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News & Press: Community Spotlights

AIC Shines Its Community Spotllight on Eagle

Friday, May 4, 2018  
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
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Eagle City Hall

Eagle is one of Idaho’s most dynamic and fastest growing cities. From a rural village with a population of 359 in 1970, it is now Idaho’s 13th largest city and continues as one of the fastest growing cities in the state.

Eagle has two fabulous amenities that attract up-scale development. The city’s northern terrain consists of gently rising foothills and small valleys. On the south, the city boundaries cross a prehistoric nearly two-mile-wide floodplain, including parts of the two channels of the Boise River that form the 2,400-acre Eagle Island.

The intermittent Dry Creek traverses the city, cutting across the northern foothills and emptying into the Boise River west of town.

Eagle’s eastern boundary abuts the city of Boise. The cities of Meridian and Star border Eagle on the south and west, respectively.

Historic Tidbits

Prior to trappers and fur traders coming into the area in the early 1800s, various tribes of American Indians hunted and fished in the lush Treasure Valley for generations.

Beginning in 1841 two branches of the Oregon Trail crossed what is now the city of Eagle. The main trail passed along the south channel of the Boise River—roughly the route of today’s Chinden Boulevard. Goodale’s Cutoff ran across the north end of the city—roughly following today’s Hill Road—before heading in a northeasterly direction over what is now Freezeout Hill and Emmett.

In 1862 a small group of prospectors discovered gold in the Boise Basin. A skirmish ensued and George Grimes, the namesake of Grimes Creek, was killed. The small band of prospectors buried Grimes’ body and withdrew back to Fort Walla Walla in what is now Washington, where they immediately replenished their provisions and recruited additional prospectors before striking out again for the Boise Basin. By October a much larger band of prospectors returned to the Boise Basin to stake their claims.

News of their gold discoveries leaked, and a gold rush ensued. By the end of 1863 some 16,000 prospectors were working in the basin. This flood of miners suppressed further Indian attacks and had a direct effect on the future of the city of Eagle.

Supplies of fresh food were limited and very expensive. Arable land made the valley the breadbasket for prospectors and miners.

One prospector, Truman C. Catlin, saw more opportunity in producing food than mining for gold. In 1863 he acquired 160 acres on the large island created by the north and south channels of the Boise River. He not only could raise food crops and livestock, but migratory salmon and steelhead trout came up the river to spawn. A large number of bald eagles also inhabited the area and fed on the fish.

The presence of the bald eagles persuaded Catlin to name his new home Eagle Island. A government survey made in 1869 also recorded the name as Eagle Island.

Polett Mace also acquired land on the island, and in 1864 Catlin and Mace built the first irrigation ditch in the area. The three-foot-wide ditch diverted enough water from the Boise River to irrigate 700 acres.

With passage of the federal Homestead Act in 1862, many more pioneers began coming into the valley to file their claims.

Over the succeeding years, a patchwork of 160-acre farms emerged and several more gravity-flow canals were constructed.

About 1877 Nova Scotia Surveyor Thomas Hugh Aikens, who later changed his name to Akins, filed a Boise River water right to his Eagle Island property.

On May 17, 1893, Aikens and his wife, Mary Conway Aikens, bought property that became a major portion of downtown Eagle. The "Aikens Addition" was on the east side of what became River Road—now Eagle Road. The property was bounded on the south by the north channel of the Boise River and on the north by Valley Road—now State Street.

Aikens campaigned to get a county bridge built across the channels of the Boise River, arguing that the road was necessary to connect the developments on Eagle Island and the northern bench with the developments south of the river.

By 1903 Aikens’ efforts paid off. County voters approved a $19,784 bond to build the bridges and road, which is now Eagle Road.

On September 2, 1904, Aikens filed a township plat that included the Aikens property and that of retired teamster John R. Carpenter. Except for a blacksmith shop, there were no buildings on the platted land.

A high school class, including Aikens’ daughter Clara, voted to name the new township "Eagle," and Clara’s parents agreed.

Eagle Road became the focus of development. Within the next several years, a school was constructed, numerous business buildings built and several denominations of Christian churches took root.

Grading for the Interurban Trolley rail bed started in 1905. On August 7, 1907, the first trolley reached Eagle, connecting the city to all the other cities, towns and stops in the valley via the "Boise Valley Loop." It carried passengers, freight and farm produce. Until the trolley shut down in 1928, it played an important role in establishing Eagle as a distinct community.

After the trolley closed, the Boise and Western Railroad took over the rail freight business, and motorized vehicles became the generally accepted mode of travel.

Buildings for a bank and residence hotel added to the downtown business center. These historic buildings are still in use but for other purposes.

In 1913 food processors began what would be several decades of operation in Eagle; a meat packing plant, a cheese factory, a prune packing house and a flourmill.

Several Eagle merchants built their businesses by appealing to trolley passengers. A particular attraction was the soda fountain at the Eagle Drug Store, which later became the regionally famous Orville Jackson General Store.

The decade of the 1930s was eventful. Idaho opened the Eagle Island Prison Farm with 40 inmates. The Great Depression brought closure of the Bank of Eagle. The federal Works Progress Administration program built a new high school on Eagle Road. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game drilled artesian wells and opened the Eagle Island Fish Hatchery adjacent to the prison farm.

In 1941 on the eve of World War II, veteran aviator Bill Woods bought 120 acres near the intersection of Idaho Highway 55 and Floating Feather Road and built an airfield and hangars that he called "Floating Feather Airport." The Federal Civilian Pilot Training program used the field during World War II. After the war, private aircraft used it until it closed on June 8, 1988.

A fire in the downtown area destroyed or damaged several buildings about a year after the war ended. This inspired the citizens to form the Eagle Fire Protection District in 1947.

In 1953 in order to cut costs, the voters approved consolidating the Eagle School District into Joint School District No. 2, also called the Meridian School District. As a result, the Eagle High School building closed and the students were bused 10 miles southwest to Meridian High School.

Ten years later the Eagle Library District and the Eagle Sewer District were established. The Eagle Library District began on a volunteer basis. In 1968 it became the Eagle Free Library District.

On February 26, 1971, in response to a citizen petition, the Ada County Commission approved Eagle as an incorporated city. The census taken a year earlier reported the population at 359, which did not include the surrounding agricultural community that looked to Eagle for shopping, church services, schools and fire protection.

The citizens sought incorporation to protect Eagle’s separate identity. They were concerned that the westward growth of Boise would overtake them. In addition, the Legislature had just passed the "Local Land Use Planning Act" that, among other things, sought to clarify municipal lines of authority. Eagle citizens felt the time was right to incorporate.

Developing the Character of the Community

It would take another 70 years after it was founded for Eagle to begin to really thrive. Beginning in the 1970s, several events converged to establish Eagle as a diverse yet upscale residential community.

The most prominent was construction of three large upscale residential subdivisions and a beautiful 18-hole golf course in the Eagle foothills. This successful development set the tone for future growth.

The foundation of that and future development was the formation of the Eagle Sewer District in 1963 and the subsequent establishment of the Eagle Water Company in 1972.

By 1996 the Eagle Sewer District ran out of disposal capacity and declared a building moratorium. Environmental and cost concerns restricted viable options. The problem was averted the next year because two neighboring cities agreed to cooperate. Boise has a municipal wastewater treatment facility located upriver on the south channel of the Boise River near the Boise/Eagle city boundary line. Boise agreed to accept the Eagle Sewer District effluent.

To take advantage of this arrangement, the Eagle Sewer District built a new pumping station and pipeline to the West Boise Treatment Plant and provided an on-site monitoring facility. Eagle also "de-annexed" land needed to expand Boise’s treatment facility.

At about the same time the Idaho Transportation Department built the State Highway 44 Bypass south of the downtown area and widened Eagle Road—State Highway 55—to five lanes between Eagle and Interstate 84.

These transportation infrastructure improvements had a profound effect on both commercial and residential development.

Hundreds of beautiful upscale homes were built on Eagle Island along gently curved, landscaped streets, around small lakes with many bordering a new golf course. Similarly, many new large homes were located in the foothills, others west of the city and along the channels of the Boise River.

The commercial area south and west of the original downtown filled in with a mix of multi and single story buildings including hotels, restaurants, offices and retail stores.

Eagle’s natural undulating foothills in the northern part of the city; Eagle Island with both channels of the Boise River on the south; and, importantly, wise city planning have established Eagle as a very desirable place to live and do business.

Amenities and Attractions Today

By careful growth management and preservation of the city’s upscale character and beauty that honor its heritage, Eagle has earned recognition as a model city.

The natural beauty of the river and the foothills not only has a profound impact on residential and commercial development, but also adds greatly to other city amenities.

A paved walking and biking path—the Greenbelt—borders the north channel of the Boise River as it passes through the city. The Greenbelt will eventually connect with greenbelts adjoining cities across the valley.

The city has seven municipal parks—Heritage Park; Orval Krassen Park; Friendship Park and Tennis Court; Arboretum Park; Reid W. Merrill, Sr. Park; Community Park; and Stephen C. Guerber Park—as well as the Eagle Sports Complex.

The largest and newest park is the 15-acre Stephen C. Guerber Park, named for Eagle’s long-time mayor and councilmember. Located on the north side of Hill Road, Guerber Park is a multi-purpose, regional facility with a playground, water features, a small amphitheater, pavilions and picnic tables, ball fields, a walking path and restrooms. It also displays a historic Ensign valve used from 1915 to 2002 to release water under high pressure from Arrow Rock Dam.

A new civic center now stands near the center of town just north of East State Street. Handsome public buildings including the library, U.S. Post Office and City Hall are located in the complex.

Three private 18-hole golf courses are located within the city limits with three more just outside.

There are a broad array of other outdoor sports and recreation opportunities available nearby. These attractions include fishing, hunting, hiking, water skiing, white water rafting/kayaking and horseback riding in the nearby mountains, streams and reservoirs.

Downhill skiing is available 17 miles away at Bogus Basin Ski Resort.

Eagle Island State Park is 546 acres bordered on the north and south by the channels of the Boise River. The Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation administers the park. Albeit in 2007 the city and the Parks Department reached an agreement wherein the city annexed Eagle Island State Park.

Less than 10 percent of the park is developed. A 2006 committee appointed by the governor produced a comprehensive long-range plan for the park. When fully developed, the park will incorporate the natural amenities of the river and become a world-class, multi-use regional park.

Adjoining the park is a 32-acre fish hatchery run by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. The committee’s comprehensive plan for the park has incorporated amenities supported by Fish and Game to include kindergarten through high school student awareness, a wetland research area and an interpretative center that highlights Idaho wildlife and the salmon research preformed at the hatchery.

On the second weekend of June, the city celebrates Eagle Fun Days, a historic community festival. In addition, the city and community organizations sponsor activities generally centered on major holidays. These community events reinforce the city’s heritage and provide a comfortable sense of place in a carefully restored and maintained downtown.

The city has received many awards for its accomplishments including the "Heritage Cities" award from the Idaho State Historical Society, the "Tree City USA" award from the National Arbor Day Foundation and the "Gem Communities" award from the Idaho Department of Commerce.

From Idaho's 200 Cities: the Southwest. Used with permission.

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