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News & Press: Community Spotlights

AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Hailey

Tuesday, January 28, 2020  
Posted by: Payton Grover
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Hailey lies in the narrow Wood River Valley between its sister cities of Ketchum, 12 miles north, and Bellevue, four miles south. A mile northeast of Ketchum is the city of Sun Valley and the famed Sun Valley Ski Resort. The Smoky Mountains in the Sawtooth National Forest border the city on the west and the Pioneer Mountains in the Salmon-Challis National Forest on the east. The rugged 756,000-acre Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA) begins 19 miles north.

Historical Tidbits

Years For millennia, nomadic American Indians—principally of the Shoshone and Bannock Tribes—had exclusive use of the Wood River Valley for their summer encampments. In the early 1800s trappers/explorers came into the area seeking beaver pelts and trading opportunities with the Indians. In 1862 prospectors discovered gold in the mountains 80 miles west. The ensuing gold rush attracted 16,000 prospectors and fortune seekers into what they would soon call the Boise Basin. These miners spread out, scouring the

mountains and streams throughout the region in search of gold. The first recorded prospector coming into the Wood River Valley, then in Alturas County, was Warren Callahan. In 1864 when Callahan passed through the valley, he was en route to the gold fields in what is now Montana. Stopping to prospect, he discovered galena outcroppings (lead and silver ore). However, at that time, development of hard rock mines in remote areas was problematic and hostilities from the Indians, who resented the miners and settlers invading their historic domain, persuaded him to move on. By 1879 circumstances had changed. The U.S. Army had compelled the Shoshone and Bannock Tribes to live on the Fort Hall Indian Reservation. Technology for refining leadsilver ore had improved and expectations were high that rail service was coming. With the changed conditions, large numbers of prospectors began pouring into the Wood River Valley. John Hailey (JH)—owner of the Utah, Idaho, Oregon Stage Company— immediately began providing stage service to the prospectors. In 1880 JH and three other investors—one of whom was E.S. Chase, the U.S. Marshall—acquired 440 acres and platted the townsite of what is now Hailey. They originally named the town “Marshall,” then thought better of it and changed the town’s name to Hailey. Prospectors were finding deposits of galena ore, some of which were lying in veins up to two feet thick. The veins contained 40 to 60 percent lead and up to 100 ounces of silver per ton. In 1880 lead sold for $.05 a pound and silver $1.50 an ounce. Hailey and Ketchum became some of the Wood River Valley’s first mining boomtowns. Several other boomtowns—now ghost towns—built up near their respective mines. A short time later, prospectors found large ore deposits to the south and established the boomtown of what is now Bellevue. By the end of 1880 prospectors had filed approximately 2,000 mining claims in the Wood River Mining District. By April 1881 the town of Hailey had about 75 buildings, 100 tents and five saloons. In order to extract and separate the lead and silver from the galena ore, miners had to smelt it. In 1880 the closest smelters were in Salt Lake City, Utah, and Denver, Colorado. To get their ore to the smelters, freight companies loaded the ore on wagons 16 feet long, 14 feet tall to the top of the canvas covering and four feet wide. The heavy wooden spoke wheels had a half-inch-thick and four-inch-wide iron band around the outside. From 14 to 24 mules pulled the heavy wagons whose pull-weight was generally equivalent to the aggregate weight of the mules—the origin of the axiom “pull your own weight.” Initially, freighters moved the ore 170 miles to the railhead at Kelton, Utah. The ore was then loaded on railcars and shipped to the smelters. The freighters then loaded the wagon with food and supplies for the two-week trip back to the Wood River Valley. In 1881 the Oregon Short Line (OSL) began construction of a railroad line between Granger, Wyoming, and Huntington, Oregon. The line, completed November 17, 1884, angled in a northwesterly direction through what are now Pocatello, Soda Springs, Caldwell and Weiser before crossing the Snake River for one final time near Huntington. The railroad connected the commercial centers of Omaha, Nebraska, and Portland, Oregon, and created another transcontinental railroad. Railroad interests completed the first transcontinental railroad in 1869 at Promontory Summit in northern Utah. In 1882 the Philadelphia Mining and Smelting Company began the region’s largest smelter operations on a high bluff on the west side of Ketchum. The site included construction of a hydroelectric power plant on the Wood River, producing the first electric lights in Idaho. Other mining interests were constructing smaller smelters near their mines. As the Wood River Valley smelters became operational, the use of freight wagons for long hauls stopped except for hauling ore from outlying mines, such as from Challis. In the spring of 1882 the gold mines at Rocky Bar, the county seat of Alturas County located 50 miles northwest of Hailey, were playing out, and the people began moving away. In 1883 Alturas County residents voted to move the county seat from Rocky Bar to either Hailey or Bellevue. Hailey won the majority vote, and residents of Bellevue claimed voter fraud, asserting, “Hailey has stolen the county seat.” In February 1883 the OSL track reached Shoshone. There they suspended work on the main line long enough to build a branch line to Ketchum—reaching Hailey on May 23 and Ketchum soon thereafter. The railroad then resumed construction of its main line to Huntington. Telegraph service came to the Wood River Valley with the railroad. In October 1883 community entrepreneurs built a telephone system in Hailey, the first telephone service in Idaho. Within a month, they had connected Hailey with Ketchum; Bellevue; and Bullion, a mining boomtown seven miles west of Hailey. In late 1884 Hailey’s community leaders also constructed a water works, bringing clean water from higher elevations into the town’s homes and businesses.

It was at this time that Homer and Isabel Pound came to Hailey. Homer was the presidential appointee to head the federal land office where all miners filed their claims. On October 30, 1885, Isabel gave birth to the legendary poet, Ezra Loomis Pound. Concurrent with the discovery and development of the mines and smelters in the Wood River Valley, sheep owners began the cycle of grazing their sheep on the region’s high brush and grass-covered mountain slopes in the spring and summer, then herding them south to the lower and warmer Snake River Plain for winter lambing and spring woolshearing. In 1893 a major economic depression and financial panic struck and the market price for silver and lead declined precipitously. By 1894 the price of silver had dropped 60 percent and lead 40 percent. Mine owners sought to reduce wages, labor conflicts ensued—albeit much less violent than that experienced in the Silver Valley. Many of the Wood River Valley mines shut down causing some mining communities to become ghost towns. However, mines in certain areas, such as the Triumph Mine six miles due southeast of Ketchum, produced until the late 1950s. The Minnie Moore Mine near Bellevue was productive until 1970. As the mining economy declined, the sheep industry continued to grow. When the nation pulled out of the depression, sheep ranching emerged as the Wood River Valley’s dominant industry. By 1890 upwards of a million sheep were trailing through the valley each year. As a result, the railroad shifted its primary emphasis from mining to providing the critical service of transporting sheep to their winter and summer ranges and fat lambs and wool to market. In 1895 the Legislature reorganized the boundaries of several counties and changed county names. The names “Logan,” a county created in 1889 with Bellevue as the county seat, and “Alturas” were retired, and other county names approved. The boundaries of one of these new counties, Blaine County, encompassed all of the Wood River Valley including Bellevue. The voters approved Hailey as the county seat. Bellevue residents cried foul saying that Hailey “stole” the seat again. The rivalry between the two cities has continued, principally displayed in competitive sports. On April 21, 1903, Hailey became an incorporated village. In 1911 with a population of around 1,200, village residents successfully petitioned the county commissioners to change the town’s legal status to an incorporated city.

Amenities and Attractions Today

Hailey has an interconnected system of over a dozen neighborhood and other parks. The system includes trails, green spaces, natural places and recreational facilities. Three of the parks have play equipment, ball fields and soccer fields. The city’s goals include providing diverse recreation opportunities within walking distance of most residents’ homes.

The most prominent of these parks, Hailey Rodeo Park— formerly Wertheimer Park—has a multi-use event arena and grandstand used for the “4th of July Rodeo,” equestrian, concerts and other special events. A key feature of the facility is its excellent skate park. The community is planning a complete renovation and upgrade of this historic event center. Each year on Memorial Day weekend, the community sponsors Hailey Springfest, an art and crafts fair featuring displays, exhibits and performances by local artisans and musicians, vendor booths and family activities. In addition to the rodeo, the 4th of July celebration includes a parade and fireworks. The Northern Rockies Folk Festival, featuring national and local talent, takes place annually on the first weekend of August. Located on Main Street, the Blaine County Historical Museum offers numerous artifacts and exhibits of Hailey’s mining and agricultural heritage. The city’s most prominent attraction is its close proximity to the amenities of the Sun Valley Resort, including downhill skiing on 3,400-foot vertical drop ski runs, terrain for beginning skiers and an open-air concert pavilion that can accommodate up to 4,000 patrons. The resort area also has three golf courses—the 18-hole courses at Sun Valley and Elkhorn and a 9-hole course at the Sun Valley Resort. Hailey joins its sister cities in promoting and sponsoring the Trailing of the Sheep Festival held each year in October to commemorate the area’s sheep ranching history and Wagon Days which occurs annually in July and features a parade of historic freight and other wagons. The 756,000-acre SNRA, including the spectacular Sawtooth Mountains, begins 19 miles north. The SNRA has pine and aspen forests and over 300 alpine lakes, rivers and streams. Many species of wildlife, including pronghorn antelope, deer, elk, bear and wolves inhabit the area. There are also excellent alpine and cross-country skiing and snowmobiling trails in the area as well as 30 miles of paved bike trails and extensive mountain bike and hiking trails available. Tennis, horseback riding, ice-skating and swimming in natural hot springs are available in the valley. Many anglers enjoy fly-fishing in the renowned Silver Creek Trout Fly Fishery. The Nature Conservancy’s Silver Creek Preserve and Visitor’s Center is located about 20 miles south near the unincorporated town of Picabo.


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