Author Archives: Geraldine Mathias

About Geraldine Mathias

Geraldine Mathias put down roots in Idaho forty-nine years ago, transplanted from Oklahoma. She is a retired English teacher who now writes, walks for exercise, and from the deck of her cabin is mesmerized by the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River. She has completed one novel and is beginning a second. Her children’s book,Cookies for Frankie, was published in December and is available at thomasroadwriter.com.

Atomic City–Spotlight

“Atomic City isn’t exactly on the edge of the world,” Dwain Payne jokes, “but you can throw a beer can over it from here.” Seated on the corner stool of the bar he owns with Patsy, his wife of two years, he looks every inch the western barkeep. Wearing his ten-gallon straw hat, white hair peeking out the edges, a thick white mustache obscuring his grin, clad in blue western style shirt and jeans, he chats with my husband Jim and me about life in Atomic City. Continue reading

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Back from the Brink

My spouse Jim is an avid fisherman. Did I say avid? He’s a fanatic about fishing. When I told him I was driving down to the new Springfield Fish Hatchery for sockeye salmon to interview the manager and have a tour of the facility there, he was more than ready to accompany me. “I’ll be your photographer,” he announced. Continue reading

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The Stoddard Mill Pond

When our daughter married into the Stoddard clan and introduced us to present-day descendants, I soon realized a family of great storytellers had come into our midst. They were eager to share family escapades and adventures, but since she and her extended in-law family live in the Boise area and I’m in Blackfoot, not until the last four or five years did I realize their family is steeped in eastern Idaho history as well. To my surprise, I found that the site of the Stoddard Mill Pond in Island Park, about fifteen miles from our summer home, was once a thriving lumber enterprise owned for six generations by this same Stoddard family.

When the Stoddards gave up their lease in the early 1960s and moved the mill to St. Anthony, the site and the pond were reclaimed by the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, which recently restored it to its original depth of six feet and turned it into a kids’ fishing pond stocked with rainbow trout. Only children are allowed to fish the pond, and catch limits apply. It is an easy drive along Highway 20 north of Ashton toward Elk Creek Station, and then, about five miles down Yale-Kilgore road, a very small, high sign directs visitors to the pond, and I think it’s the perfect place for a kid to learn to fish. The pond is round and flat, with no shrubs lining its perimeter, so children can be taught to cast a line on calm water. Several picnic tables surround the sides where families can eat lunch, wait, or watch fledgling fishermen catch dinner. A floating dock and a fishing platform have been installed.

Plans of several Island Park groups include erecting a kiosk that will tell the history of the pond, but that hasn’t happened yet. Across the narrow road from the pond, three large concrete foundations remain from the mill site. About a hundred yards away from the pond in the fringe of trees that fronts the more dense forest is the former location of the mill camp and facilities.

Besides the pond, little remains to suggest the existence of the small Idaho town of Rea, where the mill was last located. But Larry Dalling, son of Alta Stoddard Low, brought the place alive for me with his animated narrative about living there during the summers as a young boy and teenager. His cousin, Ron Stoddard, has also told me many stories, as he was the last Stoddard to own the mill, whose history goes back more than 130 years. Continue reading

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Moreland–Spotlight

“Moreland is growing again,” Lloyd Merrill assured me as I stopped at a small pavilion near his home created to display the large bell he and others saved from the former Moreland School. Lloyd should know. He grew up in Moreland, has lived there all his adult life, and was its postmaster for thirty-one years. He and his wife, Marge, and their five children also owned and ran the Moreland Grocery adjacent to the post office for years.

The platted town of 160 acres, located about five miles northwest of Blackfoot in Bingham County, is not exactly on the beaten path, and is hard to define as an area. People who live ten or more miles northwest of the town still say they live in Moreland. Highway 26 once ran around it, but that route was abandoned with the coming of the Atomic Energy Commission site further west in the desert, and is now called Taber Road. Moreland has grown and flourished before, and like many farming communities, it diminished with the growth of businesses in nearby larger cities and with increasing ease of travel. Continue reading

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Johnny Sack’s Cabin

Out-of-state visitors to our Island Park summer home on the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River usually come with a list of must-sees, including Yellowstone Park, the Tetons, and Jackson Hole. Once these bigger excursions are memories stored in their cameras, I take them for a short drive up Highway 20 to Big Springs and Johnny Sack’s Cabin. No one escapes a visit to me without seeing this spot.

Big Springs, a Natural National Landmark, is one of the forty largest springs in the world. It has a constant temperature of fifty-two degrees and produces more than 120 million gallons of water each day. I point out to my guests that these incredibly clear, quiet waters bubbling out of the hillside are the headwaters of the Henry’s Fork, the river they have just seen from my cabin’s deck. The water’s temperature helps to make Big Springs home to large rainbow trout, ducks, and terns, among other creatures. Eagles and osprey dive the waters for meals of fresh fish. We once saw a cow moose and her calf wade in the little pond created by the springs just below Johnny Sack’s Cabin, also on the site. The river widens quickly, flowing across Fremont County (it is soon joined by the Buffalo River), before it creates a spectacular path going over Upper and Lower Mesa Falls along Highway 47. Continue reading

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Springfield–Spotlight

Why haven’t I stopped here before, I asked myself as we photographed Canada geese wading in the ponds near Springfield on state Highway 39 in southeastern Idaho. I’d driven past Springfield many times in the past on our way to fishing and boating places along the American Falls Reservoir, which backs up almost where Springfield begins. Except to fish the lake once, I’d never spent any time there until recently. Then I met Kay Savage and Linda Bohrer, sisters and descendants of pioneers.

They grew up, attended school, married, and settled down where their roots were, as did other residents. For the town’s centennial celebration three years ago, these two compiled a trove of information, stories, and photos of early and present day Springfield, and they graciously shared their knowledge with me.

Boarded-up businesses, seemingly abandoned buildings, and no people in sight save a fisherman in a pontoon boat on the pond don’t exactly invite exploration. But drive off the highway down Chandler Road toward a charming little park above Springfield Lake and you understand. As part of the centennial celebration, residents erected a monument in the park to all the pioneer families, whose grit and determination settled the area and created the tight-knit community that remains. This place is steeped in history.

The first white people who came through the area, after the Shoshone-Bannock people, were most likely freighters heading from northern Utah to the mines in Montana or across the valley to the Salmon area. Later, wagons heading for Oregon on the Goodale’s Cutoff would have crossed the desert and stopped for water at Danilson Springs, the original name of the town. Continue reading

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