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News & Press: Community Spotlights

AIC Shines its Community Spotlight on Donnelly

Monday, October 1, 2018  
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
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Aerial view of Donnelly

Donnelly is located near the northeastern shoreline of the 30,000-acre Lake Cascade, Idaho’s fourth largest lake. It is also near the heart of Long Valley, the 35-mile-long six to eight-mile-wide Payette River valley meadow that runs from about seven miles south of Cascade north to McCall.

The city is near some of Idaho’s most prominent ski resort communities. Twelve miles north, near the southern shoreline of Lake Payette, is the historic resort city of McCall. Brundage Mountain Resort is a few miles west of McCall.

Tamarack Resort and Village is located eight miles west of Donnelly. Tamarack is a four-season resort located on the northwestern shoreline of Lake Cascade in the Payette River Mountains. The popularity of Tamarack has brought a surge in upscale home construction on resort property as well as a boom in real estate valuations elsewhere in the county.

Fourteen miles south, on the southeast shoreline of Lake Cascade, is the resort city of Cascade.

Historic Tidbits

In 1828 European fur trappers and traders came into the region. At that time, the upper Long Valley was the summer hunting and fishing grounds of American Indians.

Beginning in the mid-1880s cattle ranchers, who grazed their animals in the valley during the warmer months, and farmers began coming into the valley. Many of those who settled around what is now the City of Donnelly were Finnish emigrants whose country at that time was under the control of Russia. They liked Long Valley because the open fields and distant mountains were reminiscent of their former agricultural way of life.

Even though Congress passed the Homestead Act in 1862, land surveys were not complete. The first settlers in Long Valley occupied their land as "squatters." Around 1890 the federal government surveyed the valley and the settlers filed homestead claims.

The winter of 1887 to 1888 was mild and animals could forage in the tall bunch grass that grew in the meadows. However, the winter of 1888 to 1889 had exceptionally heavy snowfall. Snow covered the meadow grasses. Many settlers were caught by surprise. Those who had not stored an adequate supply of grass hay lost animals to starvation. Some of them became so discouraged they moved to milder climates.

However, as some left the valley, others started arriving. In the spring of 1889 eleven families came into the valley. One of these families was Tom and Louisa McCall, founders of the City of McCall. They, along with their four sons and daughter, settled at the north end of the valley at Payette Lake. They came with two wagons, two teams and harnesses, 25 head of cattle, chickens and household goods.

When they arrived, they met Mr. Devers, a settler who had come several years earlier. There they bartered a team of horses, harnesses and a wagon for Dever’s cabin and property. The other families that came with McCall settled elsewhere in the valley.

Tom McCall came to the valley because he was impressed with the report he had heard the previous year while in Boise. At that time, he was looking for a place in the West to bring his family to settle. He and his son Homer were in the Overland Hotel where they heard a trapper give a bit exaggerated but colorful description of Long Valley. McCall related the trapper’s description as follows:

"I think the Long Valley country is the future cattle country. You just otta see the grass and the fine range up there. Bunch grass belly deep to a horse.

"And talk about hunting and fishing—why a man can just naturally live off the country if he has some bacon, flour and a few beans. Then there are simply miles and miles of the finest timber that I ever saw—huge yellow pines and firs—acres and acres of them . . .

"Payette Lake at the head of Long Valley (is) the prettiest lake I ever saw in all my life—and just chuck full of big fish. Great big lake trout—and are they gamey. Simply aching to get caught.

"It’s a region of mountain lakes—just hundreds of them, and all of them great fishing. I never saw so many deer and other game. And the red fish and white fish run every fall—just millions and millions of them."

Each summer, cattlemen brought their herds into the valley to graze. However, they resented the influx of settlers and their fences. On the other hand, the settlers resented the range cattle destroying their fences and eating their crops.

"Range-wars" were common throughout the West. Some even turned deadly. In 1905 the federal government established a system of policies and permits governing livestock grazing on federal lands. In 1934 Congress passed the Taylor Grazing Act that further strengthened federal grazing laws.

In 1892 a few settlers started a community about a mile and a half east of what is now the City of Donnelly. They named the town Roseberry after Lewis Roseberry who applied to postal authorities for a post office naming himself as postmaster. In the same year, two other residents, J.W. Pottenger and W. B. Boydsten, built a general store. Pottenger provided lumber from a small sawmill he and Mrs. Sult built a few miles south on the Gold Fork River. Another source of lumber was from a sawmill located about 30 miles south on Clear Creek.

Supplies came in by freight wagon. It took a minimum of five days for a freight wagon to make the trip from Boise.

Strategically located near the center of Long Valley, Roseberry became the largest town in the valley. Within a few years, it had a hotel, a bank, a drug store, a flour mill, a harness shop, a general merchandise store, a hardware store, a restaurant, a soda fountain, a creamery, a brick kiln, a two-room school house, a church and a regional newspaper named The Advocate.

However, Roseberry had no bars. The town was dry because the townsite deed had a restriction forbidding the sale of alcohol on townsite land.

In 1914 the Oregon Short Line Railroad built a line from Emmett to McCall. They built depots along the line, one of which was at what is now Donnelly. Colonel W.H. Dewey, a wealthy mining entrepreneur and one of the founders of the mother lode at the Owyhee mining town of Silver City, acquired land next to the train depot and donated sufficient land for a new town. He named the town Donnelly after his long-time friend and employee, Patrick Donnelly.

The railroad carried the mail and established a post office at Donnelly, which became the local center for commerce. Many Roseberry settlers and merchants put their buildings on log skids and pulled them with horses or steam-driven tractors to the new town of Donnelly. Roseberry became a ghost town.

The railroad provided the transportation services needed for the agriculture and timber industries to grow. The cool weather was excellent for growing peas. The Richmond and Samuel Pea Company used migrant workers in their packing and shipping sheds.

The Boise-Payette Lumber Company operated a logging camp two miles south of town. The loggers brought logs to the railroad siding for shipment. In remote backcountry areas, lumber companies used greased chutes to slide logs to the collection points.

In addition to the pea sheds, Donnelly soon had a three-story hotel, a livery stable, blacksmith shops and two creameries. The town soon had dance and pool halls and bars.

During the depression years of 1933 to 1940, Donnelly was a popular recreation destination for men working on the federal work projects under the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Public Works Administration (WPA). Construction of State Highway 55 and the historic Rainbow Bridge, which crosses the North Fork of the Payette River 15 miles south of Cascade, were WPA funded construction projects.

Historically, about a third of Long Valley was a shallow depression in the earth’s surface created anciently by the North Fork of the Payette River and smaller streams. In 1948 the U.S. Department of Reclamation built an earthen hydroelectric irrigation dam near the city of Cascade. The dam, 785 feet long and 107 feet high, impounded water creating the 16-mile-long and up to five-mile-wide Lake Cascade. The north end of the reservoir backed up to within a mile of Donnelly.

On June 10, 1952, Donnelly became an incorporated village.

The Railroad and State Highway 55

The railroad not only created Donnelly, but for nearly five decades it was the basis for the community’s economic growth and vitality. In 1949 the railroad ceased operations and some sections of track were abandoned, including the track between Cascade and McCall. However, passenger excursions between Cascade and Smith’s Ferry, called the Thunder Mountain Line, still operate.

The gradual loss of railroad traffic leading up to the closure of the railroad had a significant adverse effect on Donnelly’s economy. Concurrent with the decline of the railroad, market forces changed the economies of wood products and agriculture businesses. By 1970 Donnelly’s population declined from over 200 to 114.

With the decline in railroad service, completion of Highway 55 became the only effective land-based transportation alternative for commerce. However, even though the highway is beautiful as it borders the North Fork of the Payette River, the road’s narrowness and winding curves through the canyons impose practical limitations on commerce.

Amenities and Attractions Today

onnelly has two city parks comprising 15 acres.

Tamarack Resort and Village is the first newly permitted four-season resort in North America in more than two decades. The resort provides opportunities for mountain biking, hiking, picnicking, fishing, sailing, kayaking, waterskiing, wakeboarding, snow skiing, snowmobiling and cross-country skiing. A zipline, an extreme sport of riding a pulley harnessed to a steel cable across an open expanse, is also available. The resort includes a professional golf course, tennis courts and walking paths from the Village to the shores of Lake Cascade.

The resort’s Tamarack Village has numerous up-scale homes, condominiums and building lots in its planned unit development.

The nearby historic town of Roseberry has several restored buildings preserved as an outdoor museum commemorating the lives of the valley’s early Finnish emigrants. Each September, an ice cream social raises money to help preserve Roseberry.

The museum complex includes a replica of a fully stocked general store, turn-of-the-century church, school, city hall, residence, farm machinery and museum building. The general store still sells souvenirs, apple mint and other herbs used during that time.

The indoor museum has photos of early Finnish emigrants, farm equipment, logging and woodworking tools, a spinning wheel and a loom used by the Finnish pioneers.

The business office of the 4,450-acre Lake Cascade State Park is in Cascade; however, the park’s campgrounds and six boat launch ramps are dispersed around the lake’s shoreline. Certain of these facilities are within a mile of Donnelly. Park amenities include camping, biking, boating, sailing, windsurfing and fishing. In the winter, anglers ice fish for the trout, Coho salmon, small mouth bass and perch that fill the lake.

The North Fork of the Payette River below Lake Cascade has over 2,100 feet of fall over the 50 miles to Horseshoe Bend and the main Payette River. Several segments of the river attract kayakers from throughout the region.

The 1,515-acre Ponderosa State Park on Payette Lake is 19 miles north of town near McCall.

The northern boundaries of the Boise National Forest borders private land on the east and west of the city. The Payette National Forest and the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area lie several miles to the north and east. Hundreds of miles of hiking and snowmobile trails are located in the surrounding national forests.

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