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News & Press: Community Spotlights

AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Parma

Wednesday, July 20, 2016  
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
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Entering Parma from the east

Parma is the home of the original historic Fort Boise on the Oregon Trail. The city is in the western Treasure Valley about five miles southeast of the Idaho/Oregon border at the confluence of the Boise and Snake Rivers. The Boise River flows on the south edge of town.

Fertile irrigated farms of onions, potatoes, cereal grains, hops, corn, apples, grapes and hay form a mosaic of color and texture around the city. Parma area farmers ship between 22,000 and 24,000 train and truck carloads of onions each year.

About five miles northeast is a 30-square-mile tract of brush and grass-covered public foothills managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Caldwell is 14 miles southeast.

Historic Tidbits 

Wilson Price Hunt, an explorer and fur trapper employed by the Pacific Fur Company, led an expedition from St. Louis, Missouri, to the headwaters of the Snake River in Wyoming in 1811. They foolishly, as it turned out, abandoned their horses at Fort Henry and made canoes that they planned to use to float the Snake River to the mouth of the Columbia River on the coast. However, at a particularly treacherous section of the Snake River near what is now Twin Falls, they lost a canoe, supplies and a man. Concluding that the Snake River was not navigable, they cached their supplies and equipment and trekked overland on foot, passing through what is now Parma, as they continued to their destination. The purpose of this ill-fated expedition included finding optimum locations to establish trading posts for the acquisition of beaver pelts which were in high demand in the European markets.

John Reed (sometimes Reid), one of the members of the Hunt expedition; along with Pierre Dorion (or Dorian); his Iowa Indian wife, Marie; and their two children enlisted seven men to set up a trading post and trap beaver at the confluence of the Boise and Snake Rivers. When they arrived in 1813, they built a log house and began their enterprise.

However, their trading and beaver trapping venture came to an abrupt end when a party of Indians—ostensibly angry at the trappers’ intrusion into their fishing grounds and seeking the expedition’s rifles, gun powder and goods—attacked and killed the nine men. It was the first massacre of white people by Indians in Idaho history.

Marie Dorion, who was at the cabin, received word of the massacre from a friendly Indian. She quickly loaded a packhorse with buffalo robes, dried meat and supplies and fled northwest with her children on the trail to the trading post, Fort Walla Walla, located several miles south of the confluence of the Snake and Columbia Rivers near what is now Wallula, Washington. The military Fort Walla Walla was built in 1856, 30 miles west of the old trading post at what is now Walla Walla, Washington.

Her harrowing, yet successful, 260-mile trip included trekking for nine days until exhaustion and heavy snows forced her to stop in the Blue Mountains. There she built a makeshift horsehide-covered shelter. Marie and her children subsisted for 53 days, primarily on dried buffalo and horse jerky, before the snows receded sufficiently for them to walk out and report the massacre.

Thomas McKay of the Hudson’s Bay Company, a British enterprise, built a trading post in 1934 near the location of the massacre about three miles northwest of what is now Parma. A year later, McKay turned management of the outpost over to a French Canadian, François Payette, who managed the fort until 1844.

Payette, obviously struck by the black cottonwood and willow forests that grew along the river flowing from the east, named the outpost Fort Boise and the river Boise, the French name meaning "woods" or "wooded." Settlers and governments would later give permanence to Payette’s name, as well as the name of his outpost. "Payette" became the name of a city, a county, a river, a valley and a national forest. "Boise" would become the name of another fort, a city, a national forest, a valley, a county and a mining district and mountain basin that ultimately yielded 2.8 million tr. oz. of gold.

In 1841 thousands of emigrants en route to Oregon Country’s Willamette Valley began passing through what is now the Treasure Valley on what became known as the Oregon Trail. Payette’s original Fort Boise was a landmark and supply station on the trail. Captain John C. Fremont referenced Fort Boise on his 1843 military reconnaissance maps, later used routinely by Oregon Trail immigrants. The fort continued as a supply post until 1853 when massive snowmelts flooded and destroyed the outpost.

Prospectors discovered gold about 50 miles east of what is now Parma in the mountains of the Boise Basin in 1862. The following year, 16,000 fortune seekers flooded the basin in search of the precious metal. Where settlers could easily divert irrigation water onto their homesteads, farms sprang up to provide food for the miners.

The U.S. Army established a military fort in 1863 on a foothill bench a mile north of the Boise River, 40 miles east of what is now Parma, to provide protection for immigrants, settlers and the miners. They named it Fort Boise, the same name as the destroyed trading post. A new town that settlers called Boise City immediately grew up around the fort. The military kept Fort Boise in operation until 1912.

The Oregon Short Line (OSL) began construction of the railroad line in 1881 between Granger, Wyoming, and Huntington, Oregon. This railroad connected the commercial centers of Omaha, Nebraska, and Portland, Oregon, and created another transcontinental railroad. Railroad interests had completed the first transcontinental railroad in 1869 at Promontory Summit in northern Utah.

The rail line, completed on November 17, 1884, angled in a northwesterly direction through what are now Pocatello, Mountain Home, Caldwell and Parma before turning north to Payette and Weiser and crossing the Snake River one final time before entering Huntington.

Upon entering what is now Parma, the railroad built a siding next to the tracks. Recognizing a business opportunity, two entrepreneurs Frank and Al Fouch, acquired land next to the railroad siding and began construction of a general mercantile store.

In 1887 Howard Sebree purchased a farmer-owned irrigation canal system, Johnson’s Ditch, which diverted water from the Boise River. Sebree expanded the irrigation system to serve many Parma area farms and in 1902 sold the expanded system to the water users.

The Fouch brothers filed a plat for the Parma townsite in 1890. The town—which at that time consisted of Fouch’s store, a blacksmith shop, saloons and residences—grew slowly.

That all changed in 1902 when E.M. Kirkpatrick moved to Parma and purchased and completed the Riverside Canal located south of town on the Roswell Bench. Concurrently, he promoted the virtues of the area to potential settlers in the Midwest where he persuaded about 50 families to come, settle the land and purchase irrigation water rights.

Kirkpatrick also developed a commercial district of retail stores that sold dry goods, implements, drugs, furniture, groceries and hardware. He built a bank and hotel and was instrumental in bringing electricity and telephone service to the community. The Hotel Illinois, completed in 1906, became the town’s focal point. It had a display room where traveling salesmen showed their wares, a popular dining room and a veranda for summer concerts.

Kirkpatrick died March 24, 1916, at the age of 46. The newspaper paid uncommon respect to him for his contributions to the city and his accomplishments, naming him the "daddy" of Parma.

On February 2, 1904, the community received County approval to incorporate the Village of Parma. By 1910 the town had a population of 338. On June 30, 1940, the town completed construction of a bond-financed City Hall. Prior to that time, Village Trustee meetings were held in the offices of the village attorney and city clerk.

On March 11, 1957, the community received approval to become an Idaho city of the second class. Ten years later, the legislature passed law eliminating village and class designations for incorporated municipalities—all were designated cities.

The Fouch Brothers Name the Town...After a Duke, a Color, Cheese?? 

Railroad officials deferred naming their siding to the Fouch brothers because they were in the process of applying for a post office housed in their store.

Musing about a possible name, Al Fouch held up a book he was reading about the Duke of Parma, Italy, and asked, "How about Parma, Idaho?" "Not bad," said Frank, "Short enough to suit the railroad, too…Ever hear of Parma Purple?…There is a lot of that color around here summer evenings, hills and sunsets. Then there is [Parmesan] cheese. Plenty of cows here. Maybe someday Parma, Idaho, will make cheese as good as Parma, Italy. Who knows?" With the name settled, they completed their successful application for the Parma Post Office.

Amenities & Attractions Today 

The city has five parks. City Park features picnic tables and a children’s playground including a small stream of water that runs through the middle of the park where kids can float small boats. The park is also the location of the city swimming pool and kiddies’ pool built in 1959 by the Parma Lions Club.

America’s Park includes picnic tables, basketball courts, a children’s playground and skateboard ramps.

Railroad and Centennial Parks are quiet shady rest areas with trees and benches.

Old Fort Boise Park is near the replica of the 1834 trading post that post manager François Payette named Fort Boise. This park has a covered picnic area, children’s swings and slides, restrooms, horseshoe pits and RV camping spots. Two statues stand in Old Fort Boise Park—one of the courageous Marie Dorion and the other of the infamous legendary character known as Bigfoot, an estimated seven-foot-tall leader of a band of renegade Indians that terrorized immigrants and settlers from what is now Twin Falls to the mouth of the Boise River. The fort is open for tours Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons from June through August.

The replica of the original Fort Boise has a museum featuring an old schoolroom, cabin, Indian relics, antique farm equipment and information showing early life in Parma.

Each June, the community celebrates Old Fort Boise Days. The event includes a parade, a Lion’s Club breakfast, a carnival at Old Fort Boise Park, a beauty pageant, art exhibits and a vintage automobile "show and shine" display.

Each summer, the Parma Rod and Gun Club holds its annual sharpshooting contest. Sharpshooters from all over the country participate.

The Parma Motor-Vu is one of the few open-air drive-in theaters still operating in Idaho.

The library is an important learning attraction. It not only provides books and periodicals, but computers and programs to promote learning.

Religion has always been an important part of Parma life. There are 11 religious denominations in the city.

Nearby rivers and public lands provide excellent opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. Parma residents can enjoy fishing, hunting, boating, camping, hiking and ATV and snowmobile riding within a short distance from the city. There are at least five sportsmen’s access locations to the Boise and Snake Rivers within five miles of the city.


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