AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Fruitland
Friday, November 18, 2016
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
Fruitland City Hall
Fruitland lies at the north end of the Treasure Valley on the eastern shore of the Snake River, where the river forms the boundary between Idaho and Oregon, immediately across the river from Ontario, Oregon.
The Payette River is on Fruitland’s northern border. The city of Payette is one mile north.
Fruit orchards and fertile fields of alfalfa hay, sugar beets, onions, potatoes, corn, mint and wheat surround the city, forming a mosaic of color and texture.
In 1862 prospectors discovered gold about 50 miles due east of Fruitland in the Boise Basin. The following year, 16,000 fortune seekers flooded the basin in search of the precious metal. Settlers established homesteads along streams where they could divert water to irrigate their low-lying farmland to provide food for the miners.
The Oregon Short Line (OSL) launched construction of the railroad between Granger, Wyoming, and Huntington, Oregon, in 1881. This rail link would complete another transcontinental railroad and connect the commercial centers of Omaha, Nebraska, and Portland, Oregon.
The rail line—completed on November 17, 1884—angled in a northwesterly direction through what are now Pocatello, Mountain Home, Caldwell and Parma, then north to Payette and finally Weiser before crossing the Snake River a final time to Huntington.
The founding of Payette coincided with the coming of the railroad in 1883. Later, settlers formed irrigation districts made up of water users who filed for rights to Payette River water and built small diversion dams upstream to feed gravity-flow canals and ditches that delivered water to their fields. With irrigation, farmers transformed their sagebrush-covered high-desert homesteads into agricultural oases.
John Hall filed a homestead claim in the Fruitland area in 1887. He and the homesteaders who followed found the land and climate favorable for raising apples, prunes, plums and other fruits. Hall sold half his acreage to Anthony and Amelia Zeller in 1902.
Four years later, the Payette Valley Railroad Company—later acquired by OSL—constructed a branch line from Payette through Fruitland to New Plymouth.
Anthony Zeller platted the future town of Fruitland in 1908 on his land that bordered the railroad siding and a crossroad on the property. He named the town "Zeller’s Crossing," a name that only lasted a few years.
B.F. Tussing, who owned an apple orchard south of town, started a fresh pack shipping operation. He shipped his fruit by rail to distant markets under the name "Tussing Apples." Several other agricultural entrepreneurs were also developing or expanding orchards and fruit packing businesses. Responding to the marketing desire of orchardists to promote their products on their printed shipping cartons and characterize the community with its dominant industry, Tussing led the effort to change the name of the town to Fruitland after the "luscious fruit grown in the area." He also received credit for naming the north-south avenues after different states.
Fruitland’s first school opened in 1903. It had one teacher who taught all of the children in one room. Five years later, school patrons moved the school to a retail store that provided two rooms for the school’s use. The children were separated into two groups with four grades meeting in each room. A year later the community completed construction of an elementary school and in 1916 a high school.
School patrons approved money to hire vehicles to transport the children to and from school. In the warmer months, six canvas-covered wagons traveled routes to the outlying areas. In the winter, wagon owners replaced the wheels with runners. As motor vehicles became available, trucks replaced the wagons. One driver pulled a trailer behind his Denby truck for overflow students. Due to the exhaust fumes, the students riding in the trailer named it the "gas chamber."
Telephone service started in 1925 with 12-phone party lines that were eventually converted to private lines. In order to have a telephone, a person had to purchase stock in the company—the Farmers Mutual Telephone Company.
On March 29, 1948, with a population of 573, Fruitland became an incorporated village. Initially, volunteers provided fire protection. When a fire started in town, fire fighters formed a bucket brigade—fire fighters standing in a line between the burning building and the water in one of two irrigation ditches running through town, handing buckets of water from one man to another with one of the strongest men at the end of the line to throw the water as far as possible onto the fire. In 1948 the town purchased a used fire truck and installed 12 fire hydrants on street corners.
In 1967 the community changed its legal status to a city in compliance with a change in state municipal law.
Irrigation and Orchards
Irrigation systems were critical to the development of the agricultural industry in the Fruitland area.
The Bureau of Reclamation completed construction of the Black Canyon Dam with a complex system of canals and ditches in 1924. That system was integrated with existing canal systems including those serving Fruitland area farms—the most notable being Farmers Cooperative Irrigation Company, Noble Ditch Company and Washoe Irrigation and Power Company.
The 183-foot-high Black Canyon Dam is five miles east of Emmett, where the Payette River narrows between black basalt walls. The dam significantly improved the availability of irrigation water throughout the growing season as well as producing electrical power.
The prevalence of fruit orchards gave the community its name and economy. In the early years, growers used cool dirt-covered cellars to store their fruit until it could be loaded on trains for shipment. By 1916 growers were shipping several train carloads of fresh fruit across the nation each season. Today, they use climate control technology that holds the freshness of the fruit for several months.
Amenities and Attractions Today
The city has four parks on 12 acres. The principal park, Fruitland Community Park, is downtown next to the post office. It has winding sidewalks, park benches, flower gardens and a tall information kiosk modeled after the original bell tower that served the city’s first school building. In addition, the park has covered and lighted picnic areas with city water, tables, horseshoe pits, a volleyball court, public restrooms and a telephone. Families frequently celebrate birthdays, receptions, reunions and even weddings in this lovely park.
The park is also the location of the annual Payette County Fair and Rodeo kick-off breakfast each August, the Fruitland Family Fun Days in September and December’s Christmas in the Park sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce with the annual peace candle lighting ceremony sponsored by the Fruitland Lions Club.
Swire Park offers an inviting grass-covered half-acre with picnic tables at the intersection of NW 4th Street and N. Kansas Avenue.
The two other parks, Crestview and Mesa, are next to subdivisions of the same names. Crestview is on SW 8th Street just west of U.S. Highway 95 about half a mile west of the Snake River. When fully developed, this park will include a trail that passes through an intersecting gully to the Snake River.
Mesa Park is part of the Payette County Recreation District (PCRD). It is primarily a sports facility featuring four lighted softball/athletic fields, four lighted tennis courts, a basketball court, a large tot lot, a picnic shelter, a concession stand and restrooms.
On the Saturday preceding Mothers’ Day, the community celebrates the Fruitland Spring Fair. Activities include the Lions Club Chicken Barbecue and a parade featuring school bands and floats. The fair concludes with the Fruitland Fire Department Bull Riding Burnout fundraiser for the Fire Victims Burnout Fund.
Clay Peak Recreation Area—a regionally popular 750-acre Payette County-managed facility about three miles north of Fruitland—has sanctioned motocross races and off-road activities for motorcycle/ATV riding enthusiasts.
Nearby rivers and vast tracts of public land provide diverse opportunities for outdoor enthusiasts. Fruitland residents can enjoy fishing, hunting, boating, camping, hiking, ATV riding and snowmobile riding within a short distance from the city. There are at least five sportsmen accesses to the Payette River within five miles of the city.