Shuttered along the Byway
By Kathy Corgatelli NeVille
The 140-mile Peaks to Craters Scenic Byway passes through the bare black Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, goes past Idaho’s highest summit, the snowcapped Mount Borah, and heads on to Challis and the Land of the Yankee Fork. Nowadays, when I drive through these landscapes of such diverse grandeur, I suspect that other travelers who motor by hardly notice the shuttered burg of Darlington, near where I grew up on a ranch. The thought isn’t surprising, because not a single road sign marks this spot between Arco and Mackay in the Big Lost River Valley.
Yet if we could travel back in time to the late-1800s, I’ll bet we couldn’t help but notice Wayne Darlington, the town’s namesake, as he drove his fancy carriage pulled by Kentucky-bred horses to his job. The Philadelphia-born, Yale University-educated mining engineer worked in the bustling copper mining town of White Knob, a handful of miles northwest of the home he carved out near present-day Darlington.
It saddens me that the townsite no longer has functioning businesses, even though that’s a common occurrence throughout the state and across the country, especially considering the boom-and-bust nature of mining in this valley and elsewhere. Yet there is hope. The valley is once again attracting both newcomers and former residents, not for the lure of gold or other valuable metals but for a slower, simpler way of life with fewer people than in other places. The valley, whose current population is probably no more than two hundred, is becoming increasingly popular.
When I was growing up, there was the store/post office, a repair shop owned by Jack Evan and another one owned by Ellis and Hilda King, and the Ramshorn Cafe and Bar, which was owned by Scotty and Gladys Waddell. The tiny town offered lots of goods and services, which local farming and ranching families needed for their day-to-day living. I suspect Wayne Darlington might have been surprised if he could have known that his namesake town, which was really just a post office and trading post for very few residents of a wild territory, would become important to dozens of ranching and farming families.
The facts of his life are provided in a 1978 book, Mackay’s Yesterdays, written by the late Georgia Perdue Olsen, who used to tell me and others stories from the area’s history when we visited the Darlington Store and Post Office she ran with her husband Jess [see “Leslie—Spotlight City,” IDAHO magazine, September 2021]. Recently, the couple’s youngest daughter, Janie Olsen, who now lives in Arizona, told me, “Mom researched and compiled hours of personal interviews with area residents and wrote her book while her right arm healed in a cast, due to a break. Half of her book was typed with one hand using her Royal typewriter. Dad helped her edit and he could add another layer of context, given his longevity in the Lost River Valley since 1917, along with their previous ranching experiences at Barton and at Darlington.”