City of Mountain Home
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
Posted by: Leon Duce
Mountain Home is on the eastern edge of a broad high-desert valley surrounded by vast acreages of public land. The Boise National Forest and the Danskin and Bennett Mountain Ranges, with peaks rising to over 8,000 feet, lie a few miles east.
The Owyhee Mountains and the Silver City Mountain Range are across the valley 50 miles west. To the south, federal land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) stretches down the valley for over 100 miles. The city of Boise is 45 miles northwest.
Mountain Home is one of Idaho’s “international” communities. The Mountain Home Air Force Base has squadrons of military aircraft and visitors and military personnel stationed on the Base from across the nation and many foreign countries.
In the early 1840s Oregon Trail immigrants began passing through the area around what is now Mountain Home.
Following the discovery of gold in the Boise Basin in 1862 and the following year in the Owyhee Mountains, several thousand prospectors and miners began passing through the Mountain Home area en route to the gold fields.
John Hailey started a stage line between Kelton, Utah—once a prominent railroad trailhead, now a ghost town located at the north end of the Great Salt Lake—and Boise in 1863.
One of the line’s stagecoach stations was at Rattlesnake Springs, eight miles east of what is now Mountain Home. The Rattlesnake Springs Station housed a post office named Mountain Home. Jule M. Hager was the stage agent and postmaster.
In the early 1870s Commodore William Jackson, an intermittent miner and previous stagecoach station operator, purchased the Rattlesnake Springs Station. The Idaho Statesman reported on February 13, 1877, “The station … was called Rattlesnake … [and the] post office … Mountain Home.” Nineteen months later on September 12, 1878, The Idaho Statesman reported, “Mountain Home is … a very pleasant home in the mountains.”
The Oregon Short Line began construction of the railroad between Granger, Wyoming, and Huntington, Oregon, in 1881. The line, completed on November 17, 1884, angled in a northwesterly direction through Pocatello, Mountain Home and Caldwell.
In laying out the route for the railroad, the surveyors staked a line through the valley and what is now Mountain Home, eight miles west of Rattle Snake Station.
Seeing the railroad would bypass his station, Jackson laid claim to 320 acres parallel to the survey markers for the planned railroad tracks. Jackson then sold the land to other investors. In 1881 the Idaho and Oregon Land Improvement Company employed Robert Strahorn and W.J. Turner to plat the new town. They sold corner lots for $50 and interior lots for $25. Turner built the first house and, later, a hotel and restaurant. Another entrepreneur, Roscoe Smith, built a drugstore.
Mountain Home Postmaster Jule Hager—recognizing that the train, not the stagecoach, would be transporting the mail in the future—purchased one of the residential lots, packed the Mountain Home Post Office letters and documents at Rattlesnake Station into a 50-pound soapbox, moved them to Roscoe Smith’s drugstore and reopened the post office.
In July 1883 the first train rolled into town. Using the name of the post office where they delivered the mail, railroad authorities built a train depot that they named Mountain Home.
Nine years later, the Mountain Home Irrigation District completed Camas, Long Tom and Mountain Home Reservoirs, providing irrigation water for several thousand acres.
In the early years, livestock ranching was the dominant industry. The high desert was excellent winter range. The mild winter climate minimized animal health problems, particularly for sheep during the spring lambing and shearing season. Until the sheep industry began to decline in the mid-1900s, the Mountain Home Train Depot was a major railhead for shipping lambs and wool to market.
The Idaho Legislature established Elmore County on February 7, 1889, with the gold mining boomtown of Rocky Bar as the county seat. Rocky Bar was deep in the mountains but was the most populous community in the county. As the gold played out, most of the fortune seekers moved on. On February 4, 1891, Elmore County citizens voted to move the county seat 60 miles southwest to the more accessible community of Mountain Home.
The county commissioners approved incorporation of Mountain Home as a village in 1896.
The Mountain Home News reported on October 10, 1946, that the Village Council approved making Mountain Home a city of the second class; and their decision would be placed on the next year’s ballot along with the election of a mayor and city council. The voters passed the initiative.
In accordance with a 1967 change in state municipal law that removed class designations, Mountain Home held its status as a city with the second class designation removed.
Mountain Home Air Base
On August 7, 1942, eight months after the United States entered World War II, construction started on the Mountain Home Army Air Field. The U.S. military approved the site for a new air base because of its ideal setting—the site was remote and on federal land. The vast tracts that surrounded the Base provided excellent training ranges. The weather was dry and conducive to year-round use. The valley was largely flat and there were large gravel deposits nearby for building base infrastructure.
The Air Field opened on August 7, 1943. During the war years, B-24 Liberator and, later, B-29 Superfortress crews used the Base for training.
When the U.S. Air Force became an independent branch of the military in December 1948, the Base was renamed the “Mountain Home Air Force Base.” During the ensuing years, the commands assigned to the Base have changed. However, except for three brief periods of inactive status, the Base has been operational.
In 1996 the Air Force established a Composite Wing at the Base. This change increased the number of Base personnel from 2,500 to over 4,000. Today, the Base is home to the 366th Fighter Wing, hosting F15c and F15e jets.
Amenities and Attractions Today
The city has 11 parks on 101 acres, a golf course and a public library. The most prominent of the parks is Carl Miller Park, a memorial to a local son killed in World War I. Mounted in the park is a decommissioned F-111 fighter jet.
The park is the site of Air Force Appreciation Day where over 10,000 people turn out annually for a parade and barbeque held on the Sunday following Labor Day.
The historic Andrew Carnegie Library, built in 1908 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places, houses the Mountain Home Historical Museum. The museum highlights the city’s history and ethnic cultures and sponsors the “Self Guided Walking Tour of Historic Downtown Mountain Home” that includes the city’s 33 historic buildings and the Basque Cultural District.
The Desert Mountain Visitors’ Center at the Junction of Interstate 84 and U.S. Highway 20 is an excellent source of other information about the area.
Mountain Home Reservoir, just east of town, is a small fishery that diverts water from Canyon and Rattlesnake Creeks for irrigation.
The 13,508-acre C.J. Strike Wildlife Management Area (WMA) that lies 15 miles south of the city includes 3,000 acres of streams, ponds and part of the C.J. Strike Reservoir. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game manages the Area to provide habitat for fish, waterfowl and upland game birds. The WMA is popular with birdwatchers, anglers and hunters.
Anderson Ranch Dam and Recreation Area are about 20 miles northeast of the city. The dam is 456 feet high and creates a 17-mile-long lake with 50 miles of shoreline. It is part of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Boise Project which includes a complex system of dams and canals that primarily irrigate farms in the Treasure Valley.
The lake is popular for boating and fishing for trout; bass; and Kokanee, landlocked salmon that spawn in the creeks during late August and early September. The recreation area includes 380 miles of marked snowmobile trails. Some of the trails wind up to the Trinity Mountains and lakes eight miles above the north end of the lake and rising to 9,451 feet.
The 4,800-acre Bruneau Dunes State Park is 21 miles southwest of the city on State Highway 51. For thousands of years, blowing sand has settled in this natural basin, producing a landscape of sand dunes. One rises to 470 feet, the largest in North America. At the base of the dunes is a lake with bass and bluegill. To protect the serenity and ecology of this environmentally sensitive area, the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation allows only non-motorized vehicles and boats on the dunes and lake.
Fifteen miles west, the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area managed by the BLM begins. The Area is mixed use, encompasses 485,000 acres of public land and has high concentrations of falcons, hawks, eagles and owls.
Three Island Crossing State Park is 25 miles southeast near Glenns Ferry. This 613-acre park is the location where many Oregon Trail pioneers crossed the Snake River on the trek West.