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News & Press: Community Spotlights

AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Blooomington

Thursday, April 5, 2018  
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
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Bloomington viewed from above.

Bloomington lies in the Bear Lake Valley between the eastern foothills of the Caribou Targhee National Forest on the west and the 19,000-acre Bear Lake National Wildlife Refuge (BLWR) on the east. The BLWR comprises most of the wetlands bordering the north shore of the stunningly blue 5.9-million-acre Bear Lake. The Wyoming border is 18 miles due east. The Utah border is 13 miles south.

Pioneers built the city at the base of the 9,575-foot-high Paris Peak of the Wasatch Mountains where Bloomington Canyon opens up into an alluvial fan sloping to the BLWR marshlands.

Historic Tidbits

When the first settlers came into the Bear Lake Valley, Shoshone and Bannock Indians frequented the valley for their summer encampments, particularly the south lake area.

In 1862 Brigham Young, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church), received favorable reports as to the valley’s settlement potential. Young was anxious to locate arable land in the Intermountain West where the swelling flow of church converts into the Salt Lake Valley could settle.

Charles C. Rich—a member of the Church’s ruling Quorum of Twelve Apostles, who would later lead the Bear Lake area settlements—wrote that the country possessed an abundance of water for irrigation, favorable locations for towns, good soil, abundant grass hay, plenty of fish and game and a climate favorable for hardy grains and vegetables. He felt it was well worth an attempt at colonization.

The Church’s Indian policy was that of peace and providing food and other help to the Indians. Young negotiated with area Shoshone and Bannock tribal chiefs to allow settlement. The chiefs agreed that Church immigrants could settle on the north end of the lake but not on their traditional encampment lands on the lake’s south end.

On August 23, 1863, Young asked for an advance party of several families and workers from Cache Valley to follow Charles C. Rich and to build a wagon road across the mountains from Franklin to the north of the lake, 46 miles. There, they were to construct housing and animal shelters for those who would spend the winter. The following month, the advance party completed its assignment and established the community of Paris.

The following spring, 700 additional settlers joined the original pioneers. In May 1864 Brigham Young visited Bear Lake Valley and advised the settlers to cultivate small farms, build good roads and treat the Indians well.

Under Rich’s direction, the settlers started several new communities. In addition to Paris, they founded other communities including what are now the cities of Bloomington, Georgetown, Montpelier and St. Charles.

The first pioneers settling in the future town of Bloomington arrived April 18, 1864.

Charles Rich and his son Joseph, both of whom had experience surveying other church settlements, surveyed the new town as they did for the other Bear Lake settlements. They used the North Star to lay out the townships on a north-south and east-west axis in 10-acre blocks separated by streets six rods wide (96 feet). They subdivided each 10-acre block into one-acre home sites.

Charles Rich named the settlement "Bloomington" as a tribute to the industry and enterprise of the pioneers. In the absence of a municipal government, the settlers looked to the Church to provide organizational structure.

David B. Dille, the presiding elder of the Bloomington settlers, numbered the blocks and placed the numbers in a hat. Each family drew to determine the order of the drawing then drew again for the lot they would own. That draw was, in essence, the family’s title to their land. Formal title would come later when territorial law and the application of the 1862 Homestead Act finally reached these frontier communities.

The John Dunn family built the first log home in Bloomington. By the end of the summer, about 41 families had built one-room houses in the new community.

Initially, even though the soil was fertile and irrigation water abundant, it was hard to farm in this high-mountain community. During the first few years, the settlers were plagued with crop failures, heavy frosts and multitudes of grasshoppers. Many pioneers became discouraged and moved away. Gradually, those who remained learned to farm in the shorter growing season and were able to prosper.

The settlers believed it was their religious duty to educate their children. However, because students and teachers had to work on the family farm, the school year was from October through March.

In the winter, mail delivery was particularly difficult. Edward M. Patterson was the mail carrier. During the winter of 1866 to 1867 he made thirteen trips over the mountains to Franklin on snowshoes for $1 per letter.

Around 1870 community leaders built a brick store operated much like a co-op.

In 1871 the Deseret Telegraph brought single-line telecommunication service from Franklin through Bloomington Canyon to Paris.

The inability to identify the Idaho/Utah boundary would later become an issue for the new Bear Lake Valley pioneers. While it was known that the 42nd Parallel marked the boundary, no one was sure where it was. In 1872 the federal government surveyed the actual boundary. Up to that time, most settlers believed they were in Utah Territory and established business and government relationships accordingly. When the survey was completed, it crossed at the center of Bear Lake. Settlers living on the north end found they now had over 200 miles added to their trips to their "new" seat of state government in Boise.

In 1880 a toll road was completed to the southwest through Logan Canyon. This was an easier route to Cache Valley and greatly improved communication and transportation with the more populated communities around Logan, Utah.

In 1884 the Oregon Short Line completed a rail line that connected rail lines in Granger, Wyoming, and Hermiston, Oregon, essentially connecting Omaha with Portland. The line passed through Montpelier. A few years later, the railroad built a 10-mile branch line from Montpelier to Paris. Although the railroad did not reach Bloomington, it greatly improved transportation and communication to the community.

On March 27, 1901, Bell Telephone brought service to the valley.

The first church buildings built by the settlers were multi-purpose log buildings used both for religious and public purposes. In 1894 they built a large wood-frame church that was one of the largest in the valley. However, in 1916 the building caught fire and burned. They built a new church in 1917. In 1923 they built a large public facility that is now the City Hall.

Local performing arts talent provided plays and concerts. Some of the community’s early pioneer actors and the Bloomington Brass Band became popular throughout the valley and made important contributions to the valley’s culture.

Annual pioneer holidays included Independence Day each July 4, Pioneer Day each July 24 (the day the pioneers first came into the Salt Lake Valley), Washington’s Birthday and May Day. These celebrations generally featured parades, baseball games, races and dances.

Around 1910 Oliver C. Dunford, a community educator, recommended to community leaders that they form a municipal government to manage civil matters as other Bear Lake Valley towns had done.

On April 11, 1910, Bloomington became an incorporated village.

On October 18, 1919, village trustees sought to construct a municipal water system. However, the village was too young to get funding support and the effort failed. The village’s first water system was constructed in 1936.

In 1921 the village trustees obtained support to begin constructing cement sidewalks. In 1931 the Village Board approved an ordinance prohibiting bicycles on sidewalks. In 1932 the final strip of sidewalk was laid.

The legal status of the village changed to a city as part of the 1967 law making all incorporated municipalities cities.

Educating the Children

In 1864 the community built one of the first public buildings that also served as a school. It was a 16 by 20 foot log structure with a sod-covered roof. The room had rough slab benches and a large fireplace for heat. A canvas wagon cover divided the hall into two classrooms, one side for beginning students and one for those more advanced.

Subsequently, they held school in other public buildings until in 1894 they built a new elementary school on the site of the original school. In 1901 students who progressed past the eighth grade level traveled to Paris to attend the Fielding Academy. In 1918 school patrons built a new brick schoolhouse.

In 1967 all of the Bear Lake County schools were consolidated with the elementary school in Bloomington closing. While this consolidation improved the delivery of education to community children, the town lost an important icon to its identity.

Amenities and Attractions Today

The grounds around the Bloomington City Hall include a park with a fire pit, a picnic shelter with benches, a baseball diamond, a tennis court, a basketball court, horseshoe pits, playground equipment and lawn. The Hall can also be reserved and rented for day-use activities.

Scenic Bloomington Canyon offers camping, fishing and hiking. Public restroom and camping facilities are located nearby at "Harry’s Hollow."

Up Bloomington Canyon, Bloomington Lake is a popular spot for fishing. The U.S. Forest Service maintains the road and facility that includes a parking lot with picnic tables and restrooms.

The crystal-clear, 8-mile-wide and 20-mile-long Bear Lake has outstanding beaches and offers motor and sail boating and water skiing as well as fishing for trout; whitefish; and Bonneville Cisco, one of three species of white fish of the Salmon family indigenous to Bear Lake.

Through the wind and wave action, a narrow sand bar has formed separating Bear Lake from the marsh area to the north. This sand bar, known as the North Beach Unit of Bear Lake State Park, consists of approximately 1.7 miles of sandy beach and is a very popular location for swimming, boating and picnicking. The East Bench Unit of the State Park lies six miles to the south of the North Bench Unit on the east side of the lake.

The BLWR offers roads, walking trails, canoe trails, restroom facilities and a kiosk to enhance bird watching activities.

There are many Forest Service Campgrounds in St. Charles, Paris, Emigration Canyon and Georgetown. Minnetonka Cave is located in St. Charles Canyon and the Paris Ice Cave is in the Paris Canyon north and west of the Paris Canyon Campground.

The Highline Trail runs along Wasatch Mountain ridges and is popular for hiking enthusiasts. The trail is accessible at the top of Bloomington Canyon and many other mountain canyons.

Snowmobiling is a popular sport. There are 300 miles of groomed mountain trails near Bloomington.

The Oregon Trail Center, a museum in Montpelier, celebrates the rich pioneer heritage and legacy of the Oregon Trail and the valley. 

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