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News & Press: Community Spotlights

AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Twin Falls

Monday, July 30, 2018  
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
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City of Twin Falls Logo

The city of Twin Falls is in the heart of Idaho’s Magic Valley on the southern rim of the Snake River Canyon. Shoshone Falls, the "Niagara of the West," is five miles east of the city. The City owns the beautiful park overlooking the 212-foot-high, 900-foot-wide falls. Upstream from Shoshone Falls is the 180-foot-high Twin Falls, from which the city derived its name.

Thousands of acres of farmland interspersed occasionally with open high desert terrain form a patchwork of color and texture around the city.

The Perrine Memorial Bridge is the northern gateway into the city from Interstate 84. The 1,500-foot-long bridge crosses the Snake River Canyon with its basalt rock cliffs that drop sharply then grade out to the Snake River, flowing 486 feet below. A visitors center and parking area at the south end of the bridge are an access point to a system of canyon trails with spectacular overlooks.

Across the Snake River about 10 miles west begin the nine units of the fabulous Thousand Springs State Park. For over 30 miles, several million gallons of cold crystal-clear water of the giant Snake River Aquifer burst from springs and the high walls of the canyon into the Snake River.

Twin Falls is a regional center for commerce and home to the College of Southern Idaho.

Historical Tidbits

Prior to 1811 when the first explorers and trappers came into the region, bands of Bannock and Shoshone Indians wintered in the Snake River Canyon. During the annual salmon migrations, they came to the Snake River below Shoshone Falls to catch and dry the big fish.

In 1811 Wilson Price Hunt, in the employ of the American Fur Company, led a party of 62 men, one woman and two children up the Missouri River, across what is now Wyoming and Jackson Hole and into Idaho’s Teton Basin. Believing they could float the Snake River to the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean, they built 15 large canoes from cottonwood trees; left their horses, a decision they would later regret; and set off downriver.

They portaged around what is now Idaho Falls and American Falls, but then encountered the treacherous rapids and waterfalls west of what is now Twin Falls. There, they lost one man and a canoe loaded with supplies. They scouted the river ahead for over 35 miles and saw so many waterfalls and rapids that they abandoned their canoes and set out on foot to the Columbia River. Their description of the land as a place to settle was not favorable.

Three decades later, Captain John C. Fremont, a trained surveyor for the military, led a 39-member exploration and survey detachment to Oregon. Their route took them through Idaho. On September 28, 1843, Fremont’s party camped at Rock Creek, about six miles south of what is now Twin Falls.

Future Oregon Trail immigrants benefited greatly from Fremont’s detailed maps—published by Congress with descriptions of the terrain, including landmarks and the locations of good campsites.

Major Osborne Cross, a veteran of the Mexican War, led a military exploration party along the Oregon Trail five years later. On August 15, 1849, two members of Cross’ party, Lieutenant Lindsay and George Gibbs, went with the party’s guide to explore the great waterfalls. Lindsay named the waterfalls Shoshone Falls and Gibbs made a pencil sketch—the first known picture of Shoshone Falls.

Wagon and stagecoach traffic through the Twin Falls area increased dramatically following the discovery of gold in the Boise Basin in 1862. Sixteen thousand people flooded into the basin the following year, with many spreading out and making additional discoveries throughout the region.

Responding to pleas for protection four months after the creation of Idaho Territory on March 4, 1863, the U.S. Army established Fort Boise on a bench overlooking the Boise River. The original Fort Boise, a trading-post and Oregon Trail landmark 40 miles west near what is now Parma, had been destroyed by flood a few years earlier. Three days after the fort was founded, merchants and settlers platted a town nearby and named it Boise City. The Territorial Legislature made Boise City the permanent territorial capital on December 7, 1864.

In March 1864 Ben Holladay obtained a contract to deliver mail three times a week between Salt Lake City, Utah Territory, through Boise to Fort Walla Walla in Washington Territory. One of his stage stops was at Rock Creek, about six miles southeast of the future site of Twin Falls.

James Bascom built the Rock Creek Store and Stage Station in 1865. In 1877 he sold the property to Herman Stricker and his partner, and the station became known as the Stricker Store and Homesite.

The Rock Creek Stage Station is the oldest building in Twin Falls County and is now managed by the Idaho State Historical Society and the Friends of Stricker volunteers.

The Oregon Short Line (OSL) began constructing a rail line in 1881 from the Granger, Wyoming, railhead. The line angled across Idaho in a northwesterly direction through Pocatello, Shoshone and Caldwell to the western rail head just across the Snake River at Huntington, Oregon. The rail line was completed on November 17, 1884. Trains could now travel from Omaha, Nebraska, to Portland, Oregon, in less than four days.

In 1883 the OSL interrupted construction of its main line to extend a 50-mile spur from Shoshone to the 3,000 miners working the silver-lead mines and smelters in the Wood River Valley cities of Bellevue, Hailey and Ketchum.

To encourage passenger traffic, the OSL promoted Shoshone Falls as a tourist attraction. Tourists would get off the train at the Shoshone Depot and travel 26 miles by stagecoach to Shoshone Falls. Entrepreneurs built a ferry and hotel on the south side of the falls where the view was more spectacular. They also built an eight-mile toll road to the growing community of Rock Creek.

Ira B. Perrine, a 22-year-old entrepreneur, sold dairy products and meat to the Wood River Valley miners. With winter approaching, he moved his herd of 40 dairy cows from the Wood River area to Blue Lakes in the Snake River Canyon in the fall of 1884. He needed a warmer place with abundant grass for his livestock.

The land he settled had two crystal-clear lakes fed by underground springs—the present site of Blue Lakes Country Club on the west side of Perrine Bridge. Perrine built a gravity flow irrigation system; planted fruit trees; and grew fruit, berries, wheat and vegetables for sale in the Wood River Valley. Perrine’s Blue Lakes Fruit Ranch ultimately covered 1,000 acres.

The U.S. Congress passed the Carey Act in 1894, ceding up to a million acres to any state that would bring arid public land under cultivation. Development of the land was a public-private partnership. Idaho would ultimately use 850,000 acres of its allotment.

Upon approval of a Carey Act Project, private developers financed and built dams and canals. The State, represented by the Idaho State Land Board, sold up to 160-acre parcels of land to settlers. The developers sold water rights and town site lots. Congress would later pass other land reclamation laws including the establishment of the U.S. Reclamation Service in 1902, which built many other dams and irrigation systems in Idaho.

At the turn of the century, Perrine prepared to develop a Carey Act diversion dam—Milner Dam—on the Snake River at a place known as The Cedars 35 miles upriver from his Blue Lakes farm.

Perrine formed the Twin Falls Land and Water Company (TFLWC) and brought together investors who included men whose names were Buhl, Hansen, Kimberly and Milner after whom certain cities and prominent places in the Magic Valley were named. Ultimately, water from the dam would provide gravity-flow water to irrigate over 244,000 acres on the south side of the river and, later, pump water to irrigate an additional 185,000 acres on the north side where other cities such as Jerome, Hazelton, Eden and Wendell were founded.

The State Land Board approved the TFLWC dam and irrigation plan and signed the contract on January 2, 1903. Among other things, TFLWC acquired a 640-acre section allowed under the Act; formed a townsite and an investment company; platted the new town of Twin Falls; and, in October 1904, filed the plat with the County—at that time, Twin Falls was in Cassia County. The county seat was in Albion.

John Hays, the man who surveyed the Twin Falls town site, did not design the streets on a north/south axis. He angled the streets so they followed the gradient of the land to facilitate irrigation, drainage and sewer construction. The street alignment also allowed the sun to shine on all four sides of a house over the course of a day.

By the end of 1904 there were about 75 buildings in the town including the Perrine and Burton General Merchandise Company on the corner of Main and Shoshone Streets. As the Milner Dam and canal system neared its completion in 1905, building lots sold rapidly. For example, during a 10-day period in February 1905, the townsite company sold 165 lots.

James H. Hawley, in his 1920 book History of Idaho, The Gem of the Mountains, referenced an unnamed newspaper article and photograph of Twin Falls in 1904 compared to 1912. He said in 1904 the city "consisted of one large, ornate shanty with porch attached and a tent in the rear." By 1912 a person could "stand on the cement sidewalk in front of his residence on Seventh Avenue North and look down Shoshone Street for over a mile, and … see a … paved street lined with magnificent shade trees. A city park two blocks distant fronted by the finest courthouse in Idaho, a $250,000 high school building and prosperous homes. … [a block away from the residence he could] hold up two fingers and flag an electric car to take him out to Shoshone Falls, the greatest scenic wonder of the West."

On April 13, 1905, Twin Falls became an incorporated village with over 2,000 people living in the town, including some 500 in tent houses at the bottom of Rock Creek Canyon. Above the canyon, hotels and boarding houses provided lodging. On March 18, 1907, the Village of Twin Falls became a city of the second class, and on January 1, 1952, its legal status changed to a city of the first class.

Farmers seemed to work around the clock clearing the land and planting their crops. During that time, merchants remained open until 10 p.m. seven days a week to accommodate the settlers.

The Oregon Short Line Railroad’s branch rail line from Minidoka reached Twin Falls on August 7, 1905. People came from all around for the great celebration called Railroad Day.

The Great Depression and World War II

After the Great Depression hit Twin Falls in 1931, the community’s struggle to maintain a viable economy was compounded by extreme drought. However, within a few years the weather had improved and new jobs helped reinvigorate the city’s economy. In 1935 Idaho Power Company built a power plant upriver from Shoshone Falls at Twin Falls. The next year Amalgamated Sugar reopened its Twin Falls factory, which had been closed for three years.

World War II caused a major change in the farm and business labor pool. Most of the male workforce left to fight in the war, creating a labor shortage which required women and older men to work the fields.

In February 1942 the U.S. military issued a proclamation requiring all persons of Japanese ancestry living in Western Coastal states to immediately dispose of their property and report to authorities. Nearly 10,000 of the 110,000 displaced Japanese-Americans were sent to the Minidoka Relocation Center, known as Hunt Camp, about 12 miles northeast of Twin Falls off State Highway 25.

Many of these disenfranchised citizens initially worked on nearby farms. However, many of the Japanese-American men, despite the terrible treatment they and their families received at the hands of their government, enlisted in the U.S. military, and many lost their lives fighting in Europe for their country.

Amenities and Attractions Today

The city of Twin Falls has over 14 parks on 650 acres. Park facilities include flower gardens, athletic fields, a skate park, a swimming pool, wildlife habitat, locations for picnicking and children’s play equipment areas.

In 2003 the city purchased over 500 acres of Snake River Canyon land along the 30-foot-high Augur Falls at the end of Canyon Springs Road west of the city’s wastewater treatment plant. The Auger Falls Heritage Park serves recreational and wetland purposes and is a demonstration project for reusing municipal wastewater.

The city has five golf courses including Blue Lakes Country Club in the Snake River Canyon at the northern entrance to the city on the west side of Perrine Memorial Bridge. The county’s Centennial Waterfront Park, the home of the annual "Jazz in the Canyon" concert series, is near the Blue Lakes Country Club.

The Perrine Memorial Bridge is an attraction for BASE (Bridges, Antennae, Spans and Earth) jumpers. These bungee-cord jumpers use the bridge as a launch point for their "Xtreme" sport. Their use of the bridge has brought international recognition to the city as the jumpers set world records in their sport.

The city and the Snake River Canyon also received international recognition in 1974 when Evel Knievel attempted to jump the canyon on his rocket-modified motorcycle. He came close, but high winds and premature deployment of his parachute caused him to fall short of landing on the opposite canyon rim. Knievel was injured but survived.

Tourist and recreation travel on the Snake River is also gaining in popularity. Tour boats transport people upstream from Centennial Park to a series of rapids called Pillar Falls. Some of the more adventuresome individuals portage around the falls and kayak or canoe the remaining distance to the base of Shoshone Falls.

The College of Southern Idaho has a 350-acre campus in the city. The college has strong academic and professional/technical programs for 4,300 students. A paved fitness trail passes through the campus.

The Herrett Center for Arts and Sciences is a non-profit museum located on the CSI campus. Thousands of visitors including elementary and secondary school students come on campus annually to enjoy the center and study at its Faulkner Planetarium and Observatory, the Anthropological Artifacts and Natural History Museum and the Jean King Gallery of Contemporary Art.

The Magic Valley Arts Council promotes performing, visual and literary arts.

The Twin Falls County Historical Museum is west of town on U.S. Highway 30. The Twin Falls Public Library and Senior Center have new facilities that add to the cultural and educational resources of the city.

In addition to outdoor activities available in the Snake River Canyon, hunting, fishing, hiking, camping, biking, swimming, boating and winter sports are also available in the Sawtooth National Forest starting 20 miles south of the city. In addition, the nine units of Thousand Springs State Park are all located northwest and within 40 miles of the city.

Downhill skiing is available at Magic Mountain Ski Resort in the Sawtooth National Forest on Rock Creek Road. Mountain peaks in that area rise over 8,000 feet.

Several state and federal reserves, monuments, wildlife management areas and attractions are within an hour’s drive from the city. Balanced Rock is located 40 miles west of the city. The City of Rocks National Reserve and Castle Rocks State Park are 55 miles southeast. The 49-mile-long City of Rocks Back County Byway starts 40 miles southeast in the city of Oakley. The Minidoka Recreation and Wildlife Preserve—including Lake Walcott State Park and a 21,000-acre National Wildlife Refuge—is 40 miles northeast near the city of Acequia.

The downtown area is a historic district listed on the national register. The city’s historic or prominent structures include the Twin Falls County Historical Museum, formerly the old Union School; St Edwards Catholic Church built in 1921; the Methodist Church built in 1909; the First Christian Church completed in 1929; and the recently completed landmark, the Twin Falls Idaho Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

One unusual historic attraction is the giant white sturgeons that inhabit the Snake River drainage below Shoshone Falls. Today, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game have specific regulations regarding the fish.

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