AIC Shines its Community Spotlight on Eden
Monday, December 7, 2015
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
Garden of Eden Restaurant, Eden, Idaho
Eden is a quiet Magic Valley community surrounded by fertile farms interspersed by large tracts of public land and prehistoric lava flows. Twin Falls is 18 miles west.
The city received its name in recognition of the area’s fertile volcanic soils. When given adequate water and care, the land produces heavy crops of commodities including wheat, potatoes, hay, corn and beans.
Until the first explorers/trappers began coming into the Snake River Plain around 1811, American Indians of the Bannock and Shoshone Tribes were the area’s primary inhabitants.
On November 17, 1884, the Oregon Short Line (OSL) completed construction of a segment of railroad line that began at Granger, Wyoming; angled in a northwesterly direction through Shoshone and Nampa; and ended at the rail line in Huntington, Oregon. Upon completion, the rail line provided thru-traffic between Omaha, Nebraska, and Portland, Oregon. This railroad line passed about 40 miles north of what is now of Eden.
As demand for railroad services grew, the railroad built an extensive system of branch lines throughout the Snake River Plain. In 1883 the OSL delayed construction of its main line long enough to build a branch line 50 miles north to the lead-silver and gold mines of the Wood River Valley. However, branch lines to the Magic Valley would have to wait until irrigated farmland replaced the sagebrush.
The groundwork for part of this land transformation came in 1894 with congressional passage of the Carey Act. The Act was one of several laws designed to encourage settlement of the West.
Under the Carey Act, the federal government ceded up to one million acres to any state that would bring the land under cultivation under a public-private partnership. Private interests financed and built dams and canals. The state sold parcels of land—40 to 160 acres—to individuals. In Idaho, the Idaho State Land Board represented state interests. The developers sold water rights, platted towns and sold townsite lots. Idaho would ultimately use 850,000 acres of its allotment.
Milner Dam, located about 12 miles southwest of Eden, was a Carey Act project. Milner Dam, a 73-foot-high 2,160-foot-long hydroelectric dam, creates a 4,000-acre reservoir. It provides irrigation water on the north and south sides of the Snake River. The south side is gravity flow; the north side requires pumping.
In 1905 irrigation water from Milner Dam reached the south side of the Snake River. It provided irrigation water for about 244,000 acres and led to creation of the farming communities of Hansen, Kimberly, Twin Falls, Filer and Buhl. In the same year, OSL built a branch line to those cities.
In 1907 investors formed the Twin Falls North Side Land and Water Company—North Side Project—to build canals and pump irrigation water from Milner Reservoir to the farms on the north side of the Snake River.
The North Side Project would eventually irrigate 185,000 acres and lead to the establishment of Jerome, Hazelton, Eden and Wendell.
Within a few years, irrigation water from Milner Dam caused transformation of vast acreages of the sagebrush-covered Snake River Plain into a fertile oasis. This rapid transformation led to the designation of the area as Magic Valley.
In 1910 the OSL built a branch line from Rupert to Bliss. This railroad passed through Eden and Jerome.
On October 20, 1916, Eden became an incorporated village. At that time, U.S. Highway 30 intersected the town. Eden’s business district included a bank, a drugstore, three grocery stores, a hardware store, a hotel and two bars.
In 1919 the Legislature created Jerome County from the older Minidoka County. Eden’s county seat moved to the city of Jerome.
Bridging the Gap
While the railroad was critical to the transportation and communication needs of Eden and the other farming communities, it was not convenient for direct commerce between communities on opposite sides of the Snake River Canyon. The nearly 400-foot-deep canyon and the river posed major barriers. Travelers had to follow steep roads down either side of the canyon wall before crossing the river on a boat or barge.
The problem was overcome in 1919 with construction of a 900-foot-long two-lane suspension bridge near Eden. They called the bridge Hansen in honor of the city on the south side of the canyon. The state replaced Hansen Bridge in 1966.
Amenities & Attractions Today
Eden has one city park. James Lulo Park occupies one city block near the center of town.
In 1941 the federal Works Progress Administration built Eden City Hall using volcanic rock prevalent in the nearby desert. The city hall is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Eden is the closest city to the Minidoka Internment National Monument, managed by the National Park Service. The monument is located about nine miles north of the city. It marks a national tragedy following the December 7, 1941, attack by the government of Japan on Pearl Harbor.
Following the attack, the federal government stripped the constitutional rights from all known Americans of Japanese ancestry. The military forced entire families—men women and children—to board trains and buses for transport to several internment, or prison, camps scattered primarily throughout the Intermountain West.
At its peak, the Minidoka Internment Camp—named "Hunt Camp" by postal authorities—held about 13,000 American citizens. The camp was in service from August 1942 to January 1945. The Hunt Camp land reserve consisted of about 33,000 acres—1,000 of which were devoted to the developed camp.
The developed camp included about 600 barracks and other buildings, most of which were simple tarpaper-covered frame structures. Each residential barracks had six small one-room apartments and common dining, laundry, shower and toilet facilities. The military surrounded the compound with barbed wire fences, towers, armed guards and watchdogs.
About 1,000 internees at Hunt were of an age and physical condition to be eligible for military service. They volunteered for combat duty. Those who stayed behind worked as laborers on Magic Valley farms.
The military assigned the Japanese American volunteers into the 442nd Regimental Combat Unit. The unit fought against Nazi Germany in France and Italy. Many soldiers in the 442nd were highly decorated for valor. Two of the volunteers from Hunt received the Congressional Medal of Honor; 73 died. In 1946 President Harry S. Truman said of the 442nd, "You fought not only the enemy but you fought prejudice—and you won."
Today, little remains of the Minidoka Internment Camp. The Jerome County Museum in Jerome has a display honoring the camp’s history. Within the next few years, the National Park Service will prepare a general management plan and environmental impact study for the Minidoka Internment National Monument.
Wilson Lake, a 600-acre fishery and reservoir used for water pumped from Milner Dam to the North Side Canal, is located about three miles east of Eden. In 1976 an angler caught the state’s record size perch at the lake—15.5 inches, weighing nearly two pounds ten ounces.
Shoshone Falls, often referred to as the Niagara of the West, is a Unique Natural Feature on the Snake River. It is located 12 miles southwest of Eden. Shoshone Falls is 212 feet high—36 feet higher than New York’s Niagara Falls.
The six units of Thousand Springs State Park, Niagara Springs, Crystal Springs, Ritter Island, the Earl M. Hardy Box Canyon Springs Nature Preserve (Box Canyon), Billingsley Creek and the Malad Gorge are interspersed along the Snake River between Twin Falls and Hagerman.
Eden’s close proximity to vast acreages of public land, rivers and reservoirs makes available an attractive variety of outdoor sports including hunting, fishing, camping, hiking and ATV riding.