Wednesday, August 26, 2015
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
Bliss lies on a high desert plateau at the northwestern edge of the Magic Valley. Vast tracts of public land covered with sagebrush, grass and prehistoric lava flows form an irregular crescent that wraps around the city and adjacent farms from the northeast, northwest and southwest.
The Snake River flows a mile west of the city before making a 90-degree turn to the west where it begins backing up to form Bliss Reservoir. The 615-foot long and 70-foot high hydroelectric Bliss Dam is located about six miles due west of the city.
In the early 1800s trappers, explorers and other adventurers joined American Indians in traversing the area around Bliss. The Native Americans caught and dried salmon migrating up the Snake River and its tributaries and harvested camas bulbs from the prairie.
Some of the trappers were French. The trappers named the river that flows into the Snake River five miles south of Bliss "Rivere aux Malades," because they got ill from what they believed was bad river water. It was later determined that the water was good. The trappers likely became ill after eating the tail of beaver whose diet included plants poisonous to humans such as water hemlock. A similar event led to French trappers giving the same name to the river that runs through Malad City. Therefore, Idaho has two rivers named Malad.
The main Oregon Trail passed west of the Snake River about eight miles from what is now the city of Bliss. The Trail crossed the Snake River at Three Island Crossing before proceeding on to Fort Boise and Oregon.
Following completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 at Promontory, Utah, wagon freight and stagecoach service to Boise started from the railroad siding at Kelton, Utah, now a ghost town located 40 miles south of the City of Rocks. The wagon road called the Kelton Road crossed the Snake River north of what is now the city of Buhl, then crossed the Malad River and stopped at Malad Station where there were stables, sleeping and eating accommodations. The road then proceeded through what is now the city of Bliss and on to the Clover Creek Station, located several miles north of town where teamsters could exchange for fresh horses.
In 1879 David and Lydia Bliss moved with their three children to the city’s present location. They started a business on their homestead of supplying Kelton Road travelers with campsites and hay and pasture for their livestock. In1880 they constructed a small store and saloon. In 1882 James L. Fuller, a son-in-law of David and Lydia, opened another saloon nearby.
On October 18, 1883, Fuller applied for a post office under the name of Bliss. Fuller’s plan was to house the post office in his saloon. Postal authorities approved his application provided Fuller did not locate the post office in a saloon. Fuller complied and the community name of Bliss became a reality.
In 1883 the Oregon Short Line Railroad was in the process of building a railroad line from Granger, Wyoming, to Huntington, Oregon. Removing heavy deposits of lava rock from the rail bed was a frequent problem for railroad construction workers. Workers often used dynamite to break the lava rock up. During construction of the rail bed bear Bliss, 16 Chinese workers tragically lost their lives in one of the dynamite explosions. The railroad company placed their bodies in the village cemetery and marked it "Chinese Graveyard."
At Bliss, the railroad company built a depot with a rail siding consisting of docks, livestock pens and loading chutes. This new infrastructure established Bliss as a transportation hub for area railroad passengers and transporting the agricultural commodities produced by an increasing number of homesteaders and ranchers who were settling in the area. Soon other entrepreneurs came and built retail and service businesses at Bliss including a hotel, a bank and a drugstore.
In 1884 settlers built a school near the Malad River Railroad Bridge. In 1892 they built an additional school in Bliss, and Lydia Bliss was the teacher.
In 1892 Benjamin G. Mullins, who owned the land next to the railroad siding, surveyed and platted the city. He collected fees from those who had already built on his land. He later sold his property.
The early homesteaders were ranchers who grazed their livestock on public land. Later, with the coming of the railroad and the prospect of irrigation water, homesteaders began coming into the area. They first performed the arduous task of "grubbing" (removing) the sagebrush and leveling the land in preparation for the irrigation systems that would be critical to the development of area farms.
In 1897 Joel Sanders, one of the early settlers, constructed the Pioneer Reservoir located six miles northeast of town. In 1910 water from the Northside Canal system, part of the massive Minidoka hydroelectric and irrigation project that extends from Ashton to Bliss, reached the city.
With irrigation water, farmers were able to expand the type of commodities they grew from dry land wheat to such irrigated crops as alfalfa and potatoes.
In 1910 a railroad extension from Bliss to Rupert was completed. This additional line enhanced the city’s status as a shipping point. During 22 months of the two year period of 1911 to 1912, 109 rail cars—including 29 cars of wool, 23 cars of potatoes, 14 cars of sheep, 11 cars of horses, 10 cars of cattle and 10 cars of lumber—were shipped from Bliss loading docks.
In 1917 World War I brought an increased demand for agricultural products such as wool, beef, lamb and other commodities. Local ranchers even rounded up wild horses for sale to the military that needed riding and draft horses.
However, when the war ended, a national recession ensued. In Bliss, commodity prices collapsed and the local bank failed. Many ranchers again took to riding the range to round up wild horses. Except this time, they sold the horses to chicken feed manufacturers.
During succeeding years, the advent of the automobile and the construction of U.S. Highways 30 and 26 had a profound economic effect on the city. Bliss became a rest stop for the increasing number of cars and trucks traveling between Eastern Idaho and Boise and between highway 30 and Sun Valley.
The Federal New Deal programs that started in 1933 helped strengthen the economy of Bliss and the farming community. The program brought electricity to rural areas. The federal farm loan program made farm loans easier to obtain. Federal conservation practices changed to better managed grazing allotments as well as plant grasses that improved the range.
On May 20, 1947, Bliss became an incorporated village. In 1949 the village became an incorporated city.
Transportation from Trains to Automobiles
The railroad’s decision to build a depot at Bliss in 1883 was critical to the development of the city. That decision established Bliss as an important center for transporting agricultural commodities and a rest stop for travelers.
On the other hand, in the 1950s when the railroad ceased its Bliss operation, jobs were lost and the city’s economy and population declined.
By the mid-twentieth century, paved roads and motor vehicles were successfully competing with the railroad for passengers and freight. Construction of U.S. Highways 30 and 26 in Bliss brought increased traffic into the city and helped offset the loss of the railroad depot. The city’s strategic location at the junction of these highways encouraged the development of retail businesses that serve truck freight carriers and the motoring public.
However, in 1975 when the federal government constructed U.S. Interstate 84 to the west of the city it dealt a serious blow to the city’s economy. Prior to construction of the Interstate, an estimated 5,000 vehicles passed through the city daily. By 1982 the number of vehicles had declined to 1,400 cars a day.
Amenities and Attractions Today
The two-acre Bliss Community Park is a gathering place for community events and family reunions. The park has facilities for picnics, a covered bowery, children’s playgrounds and ball fields.
Over the years, the city has lost most of its historic buildings. The livery barn, built before 1901, is the oldest structure in Bliss.
Within a 35-mile radius of Bliss are numerous opportunities for hunting, fishing, boating, hiking, camping and other outdoor activities.
Five miles south is Malad Gorge State Park, one of the six units of the Thousand Springs State Park Complex. Up river from Malad Gorge, the Complex includes Billingsley Creek, The Earl M. Hardy Box Canyon Springs Nature Preserve (Box Canyon), Ritter Island, Niagara Springs and Crystal Springs. Each unit has distinguishing features and spectacular natural beauty. Fishing, camping, hiking or sightseeing are available throughout the Thousand Springs complex of state parks.
The units in the Complex are interspersed along a 30-mile stretch of the eastern side of the Snake River Canyon. For millennia, more than a thousand crystal-clear cold-water springs burst hundreds of feet high from the eastern walls of the canyon and cascade down the canyon walls into the Snake River. Other springs bubble up from the ground before flowing into the river.
Today, aquaculturists have captured many of the springs into raceways used in several public and private trout hatcheries and farms or channeled to produce electrical power.
Just outside of Bliss is the home and studio of Archie Teater, a renowned landscape artist. In the 1950s the world famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright, noted for his designs that blend with its natural surroundings, designed Teater’s building on a high bluff overlooking the Snake River. Teater named the building "Teater’s Knoll." It is the only building in Idaho designed by Wright.
Five miles to the south across the Snake River begins the 4,300-acre Hagerman Fossil Beds National Monument. Archeologists worldwide recognize the site for its prehistoric fossil and sediment deposits from the Pliocene Epoch. The National Monument’s visitor center is eight miles south of Bliss, in Hagerman. A segment of the Oregon National Historic Trail is on the southern end of the Monument. Ruts made by the Oregon Trail immigrant wagons are still visible from the parking lot that overlooks the Hagerman Fossil Beds.
The 613-acre Three Island Crossing State Park, the location where thousands of Oregon Trail pioneers forded the Snake River, is 20 miles west.
Thirty miles south of Bliss, in the Salmon Falls Creek Canyon, is the mushroom-shaped Balanced Rock. This wind-carved 48-foot-tall rock weighs 40 tons and is balanced on a (now reinforced) three-foot by 17-inch pedestal.