AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on McCall
Tuesday, April 18, 2017
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
Aerial view of McCall, 2015
McCall is one of Idaho’s premier resort cities. It lies at the base of the crystal-clear Payette Lake. The heavily wooded Payette National Forest borders the city and valley on the north, east and west. To the south are the high-mountain meadows and cattle ranches of Long Valley, which is 35 miles long and up to eight miles wide.
Many Boise residents routinely travel 100 miles to McCall to vacation or spend a weekend enjoying the city’s numerous outdoor amenities and attractions.
For centuries, Payette Lake and Long Valley were the summer hunting and fishing grounds of the Shoshone and Nez Perce Indian Tribes.
From 1818 to 1835 Hudson’s Bay Company fur trapping brigades that included French Canadian, François Payette, explored and trapped in the Snake River tributaries, including what later would be called the Payette River drainages.
The Hudson’s Bay Company built a trading post in 1834 that they named Fort Boise about 70 miles southwest of McCall at the confluence of the Boise and Snake Rivers. The commander of the fort, François Payette, named the fort and river Boise after the French word "bois" meaning "wooded." Three lakes near McCall, a river and certain of its tributaries, a national forest and a city now bear the name Payette.
James Warren, a gold miner who had been prospecting to the north at Florence, found gold in July 1862 near what is now the ghost town of Warren, 50 miles northeast of McCall and accessed on Forest Road 21. At its peak, the boomtown had a population of 2,000.
Fred Burgdorf, who had mined gold at Warren, acquired the curative hot springs 20 miles southwest of Warren and in 1865 built a ranch with a lodge for travelers making the trip from McCall to Warren.
Sam Deavers, the first settler in the area, acquired 160 acres on the south shore of Payette Lake where he built a cabin in the early 1880s.
Tom McCall and his son, Homer, arrived in Boise in 1888. They had left the rest of their family in Missouri and came West seeking good land for ranching and farming. Tom’s wife, Louisa, and the rest of the children stayed in Missouri until McCall and his son found the right place and sent for them.
Tom McCall and his son were in Boise at the Overland Hotel when they heard a trapper describe the land to the north.
"I think the Long Valley country is the future cattle country. You just otta see the grass and the fine range up there. Bunch grass belly deep to a horse. And talk about hunting and fishing—why a man can just naturally live off the country if he has some bacon, flour and a few beans. Then there are simply miles and miles of the finest timber that I ever saw—huge yellow pines and firs—acres and acres of them…Payette Lake at the head of Long Valley [is] the prettiest lake I ever saw in all my life—and just chuck full of big fish. Great big lake trout—and are they gamey. Simply aching to get caught. It’s a region of mountain lakes—just hundreds of them, and all of them great fishing. I never saw so many deer and other game. And the red fish and white fish run every fall—just millions and millions of them."
The trapper’s description sold the McCall’s and by early 1889 the family was together in Boise. They then worked on the Marsh-Ireton Ranch near Montour—an agricultural community eight miles east of Emmett—through the summer, autumn and winter to prepare for their journey into the high country. When the snow had sufficiently melted, Tom McCall and his wife, Louisa, took their four sons and daughter to Payette Lake. They made the 100-mile trip with 25 head of cattle and two wagons pulled by teams of horses and loaded with chickens and household goods.
Ten other families joined them, some stopping to settle in Long Valley. When they arrived at their destination, Tom McCall met Deavers and traded a wagon and the best team of horses with harnesses for the Deavers’ property and cabin.
In the first year in their new home, the McCall family planted a garden and expanded the size of their cabin. However, they did not put up enough grass hay for the unusually severe and long winter. By March of the following year, they watched most of their cattle die of starvation.
Undeterred by their setback, McCall purchased a small sawmill, and he and his sons began producing lumber. They built the McCall House Hotel for the increasing number of visitors. As other settlers arrived, they sold lumber and started other businesses. In 1896 Tom McCall’s sawmill burned down, but he immediately rebuilt. His property was recorded as a homestead in 1896.
Three years later, McCall platted the four block McCall townsite on part of his 160-acre homestead. By 1900 the town had two general stores, a blacksmith shop, a butcher shop and a hotel.
Tom unsuccessfully petitioned postal authorities for a post office that he wanted to name McCall. He was denied because there was already a post office in the region. The settlements of Lardo, two miles west, and Elo, six miles southeast, took turns as home to the regional post office until 1909 when it moved to McCall.
On July 19, 1911, the Boise County Commission approved McCall as an incorporated village. In 1917 Valley County was created by the Legislature from portions of Boise and Idaho Counties with its county seat at Cascade. In accordance with the change in municipal law enacted by the 1967 Idaho Legislature, McCall became a city
Conversion from a Sawmill Town to a Resort Community
For decades, natural resource-based industries had access to federal public lands for grazing livestock, mining, harvesting timber and providing railroad corridors or roads. Around 1970 federal law began to limit access to federal land.
However, long before then, other entrepreneurs were using public lands for recreation and tourism. One of the first was "Jews Harp" Jack Wyatt, who had built a house and inn on the lake edge where the road to Meadows began. In 1888 he built a sailboat and then the 30-foot wooden steamboat, Lyda. Until his death in 1907, he crisscrossed Payette Lake hauling supplies for loggers and miners as well as selling sightseeing excursions.
While sawmills were still an economic mainstay of the community, Judge Samuel H. Hays of Boise built the Payette Lakes Inn and Clubhouse. The facility became a community social center with dining, dancing and games. Carl Brown was a popular caller for square dances there and at Charles Nelson’s Sylvan Beach Resort.
The Little Ski Hill west of the city opened in 1937 and was the training ground for several future Olympic skiers. It continues to serve as the home of the McCall ski teams. The larger Brundage Mountain Ski Resort opened in 1961.
In 1937 further notoriety came to the city when MGM filmed its blockbuster movie "Northwest Passage" at the lake with the cast and crew staying at Sylvan Beach. The McCall Winter Carnival began in 1924 with ski racing, skijoring, ski jumping and, in more recent years, its famous ice sculptures. Several youth and church groups purchased or were given large tracts of land in the area. Each year, thousands of their members come to enjoy group camping and water sports.
Today, McCall is a first-class resort community with excellent hotels and amenities that attract visitors from around the world.
Amenities and Attractions Today
Payette Lake, three miles long and a mile and a half wide, is the city’s centerpiece. The lake is up to 392 feet deep, covers 5,330 acres and has a summer temperature of around 56 degrees. Two other nearby lakes also bear the Payette name. Little Payette Lake, a 1,500-acre irrigation reservoir built in 1926, is a mile southeast of Payette Lake. Upper Payette Lake is about nine miles north of the larger lake. All afford opportunities for boating, fishing, hiking and photographing the alpine scenery.
Payette Lake is the remains of a deep depression carved into the earth’s surface over 10,000 years ago by a series of massive glaciers. Timber-covered moraines ring the lake with trails leading to many smaller lakes and camping areas. The village resort hotels and a marina border the lake on the south. Hundreds of homes, about 60 percent of which are second homes, line the privately owned part of the shoreline.
The city has six parks on a total of 15 acres and an exceptionally scenic 27-hole golf course. Its Harshman Skateboard Park is one of the largest in the state. The Manchester Ice and Event Centre includes an NHL-sized hockey rink, ice skating, curling and ice shows.
Over the past eight decades, the McCall Winter Carnival has evolved into a festival featuring large ice sculptures and other winter events that attract visitors from throughout the Northwest.
Ponderosa State Park, a 1,000-acre peninsula that juts into the lake has some of the oldest pine and fir trees in Idaho, multiple campgrounds and cottages and miles of hiking trails. In the winter, these become a network of Nordic skiing and snowshoe trails.
Ten miles northwest of the city is Brundage Mountain Resort. This ski resort has multiple lifts and an average annual snowfall of 300 inches. The lifts serve 1,340 acres of downhill ski runs that rise to 7,640 feet with a 1,800-foot vertical drop. There is an additional 19,000 acres of backcountry terrain for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and transporting passengers on snowcats for alpine skiing and snowboarding. Many groomed trails accommodate snowmobiles, including the Warren Wagon Road with its 45-mile trip between McCall and Warren.
Little Ski Hill is two miles northwest of town on Highway 55. This public facility has a 405-foot vertical drop and 18.6 miles of groomed Nordic trails.
Thirty miles south is Tamarack Resort, another prominent area destination ski and year-round resort. It is 7,700 feet high at the summit with a 2,800-foot vertical drop, seven lifts, 1,100 skiable acres and 300 inches of annual snowfall.
The 4,450-acre Lake Cascade State Park is located on the northwestern shore of Lake Cascade, which begins 10 miles south of McCall. The park has RV parking and boat docking facilities. The lake—popular for boating, sailing, windsurfing and fishing—is a 14-mile-long, 4-mile-wide reservoir fed by the North Fork of the Payette River, the outlet from Payette Lake.
In the 1930s the Southern Idaho Timber Protective Association (SITPA), a public-private organization formed to protect forests from fire and disease, set up its headquarters in McCall. The Civilian Conservation Corps, the federal work program instituted during the Great Depression, employed Finnish emigrants to build the SITPA headquarters compound using Finnish construction methods. These buildings are now on the National Register of Historic Places and currently house the Central Idaho Historical Museum.