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News & Press: Community Spotlights

AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Teton

Friday, October 20, 2017  
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
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Teton Mountain Range

Teton lies on a long and relatively flat alluvial plain that gently slopes downward from east to west. Farmland—with fields of potatoes, wheat, barley and hay—surrounds most of the city.

The Teton River flows north and west of town. The famed Grand Teton Mountain Range is 30 miles east on the Idaho/Wyoming border. The mountain range, whose highest peak rises to 13,771 feet, forms a beautiful silhouette in the eastern and southeastern sky.

Historic Tidbits

The events that led up to the founding of Teton started in 1879, following completion of the Utah and Northern Railroad from Utah to the Montana gold fields. Many of the railroad construction workers were from northern Utah. As they returned home, one of the railroad workers—John R. Poole, of Ogden—was the first to praise the farmland potential of the Upper Snake River Plain. The reports of the returning construction workers prompted several groups of families to leave Utah to homestead in Eastern Idaho.

In 1882 leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church of Jesus Christ or Church) asked 54-year-old Thomas E. Ricks to be the Bishop of the immigrant settlers going to the Rexburg area. Ricks, a Kentuckian, joined the Church in 1844; crossed the Great Plains to Salt Lake City in 1848; and was a proven leader.

The district that was under Ricks’ ecclesiastical jurisdiction included several new communities in an area called the Bannock Ward, later to become a stake (diocese) with Ricks as president.

The settlement of the future city of Teton was started in the early spring of 1883 by eleven men who had traveled up from Cache Valley, Utah. When they arrived in what is now Rexburg, they camped just east of town. They contacted Ricks about their desire to find suitable land for homesteading. Three days later, Ricks, guided them nine miles northeast to a slightly higher elevation near the Teton River.

When they arrived at the location Ricks identified, they said that they saw fertile soil with plenty of water and a fine view of the Teton peaks. They decided this was where they would settle. These men were Henry Sorensen, John Anderson, Niles Peter Anderson, Fred Gardner, John W. Gardner, James Francis Graham, Joseph Graham, Charles W. Bird, Freeman Bird, George Gittens, and John Tom Gittens.

Within a week, these settlers made their homestead claims and arranged for Andrew S. Anderson, the surveyor sent by the Church to assist Ricks, to come and survey the best place to build a diversion dam and irrigation canal. On April 30, 1883, Anderson responded and, with the help of the settlers, surveyed the future course of the Teton Canal.

The following day, May 1, 1883, Anderson, together with Ricks and the eleven settlers, platted the town site. The men decided to name the new village Teton because it was next to the Teton River and had an excellent view of the Teton Mountain Range.

With the prospect of receiving irrigation water delivered through the Teton Canal, many other families came to settle and join in the cooperative effort to build the canal for a share of the water.

Shortly after they platted the village, a town began to take shape. The Teton Mercantile Company was the first commercial structure. A post office, a blacksmith shop, a saloon and the Teton Flour Mill—which still stands today—soon followed.

As the community grew, the settlers built additional canals. The system of irrigation canals and ditches built by these early settlers are still the fundamental structure of today’s surface irrigation system.

On February 19, 1901, Teton had a population of about 200. On that date, accompanied by an application signed by 74 residents, the Fremont County Commissioners made Teton an incorporated village. They appointed the board of trustees to serve until the next election.

Teton Dam & Flood

On June 5, 1976, the newly constructed Teton Dam, located in a mountain gorge north of the city, ruptured sending an 80-billion-gallon tidal wave of water down the valley.

Teton’s higher elevation allowed the city to escape most of the devastation experienced by the cities and farms downriver. However, rising floodwaters still caused significant damage to many structures such as the town’s sawmill where the floods weakened the footings to the point that made the sawmill unusable.

A major adverse effect of the flood on the city was less physical damage than it was the loss of economic opportunity. Prior to the flood, businesses that would benefit from recreational and other innovative opportunities associated with the dam and the large reservoir it created were flourishing. After the flood, the city’s commercial and industrial vibrancy faded. The Tabernacle Civic Center in Rexburg houses the Teton Flood Museum.

Amenities and Attractions Today

One of the city’s most prominent attractions is its near proximity to Rexburg and Brigham Young University-Idaho (BYU-Idaho) that is located there. Teton residents are able to enjoy the benefits of a peaceful small-town atmosphere yet live nine miles from the regional shopping and medical center of Rexburg and the cultural and educational opportunities offered at the university.

The university sponsors many public concerts, plays and recitals as well as opening many of its athletic facilities to the public. The university’s influence underpins the economy and enhances the cultural and social wellbeing of Teton and area residents.

Teton is also convenient for outdoor enthusiasts. Sightseeing, camping, hunting, fishing, mountain biking, ATV riding, skiing and snowmobiling are available within a short drive from the city.

About 40 miles southeast, State Highway 33 passes through the Teton Basin where it parallels the western side of the Grand Teton Mountain Range for about 20 miles before crossing into Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Jackson Hole is 67 miles southeast of Teton.

Yellowstone National Park lies about 35 miles due east. However, following Highway 20, the entrance to the park at West Yellowstone, Montana, is 68 miles distant.

The Targhee National Forest begins 15 miles southeast of Teton.

The St. Anthony Sand Dunes is a 175 square mile area where the wind has created sand dunes that range from 75 to 365 feet high. The sand dunes lie 20 miles northwest of Teton and are popular for motor-sport and family recreation. A few miles north of the sand dunes are the Civil Defense Caves, large underground caverns that are actually lava tubes formed by prehistoric volcanic activity.

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