Finding Medbury

Almost Six Decades Later

Story and Photos by Ray Brooks

This past spring I completed a long-interrupted fifty-nine-year search. My quest to find the ghost town of Medbury had been revived the previous winter, when I drove northwest of Hammett up I-84 on my way to Boise. As the car went up what I’ve always known as Medbury Hill, I suddenly recalled once again the formerly thriving railroad community. No doubt, many travelers have noticed the highly visible earthen embankments of the abandoned railroad line about halfway up Medbury Hill. Those who know to look just east of the freeway can easily see an embankment that once held railroad tracks, and after the highway crosses that ramp, the abandoned railway continues on to the west as a slightly higher embankment.

I had learned about Medbury as a teenager, and my vague memories placed it about halfway between Hammett and Mountain Home. It had been an important station and a turnaround spot for helper steam locomotives attached to trains to assist them in the climb of about nine miles and 555 vertical feet up Medbury Grade from the Snake River at Hammett to the flat desert near Mountain Home. In the late 1880s, management of the Oregon Short Line Railroad (OSL) decided that Glenns Ferry was better suited for their purposes, and Medbury became another Idaho ghost town.

Soon after I got home to Hagerman from my Boise road trip, I started to search for historical information on Medbury. I figured that at age seventy-two I might not have many years left to find it. Suddenly, to rediscover  Medbury had become important to me, especially because I enjoy researching and sharing obscure and nearly lost pieces of Idaho history.

Historical information on Medbury turned out to be difficult to find on the internet. I was able to locate newspaper stories about the town and its demise in digitalized issues of early Idaho newspapers within the archives of the Library of Congress but when I looked through my collection of Idaho history books, I found nothing. I had thought that’s where I first read about the town in the 1960s, but now I figured it must have been in a library book. The likely source was Idaho: A Guide in Word and Picture, a comprehensive 1937 introduction to the state produced by the Federal Writer’s Project. I ordered a used copy, which smelled nicely of mildew, but could not find a word about Medbury in its 436 pages. Maybe I had first seen information on Medbury in Idaho pioneer John Hailey’s 1910 History of Idaho. I bought a reprinted copy of that 395-page history but failed to find the town in it either. Hmmm.

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Ray Brooks

About Ray Brooks

Ray Brooks is a native Idahoan. Beyond retirement age, he remains an active rock-climber, river runner, and hiker, who keenly appreciates Idaho history. His climbing career started in central Idaho in 1969. To support his outdoor habits, he worked on Forest Service helicopter fire crews, was a Middle Fork Salmon boatman, ran an outdoor shop in Moscow, and became a sales representative for outdoor gear.