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News & Press: Community Spotlights

AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Rupert

Friday, June 15, 2018  
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
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Rupert City Hall

Rupert is located in the fertile Snake River Plain on State Highway 24. Beautiful irrigated fields of sugar beets, wheat, potatoes, hay and beans surround the city. The Snake River flows four miles to the east. Ten miles southeast, the Albion Mountains of the Sawtooth National Forest rise to over 9,000 feet.

Rupert is one of the towns platted in 1904 by the U.S. Reclamation Service—now the Bureau of Reclamation—following construction of Minidoka Dam and the system of irrigation canals and laterals of the “North Side Minidoka Tract.

Historic Tidbits

In 1884 the Oregon Short Line Railroad—now Union Pacific—completed its rail line connecting the railhead at Granger, Wyoming, to the railhead at Huntington, Oregon. Completion of this critical link of railroad reduced travel time between Omaha, Nebraska, and Portland, Oregon, to three and a half days. The rail line passed 14 miles northeast of what is now Rupert.

 

From 1904 to 1910 the Minidoka and Southwestern Railroad Company, acquired by the Oregon Short Line in 1910, built 200 miles of branch lines connecting several Magic Valley communities. They completed the 75-mile spur line from Minidoka to Buhl in 1907. This line passed through Rupert. In October 1910 the railroad completed a 73-mile branch line from Rupert to the main line at Bliss.

 

In 1902 Congress passed the Newlands Act. The Act authorized the federal government to construct dams and canals in the Western United States, sell arable land and water rights to settlers and periodically plat townsites needed to serve each farming community.

 

One of the first irrigation projects completed under the Act was the 82-foot-high, one-mile-long Minidoka Dam located near the Minidoka Rapids on the Snake River. The U.S. Reclamation Service started the dam in 1904 and completed it in 1906. The 7000-killowatt hydroelectric power plant built at the dam began delivering electrical power in 1909.

 

The water impounded by the dam created Lake Walcott. It provided irrigation water on the north and south sides of the river, a total of 116,000 acres.

 

In 1904 the Reclamation Service platted the village of Rupert, one of the “Northside” communities, with a town square and community well in the center of the village. For several months, the well was the city’s most prominent feature. Many local residents took to calling the community “Wellfirst” because the town had the only well within miles. Many settlers drove their wagons into town to shop and fill their water barrels. Today, the Town Square, now named Historic Square Park, has a fountain over the original well.

 

Settlers began acquiring and clearing the land well in advance of the irrigation water becoming available. These early settlers first cleared their land of sagebrush, roots, rocks and native grasses. In the fall they planted hard winter wheat for harvest the next summer. One woman described her first look at the land when she got off the train as, “… nothing but a wide expanse of greenish-grey sagebrush. Not a building, nor a tree, not a living thing was in sight.”

 

As soon as the wheat began to grow, jackrabbits and insects moved in to devour the tender crops, destroying the settlers’ livelihood. One homesteader recorded, “Jackrabbits came to the green wheat fields about sundown. They came from the lavas (lava beds) and the uncleared sagebrush fields where they shaded-up during the daytime. They came in hoards so thick that it looked as though the ground was moving…”

 

The railroad had the contract with the postal authorities to transport the mail. John Henry Rupert was the local railroad employee designated to receive the mail. The railroad painted “Rupert” on the mailbag. Addressing incoming mail with the name Rupert assured the sender their mail would get to the right place. To avoid confusion, the Reclamation Service filed the official plat of the new village with the name “Rupert.”

 

On July 17, 1905, W.N. Shilling, the city’s first postmaster, established the Rupert Post Office in his store, the Rupert Mercantile Company. In addition, in 1905 patrons opened the town’s first school and the Rupert Opera House produced its first play.

 

On April 12, 1906, the Lincoln County Commissioners approved incorporation of the village of Rupert and appointed the first officers.

 

In April 1909 the village held its first municipal election. Elected officials included Trustee Chairman, trustees, clerk, treasurer, marshal, street superintendent, dog catcher, park keeper and pump master. In 1910 the city had a population of 297.

 

On January 28, 1913, the Legislature created Minidoka County with Rupert designated as the temporary county seat. At the next election, county voters ratified the Legislature’s action.

 

In February 1917 with a population approaching 1,500, Rupert became an incorporated city. The period from 1915 through 1920 was a time of significant growth. During that period, the county held its first fair. In addition, the Minidoka County Courthouse; Caledonian Hotel, razed in 1970; Pershing Elementary School; and the Wilson Theatre, a city landmark, were built.

 

World War II

 

For the United States, World War II broke out in 1941 following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. At that time, prices for agricultural products increased; however, good labor was now in short supply. Most of the able-bodied men had been called up to fight in the war. In addition, many men and women traveled to other cities for high-paying jobs building goods and weapons for the military.

 

One of the tragedies of the war came because the federal government made the ridiculous assertion that all citizens of Japanese descent were a potential threat to the United States. Consequently, the U.S. military essentially stripped all Japanese-American Citizens of their constitutional rights and placed them into concentration camps called “relocation centers.”

 

One of the “relocation centers” was the Minidoka Relocation Center called Hunt Camp. It was built on 68,000 acres of sagebrush land located between the cities of Rupert and Jerome.

 

Hunt Camp prisoners and German POWs filled part of the farm labor shortage caused by the loss of local younger men called up to fight in the war.

 

Amenities and Attractions Today

 

Rupert has nine municipal parks. Historic Square Park is the centerpiece of the city and the location of many city celebrations and functions.

 

In the summer, several flowerbeds are interspersed among Square Park’s tall stately trees. Old-fashioned looking lampposts light the park at night. The park has a fountain, gazebo, wisteria-covered arbor and two carved bears.

 

Christmas is an exciting time in Rupert. Using proceeds from the annual “Christmas in July” breakfast, held as a kick-off to the Fourth of July Celebration, city leaders and residents decorate Historic Square Park, the city streets, businesses and residences with an array of lights and ornaments. Christmas decorations begin going-up on the Friday following Thanksgiving.

 

In addition to the Christmas in July breakfast, the city’s annual Fourth of July Celebration includes food booths, a parade, a Dutch oven cook-off, a rodeo, carnival and horse races.

 

Other annual celebrations and events include the Boat Regatta Fish Fry, Heritage Day, Farm Worker Appreciation Day and the Potato Fest.

 

The other eight city parks encompass a total of 40 acres and include such amenities as a skateboard park, ball fields, a bike path, picnic areas and children’s playground equipment.

 

Two golf courses are within two miles of the city. DeMary Memorial Public Library, with its 44,000 books; Neptune Park; and Minidoka County Museum are important community attractions.

 

Fifteen miles northeast lies the large and spectacular recreation complex that includes Lake Walcott, the reservoir created by Minidoka Dam; Lake Walcott State Park; and the Minidoka National Wildlife Refuge.

 

Lake Walcott State Park offers water skiing, power boating, windsurfing, sailing, bird watching, camping, fishing and picnicking under old-growth hardwood trees. One popular feature of the park is an 18-hole “Disc Golf Course” with metal baskets for holes.

 

The Wildlife Refuge extends 25 miles east and upriver from the dam. It encompasses nearly 21,000 acres—of which over half are open water and marshes.

 

Downhill skiing is available at Pomerelle Ski Resort, 30 miles south of the city. Its 8,000-foot elevation has an average snowfall of 500 inches. The resort has 24 groomed trails and 3 chairlifts.

 

Many residents take advantage of the national forest and the vast open ranges managed by the BLM for hunting, fishing, hiking, biking, snowmobiling and ATV riding.


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