AIC Shines its Community Spotlight on Marsing
Friday, January 15, 2016
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
Lizard Rock in Marsing
Marsing is a small farming community that borders the west bank of the Snake River 17 miles west of Nampa. The city lies under the watchful eye of the 2,602-foot-high Lizard Butte—a jutting prehistoric basalt rock formation across the river that resembles a giant lizard sunning on the east side of a huge pile of black rock.
The Oregon border is 11 miles due west. The Owyhee Mountains begin several miles west and southwest.
Until the early 1800s American Indians were the exclusive inhabitants of what is now Marsing. One cave near the city has artifacts dating back about 4,000 years.
The South Alternate of the Oregon Trail passed through the city. This cutoff from the main trail crossed the Snake River at Glenns Ferry and proceeded in a northwesterly direction along the south and west side of the Snake River before rejoining the main trail northwest of Parma. Most immigrants traveling on this stretch of the trail stopped at the hot geothermal springs about 11 miles south at what is now Givens Hot Springs.
Following the 1863 discovery of gold and, later, silver in the Owyhee Mountains, miners built roads to transport passengers and supplies to the mines. One road connecting the mines with Boise used a ferry to cross the river at what is now Marsing. A business began to grow up around the ferry to serve the freight wagon and stagecoach traffic.
The miners and prospectors were paying premium prices for fresh food. Homesteaders responded to this demand by filing homestead claims and developing farms and ranches on the best arable land. They particularly looked for claims where they could divert irrigation water from nearby streams.
In November 1884 the Oregon Short Line Railroad completed the critical railroad link between Granger, Wyoming, and Huntington, Oregon. It allowed trains to move between Omaha, Nebraska, and Portland, Oregon, in less than four days. The link passed through Nampa and Caldwell but bypassed Boise. In 1887 railroad interests completed a branch line from Nampa to Boise.
Several years later, entrepreneurs began plans to connect cities in the Treasure Valley via electric trolleys. By 1912 the Interurban "Loop" started in Boise and connected Meridian, Nampa, Caldwell, Marsing and Eagle before ending back in Boise. In 1907 entrepreneurs extended an electric trolley line the few miles to the south to carry freight and workers constructing the dam and dykes creating Lake Lowell. In 1915 they extended the trolley through the orchards of Sunnyslope to Marsing’s Ferry. Primarily due to competition from the increasingly popular motor vehicles, the electric trolley lines began shutting down. The Marsing line shut down in 1922. By 1928 the entire Interurban Loop had largely closed.
In 1913 the Gem Irrigation District built a pump plant near what is now Marsing and began pumping water from the Snake River. Availability of this irrigation water further encouraged settlement.
In the same year, two brothers—Earl Q. and Mark Marsing—settled in the area. They joined with C.A. Johnson to purchase 44 acres on which to plat a townsite. They platted the town and named it "Butte" in recognition of Lizard Butte.
In 1913 the railroad completed a branch line from Nyssa, Oregon, to Homedale. In 1922 they extended the line to Butte where they built a depot. However, the railroad named their depot Erb, after the former Idaho Public Utilities Commissioner George Erb.
In 1920 the Idaho Transportation Department connected State Highway 55 across the Snake River by building a bridge near the town of Butte. The bridge attracted further settlement to the town.
In 1922 one of the new residents, Walter Volkmer, applied for a post office in Butte. However, postal authorities rejected the name of Butte because it was already in use. Volkmer resubmitted his application with the name of Marsing after the Marsing brothers who first settled in the area. His revised application was accepted. With everyone’s mail delivered to Marsing, the confusion as to the town’s name was finally resolved. However, the railroad was the last holdout. It was not until 1937 that the railroad changed the name of its depot from Erb to Marsing.
In 1932 the Owyhee Project was completed, and the area received water via canal.
With the availability of irrigation water, settlers reclaimed large tracts of sagebrush and irrigated their farms, which were previously dry. Within a few years, the arid Marsing and Homedale area became an agricultural oasis.
On January 13, 1941, Marsing became an incorporated village.
The Owyhee Project
In 1932 the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation completed construction of the hydroelectric Owyhee Dam on the Owyhee River in Oregon, 20 miles northwest of Marsing. The dam, 417 feet high and 833 feet long, was part of Reclamation’s "Owyhee Project" that provided irrigation water to Oregon and Idaho farms, including farms in Homedale and Marsing. Water flows from the dam through tunnels cut into the mountains into a complex system of irrigation canals. The project included irrigation water from the dam as well as water pumped from the Snake River. The Marsing area received its distribution of water via the South Canal managed by the Gem Irrigation District.
Amenities and Attractions Today
Marsing has a library and two city parks.
Annual community events include Independence Day, celebrated each year with a barbeque and fireworks. Each Easter, a local church sponsors a sunrise service on Lizard Butte and the City sponsors an Easter Egg Hunt for the children in the City Park. Sprint boat races on the Snake River are popular events on many summer weekends.
On the first Saturday in February, the City holds the Marsing Disaster Auction to raise funds for local special-needs families.
Each May, the city celebrates "The Leroy Breshears Memorial Fishing Day" in honor of this late Fish and Game instructor. Hundreds of children come each year to Marsing Island Park Pond to catch trout.
The R-Lucky Star Ranch owns and operates the Farm Museum. This museum, located two miles southwest of town on W. Pershall Road, features over 3,500 historic and modern wrenches alphabetized by manufacturer and a large collection of historic sugar sacks made from cloth.
A few miles northwest across the river are several thousands of acres of commercial fruit farms and vineyards lining the western slope of land bordering the Snake River. The area, named Sunnyslope, is a favorable location where the sun warms the soil and extends the growing season. Many vineyardists consider the soil and climate of Sunnyslope ideal for wine grapes.
The historic Givens Hot Springs is a popular recreation facility south of Marsing. Oregon Trail immigrants said that the water was hot enough to boil an egg. They stopped to bath, wash their clothes and luxuriate in a pond they built. In 1881 Oregon Trail immigrants Milford and Martha Givens returned to settle and develop a resort. Their decendents now own and operate the property. Thousands of patrons come each year to enjoy the modern hot swimming pools and other resorts amenities.
Eight miles south of Givens Hot Springs across the Snake River from Historic Walter’s Ferry is Cleo’s Nature Trail. Open to the public year round, the trail is a wonderland of displays, hundreds of birdhouses of intricate design and over 100 sculptures and statues that line a mile-long walking path, meandering in a loop through old growth Russian olive and other trees that border the river. There is also a private museum. The museum includes the historic adobe ferry master’s building. The ferry master’s building, built in 1863, is the oldest building on the property. It served as the ferry master’s residence, a restaurant and a two-room hotel.
The Owyhee County Historical Museum is located 30 miles south at the Owyhee County Seat in Murphy. Owyhee County has 4.9 million acres and is the second largest county in Idaho—Idaho County, with 5.4 million acres is the largest. Marsing is one of three cities in the county and the closest city to Murphy—Grand View and Homedale being the other two cities. Murphy is unincorporated and has a population of about 50. It is the only unincorporated county seat in Idaho and has the smallest population of any county seat in the state and, perhaps, the nation. Homedale, the largest city in Owyhee County and located about 42 miles northwest, has a population of about 2,500.
About 20 miles southwest of Murphy on unimproved roads is the partially restored mining ghost town of Silver City and its sister town—the abandoned Ruby City. Ruby City was the Owyhee County seat for over three years before moving to Silver City in 1867 and then to Murphy in 1934. The silver and gold mines around Silver City rivaled those of the Comstock Lode in Nevada. Silver mining activity continues in the area at De Lamar, five miles west of Silver City, and at War Eagle Mountain.
The 590,000-acre Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area (SRNCA) lies about 22 miles southeast of the city. Numerous species of small wildlife—including rodents, rabbits, and birds—inhabit the SRNCA, which has the densest population of breeding raptors in North America. A variety of fish in the nearby Snake River and reservoirs add to the diversity of wildlife.
The World Center for Birds of Prey, famous for its conservation and recovery efforts for the Peregrine falcon and several species of rare and endangered birds of prey, is located south of Boise, about 35 miles due east of Marsing.
Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge lies a few miles to the east. The refuge encompasses 10,600 acres, including the 9,000-acre Lake Lowell and about 100 islands in the Snake River. The refuge provides habitat for wildlife including thousands of migratory and nesting ducks and geese.
The 107-foot-high hydroelectric Swan Falls Dam is located 30 miles south of Marsing. The dam is the oldest hydroelectric dam on the Snake River and has 1,525 acres of reservoir surface area. Built in 1901, the dam initially provided electricity for the Silver City mines.
The Roswell Marsh and Fort Boise Wildlife Management Areas provide habitat for waterfowl and upland game. These wildlife management areas are located 30 and 25 miles north of Marsing, respectively. Eagle Island State Park is about 30 miles northeast of the city in Eagle.