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News & Press: Community Spotlights

AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Nampa

Monday, March 11, 2019  
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
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Nampa City Hall

Nampa lies near the center of the Treasure Valley and is Idaho’s second largest city. Just outside the city’s downtown area, irrigated farms and open space interspersed by subdivisions and commercial development create a checkerboard of color and family and retail activity in this rapidly growing metropolis.

The 9,000-acre Lake Lowell, an irrigation reservoir and fishery, lies three miles southwest of the city.

Just outside the city and surrounding farmland to the west and south are vast tracts of public land. The majestic Owyhee Mountains—with peaks rising over 8,000 feet—punctuate the southwestern sky. About 15 miles to the southeast begins the 590,000-acre Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area.

Idaho’s capital city of Boise lies 16 miles east. Above Boise, the mountains of the Boise National Forest outline Nampa’s eastern skyline.

Historical Tidbits

In 1881 the Oregon Short Line (OSL) Railroad, an affiliate of Union Pacific Railroad, began construction of a rail line from the railhead at Granger, Wyoming, to the Huntington, Oregon, railhead just across the Snake River near Weiser. The rail line—completed November 17, 1884—allowed the movement of passengers and freight between Omaha, Nebraska, and Portland, Oregon, at the then unheard of time of four and a half days.

The rail line crossed Southern Idaho in a northwesterly direction passing through what are now Pocatello, Mountain Home, Nampa and Caldwell. Much to the dismay of Boise residents, the effect of following this more direct and shorter route between railheads bypassed the capital city.

Upon reaching what is now Nampa, railroad workers constructed a steam engine water storage tank. They identified the site with a small white sign bearing the name "Nampa." The origin of the name is unknown. Many believe it is a derivation of a Shoshone Indian name for footprint or moccasin. However, Nampa is also the name of cities in Alberta, Canada; Finland; and Peru.

On September 6, 1883, the railroad stopped its rail line construction at Caldwell while crews built a bridge across the Boise River Canyon before proceeding to its destination at Huntington. As a railroad terminus, Caldwell quickly became a railhead supply point and boomtown. Settlers and businesses used so many tents for temporary shelter that they called Caldwell a "town of tents."

Early visitors to Caldwell were Alexander Duffes and his wife Hanna. Duffes—an entrepreneur and developer from Burlington, Canada, located 35 miles south of Toronto—had sold his merchandising and grain business. He had traveled to Caldwell searching for an investment opportunity in one of the developing railroad communities.

Duffes met James A. McGee, a resident of Caldwell. McGee was a speculator and promoter who moved from Pennsylvania also looking for an investment opportunity.

Most investors and developers focused on Caldwell, overlooking the Nampa train stop as a business opportunity. This was understandable since at that time, Nampa was nothing more than a dry, sagebrush-covered plain with the Snake River 10 miles west.

McGee discussed the investment potential of Nampa with Duffes. Duffes agreed with McGee’s assessment and immediately acquired 160 acres near the Nampa train stop and began building a four-room house for himself and Hanna.

In 1886 Duffes and McGee formed the Nampa Land and Improvement Company (NLIP) and platted the town of Nampa. Rather than aligning the streets on the typical north-south axis, they platted the streets in a northwest-southeast direction parallel to the railroad tracks. Duffes asserted it was a safety measure to give a better view of approaching trains. Within three months, the NLIP sold 92 lots.

Duffes tried to keep saloons out of town by refusing to sell commercial lots to anyone intending to build a saloon on the property. Duffes action led to the Nampa nickname of "New Jerusalem." However, Duffes restriction only delayed the inevitable. Those seeking to build saloons merely purchased lots offered for resale.

In 1885 Caldwell promoters began grading a 30-mile railroad line to Boise.

Duffes and McGee viewed this as a threat to their Nampa investment. They recognized that their investment hinged on where the railroad branch line to Boise connected to the OSL main line.

McGee traveled to Boston to convince railroad interests to support the shorter 20-mile Nampa to Boise alternative. McGee was successful and on June 26, 1886, McGee; Duffes; and James Stewart, another investor, incorporated the Idaho Central Railway Company (ICRC). On September 5, 1897, the first train pulling a flatbed with 20 passengers and heavy stamp-mill machinery for the Boise Basin miners arrived in Boise. Boiseans celebrated the event with a picnic and speeches from dignitaries. They affectionately called the little railroad line, "The Stub."

On October 1, 1887, the OSL opened its Nampa Train Station and closed its Kuna facility. The following day, the mail route and stage line moved their headquarters to Nampa. On July 27, 1889, the OSL acquired the ICRC.

The future economic success of the western Treasure Valley and Nampa was dependent on bringing irrigation water to the several hundred thousand acres of sagebrush-covered land west of Boise. While homesteaders and settlers with farms near rivers and streams had irrigation water, most of the land was dry. Whoever could bring water to the parched land could reap handsome profits.

Nampa’s elevation is about 360 feet below Boise. In 1882 investors from New York filed claims on 4,500 second feet of Boise River water—generally only available during spring runoff—and formed the Idaho Mining and Irrigation Company. The company engineer, A.D. Foote, surveyed a 75-mile-long main gravity-flow canal known as the New York Canal. His drawings included a system of canals and lateral ditches known as the New York Canal Tract. When complete, Foote and the investors expected the main canal would provide sufficient water to reclaim from 300,000 to 500,000 acres of the sagebrush-covered land.

However, the New York Canal project was plagued with financing and legal problems. It would take several years and intervention by the federal government to complete the project.

In 1886 McGee, Duffes and Stewart acquired the failed Phyllis Canal project, a diversion of Boise River water at a point about 14 miles west of Boise. Their efforts also failed. In 1902 following years of conflict, the Pioneer Irrigation Company, an entity formed by the water users, acquired the Phyllis Canal and brought the first irrigation water to some of the farms near Nampa.

In 1886 Nampa became an incorporated village. At that time, the business district consisted of a grocery store, a lumberyard, a hotel, two drug stores and three saloons. The U.S. Census reported Nampa’s 1890 population at 799.

On April 17, 1901, the city’s electorate voted to change the legal status of the village to an incorporated city of the second class. Following that change, city leaders proceeded to construct waterworks and sewer systems; make street improvements; and build an equipped fire station, city hall and library.

Economic Development and Community Revitalization

For over five decades, city and community leaders have aggressively pursued initiatives that have made Nampa a progressive, vibrant and fast-growing city.

On August 30, 1949, local business leaders formed the Nampa Industrial Corporation (NIC) as a business venture to promote economic growth. The NIC first platted and developed a 62-acre industrial park that by 1970 had largely sold out to several businesses that became major employers. In 1972 the NIC expanded the park by acquiring 92 more acres. Several more businesses came into the park. By 2007 the development sold out and the owners dissolved the NIC.

In 1965 developers built Karcher Mall—a shopping mall that, until completion of a larger regional mall in Boise in 1987, attracted shoppers from throughout the Treasure Valley. In 2007 a new interchange on Interstate 84 near Karcher Mall has encouraged restoration of Karcher Mall, as well as significant retail development on both sides of the freeway.

In 1982 with the support of the city’s elected officials, business leaders formed a downtown Business Improvement District (BID). They raised over $2 million to improve infrastructure in the nine-square-block downtown redevelopment area.

In 1994 city and community leaders created the North Nampa Urban Renewal District (District). The District’s principal success was the 1997 construction of the Idaho Center, a multiple events center that could seat over 10,000. The Idaho Center has been a magnet for a broad range of commercial and residential development near the facility, including the 100-acre campus of Boise State University West and the College of Western Idaho. In 2005 the District concluded its work and closed its operation.

In 2005 the city created the Central Nampa Development Commission to oversee revitalization of the city and implementation of the Central Nampa Revitalization Blueprint commissioned by the city. In the same year, city leaders formed the Historic Preservation Commission to see that Nampa’s history and historic structures are preserved. In 2008 the city formed the Nampa Arts Commission.

Amenities and Attractions Today

Nampa has 20 city parks and many walking trails covering more than 200 acres. In addition, it has Ridgecrest Golf Course, a course offering 45 holes. The city also has one private 9-hole golf course. Ridgecrest Golf Course consistently receives a four-star rating from Golf Digest.

The city also has a 140,000-square-foot Recreation Center. It has a large indoor climbing wall, three basketball courts, an indoor running track, five swimming pools, a spa and a senior center.

The 42,000-square-foot Nampa Civic Center has 14 separate meeting spaces including a 650-seat auditorium with a 3,500-square-foot stage floor and dressing rooms. The center’s banquet facilities and culinary staff can accommodate up to 1,000 guests. The center is a community focal point for concerts, live theater and community events.

The Idaho Center includes an arena, horse park, outdoor amphitheater and sports complex. It is a regional attraction for concerts and events requiring seating where over 10,000 people can attend.

Nampa sponsors or supports several annual events. The most prominent of these events is the famous Snake River Stampede held for one week each July at the Idaho Center. The rodeo attracts about 45,000 patrons annually.

The city has an effective program for providing wholesome activities for high school youth. The Nampa Mayor’s Teen Council teaches youth about the operation of local government and supports a variety of sports programs. Program efforts are coordinated with other youth groups such as Boys and Girls Clubs.

Lake Lowell is a popular bass fishery. The lake is part of the Deer Flat National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge includes two sectors. One sector includes Lake Lowell and about 1,600 acres of adjoining land. The other sector includes 101 islands on the Snake River stretching north 113 miles from the Canyon County/Ada County line. The refuge provides habitat for a variety of wildlife and thousands of migratory and nesting ducks and geese.

About 15 miles south of town, the Snake River winds through a dramatic desert canyon where rocks are painted with petroglyphs dating back 10,000 years. To the east of the canyon lies the Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area.

A variety of outdoor activities including camping, hiking, ATV riding, boating, fishing and hunting are available in the public lands, lakes or streams located within a short drive of the city. Downhill skiing is available at Bogus Basin Ski Resort, in the mountains north of Boise.

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