Early in the spring, my best friend Susan and I decided to travel north from Salt Lake City on a grand adventure through the southern half of Idaho.
During the trip, we wandered across an abandoned farm in Malta—or more precisely, we zoomed past it on our way to Boise and I nearly broke my neck trying to keep my eye on it as we went by. Continue reading →
A while back, IDAHO magazine posted this photo on our Facebook page. It was taken by Robert Ford, who came across the old stone cabin beside the river in the Morley Nelson Snake River Birds of Prey National Conservation Area, about eleven miles north of Grand View. “An interesting homestead,” he wrote, “but not sure of its history.”
Later, we received a response to the post from Steph Baldwin, who wrote that a man named Eric Jacobsen grew up in Grand View, where his family has lived for generations. Steph knew that Eric was familiar with the history of the cabin, but he said Eric didn’t use email. It was to our surprise and satisfaction, then, that we eventually did receive a note from Eric. Continue reading →
I’ve lived my whole life in Camas County, which is almost exactly the size of Rhode Island but has long had a population of around one thousand. The county’s single east-west valley has an elevation of about five thousand feet above sea level, while to the south are low mountains, and to the north are peaks that reach higher than ten thousand feet. Extremely cold winter temperatures (1990 saw an official low of fifty-two degrees below zero) and deep snow discourage everyone except the hardiest individuals from living here.
The farmers and ranchers who settled this area in the 1880s scratched out a living. Mining was a major effort and the remains of dozens of small operations—gold and silver mines, although lead and other trace minerals were present—can be found in all parts of the county. No major strikes were made, but some wealth was taken out of the earth. Many “prove-up” shacks were built as farming homesteads, and even in the highest mountains, every mine had some kind of shelter. A hard rock mining claim I own at 9,400 feet has a typical shack that housed miners early last century. Decades ago, the weight of ten or more feet of snow caused its collapse. Continue reading →
When my family took a trip across the northern part of the country recently, we made many stops in Idaho. I had a special reason for doing this. As a history student at the University of Southern California and a research associate of U.C. Berkeley’s Living New Deal Project, I help to gather data and materials about President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s promise of a “New Deal” for America during the Great Depression. And the deal Idaho received at that time was unparalled in the nation. Despite ranking forty-second in population, the state ranked eighth in federal spending during the Depression. More than two hundred new buildings were constructed, including dozens of schools, courthouses, and post offices. National and state parks were improved, and countless miles of roads, sewers, and runways were added throughout the state. Over the course of just a couple of years, Idaho was transformed.
I wanted to find out what remains today. I wanted to know if it was possible to trace the legacy of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) throughout Idaho, and such questions filled my mind as my parents, my sister, and I drove across through the state. To me, the memory of the WPA is even more poignant because next year is the eightieth anniversary of the program’s start. My quest in Idaho was to chronicle the WPA’s history here—trying to ascertain the communities it touched, the people it gave jobs to, and any landmarks it built that are still standing nearly eight decades later.
A key aspect of the New Deal is that many different agencies were involved in its projects. Franklin Roosevelt was elected president in 1932, and over the next decade or so, the federal government rolled out numerous agencies—the famed “alphabet soup” of the 1930s. They included the Civilian Conservation Corps, Public Works Administration, Civil Works Administration, and, most well-known of all, the WPA, which later kept its acronym but was renamed the Works Projects Administration.
The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which was by far the most prolific agency in Idaho, was aimed at giving jobs in parklands to young, single men. The CCC was administered by the US Army, and in a military-like setting, these men built roads, infrastructure, and buildings in places such as Heyburn State Park and Payette National Forest. Idaho had 163 CCC camps—the second most of any state, after California. Continue reading →