started a trend of residential and commercial development. In 2005 the county assessor reported that Ammon had 55 residential subdivisions.
New development also exposed the need for better city planning. On September 15, 1971, the city organized its planning and zoning commission and the city council reviewed all policy manuals dealing with land development. In March 2004 the council approved a manual of codified city ordinances that not only streamlined city management procedures but also made working with the city more user-friendly.
Amenities and Attractions Today
The city has 62 acres devoted to nine parks. The 18-acre McCowin Park, the city’s largest, has a swimming pool, picnic shelter, playground equipment, tennis courts, horseshoe pits, walking path and ball fields.
The amenities of the other parks include shelters, playground equipment, Tot Park and facilities for sports and picnics.
The city has encouraged extensive tree plantings. Trees that compliment the landscape design of each park line the streets. In 2002 Ammon received the Tree City USA Award sponsored by the National Arbor Day Foundation.
The community comes together on an August Saturday at McCowin Park to celebrate the annual “Ammon Days.” It starts with a community breakfast and continues throughout the day with booths, activities and lots of fun.
The legal boundaries between Ammon and Idaho Falls blend so smoothly that they are transparent to all but the knowledgeable observer. Many residents travel the short distance to Idaho Falls for the amenities offered there. However, Ammon’s dramatic growth is bringing significant change and many urban amenities of its own. New city parks and a growing downtown business district are satisfying an increasing number of public needs.
Within an hour’s drive, opportunities abound for boating, rafting, canoeing, hunting, fishing, camping, snow and water skiing, snowmobiling and ice fishing. Downhill skiing is available 26 miles northeast at Kelly Canyon.
The 3-million-acre Caribou-Targhee National Forest begins about 20 miles east and extends across Southeastern Idaho to the Montana, Utah and Wyoming borders, offering a variety of amenities for outdoor enthusiasts.
The 270-foot-high Palisades hydroelectric dam and reservoir lies 50 miles east of Ammon and 11 miles west of the Wyoming border on the South Fork of the Snake River. This 16,000-acre reservoir provides irrigation water and, with 70 miles of shoreline, is a popular recreation area for camping, fishing, boating and water skiing.
About 13 miles east of Ammon is the 253-foot-high Ririe Dam, which backs up a 360-acre lake providing flood control and irrigation. The lake’s 32-mile shoreline includes four recreation areas. Blacktail Park, the largest recreation area is easily accessed by driving a few miles east up Iona Hill.
Part of Ririe Lake is included in the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s Tex Creek Wildlife Management Area which encompasses more than 31,000 acres of wildlife habitat offering visitors the chance to view migratory birds, elk, mule deer and moose.