There’s Magic in This Valley

When early settlers came to southern Idaho, they were faced with a sage-brush covered desert. Irrigation transformed the area into a "magic" valley. CLARENCE E. BISBEE - PHOTO COURTESY BLIP PRINTERS

When early settlers came to southern Idaho, they were faced with a sage-brush covered desert. Irrigation transformed the area into a “magic” valley.
CLARENCE E. BISBEE – PHOTO COURTESY BLIP PRINTERS

There’s Magic in This Valley

BY MYCHEL MATTHEWS

Twin Falls County Historic Preservation Commission

TWIN FALLS • This arid region of Idaho was labeled “Sage Brush Plains” on many 19th Century maps. Later, irrigation water was added, and – poof – the desert became rich farm land, as if by magic.

The city of Twin Falls – the commercial center of this irrigated region – was soon known as the “Magic City.” That is, until another town in Idaho objected.

Apparently, the city of Caldwell had claimed the title of Magic City long before Twin Falls was founded.

But the name stuck in the minds of folks in town. Many businesses – like Magic City Feed and Fuel Co. in Twin Falls — continued to use the term in their names.

As surrounding towns began to prosper, the area described as “magic” began to grow. By 1929, the Twin Falls Daily News had used the term “Magic Valley” when referring to the greater Twin Falls area.

In September 1937, newspaper publisher R.S. Tofflemire — of both the Daily News and the Idaho Evening Times — gathered his department heads specifically to coin a catchy nickname for the entire region.

Sun Valley was gaining fame nationally, so south-central Idaho needed a name that would be good for tourism and present a positive image of the area. The local papers wanted a slogan that would identify – and unify – the entire region.

“‘South-central Idaho’ isn’t exactly a name to run up on the flagpole and salute,” wrote the Times-News in its Territorial Centennial edition in 1963. (The Idaho Evening Times and the Twin Falls Daily News combined later to make the Times-News.)

“Magic Valley” became the official nickname of the region, including Twin Falls, Cassia, Minidoka, Blaine, Lincoln, Jerome, Camas and Gooding counties.

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Long Defunct Towns in Twin Falls County

Long Defunct Towns in Twin Falls County
BY MYCHEL MATTHEWS
Twin Falls County Historic Preservation Commission

In this photo by an unknown photographer, townsfolk are seen in front of Perrine and Burton General Merchandise building on a main street of Milner in 1904. PHOTO COURTESY TWIN FALLS COUNTY HISTORICAL MUSEUM

In this photo by an unknown photographer, townsfolk are seen in front of Perrine and Burton General Merchandise building on a main street of Milner in 1904.
PHOTO COURTESY TWIN FALLS COUNTY HISTORICAL MUSEUM

CURRY • Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.

About three miles west of Twin Falls, railroad tracks cross Highway 30. Today, this intersection is known as “Curry Crossing” — but years ago the town of Curry flourished here.

All that remains of the original town is the old Union School building – which now houses the Twin Falls County Historical Museum – built in 1914.

Curry is not alone in its hidden history. There are far more defunct towns in Twin Falls County than incorporated municipalities.

One of the oldest towns in the county was Rock Creek, located seven miles south of Hansen. Rock Creek had a post office by 1871 and a school by 1879. The town sat near the junction of the Old Oregon Trail and the Kelton Road, southeast of Stricker Ranch.

Artesian City was a town that straddled the Twin Falls and Cassia county line, south of Murtaugh. It was homesteaded in the 1870s. It became a town in 1909, two years after Twin Falls County was created. The town was named for the area’s artesian water.

The area near Milner Dam, in eastern Twin Falls County, was first called “the Cedars” by emigrants on the Oregon Trail. The Cedars was their last stop on the Snake River until they reached Kanaka Rapids north of modern-day Buhl.

The Riverside Inn and the Milner Dam are seen in this Clarence E. Bisbee photo. The prestigious inn, which was built at the east end of the town of Milner in 1908, had a lush lawn and tennis courts.  CLARENCE E. BISBEE - PHOTO COURTESY BLIP PRINTERS

The Riverside Inn and the Milner Dam are seen in this Clarence E. Bisbee photo. The prestigious inn, which was built at the east end of the town of Milner in 1908, had a lush lawn and tennis courts.
CLARENCE E. BISBEE – PHOTO COURTESY BLIP PRINTERS

The boom town of Milner began with the construction of the Milner Dam, which was completed in 1905. At one time, nearly 2,000 people lived at Milner, including 1,500 construction workers. The town boasted two hotels, a bank, stores and a school. Milner was named for Stanley B. Milner, president of the Twin Falls Land and Water Co.

The town of Bickel, which sat a few miles northwest of Murtaugh, was named for Paul S. Bickel, chief engineer of the Twin Falls irrigation project.

Several towns in southwestern Twin Falls County have disappeared over the years. Amsterdam, north of Hollister, was settled around 1910 by Dutch immigrants from Iowa. Berger was an agricultural center on Desert Creek, settled in 1908. Farther west still, Roseworth was settled as a homestead in 1884 and had a post office by 1896.

Other towns in the county that have dried up over the years include Abby, Cephas, Alta, Butte, Clear Lakes, Austin, Haggardt and Peavey.

The Staircase at Kiwanis Nook

The Staircase at Kiwanis Nook
By Mychel Matthews
Twin Falls County Historic Preservation Commission

Volunteers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints work to clean up Kiwanis Nook. COURTESY PHOTO

Volunteers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints work to clean up Kiwanis Nook.
COURTESY PHOTO

SHOSHONE FALLS • An elaborate rock staircase near Shoshone Falls makes an appearance every couple of decades, only to disappear under a thick overgrowth of vegetation.

The staircase, which follows a trickle of spring water down the Snake River Canyon’s south rim at Shoshone Falls, is known as “Kiwanis Nook.”

In late April, 90 volunteers from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints chopped through the vines and cleared the brush that had claimed the staircase. The group also tackled the intersecting Centennial Trail, which had become tangled in overgrowth.

“While we were unearthing the stairs, the kids joked that we were unearthing an ancient civilization,” said Trent LaMarche, a councilman with the church’s Twin Falls South Stake.

It isn’t ancient, but the staircase at Shoshone Falls Park was made so long ago that its origin is not readily known today.

According to Dennis Bowyer, director of the Twin Falls Parks and Recreation Department, the rock staircase was probably built during the Great Depression, as part of a larger project undertaken at the park by the Civilian Conservation Corps or the Works Progress Administration.

Before that, the staircase was part of an elaborate trail system that crisscrossed the park.

The city of Twin Falls has owned the land southwest of Shoshone Falls since the early 1930s, Bowyer said. Franklin J. and Martha Adams gave the city 68 acres for a park in 1932, and the following year, the state of Idaho donated several hundred acres west of the Adams property.

 To reach the stairs, hike a short distance up the Centennial Trail. The stairs are just east of the second Shoshone Falls overlook. COURTESY PHOTO

To reach the stairs, hike a short distance up the Centennial Trail. The stairs are just east of the second Shoshone Falls overlook.
COURTESY PHOTO

When built, the rock staircase descended from the old rim road – today’s Centennial Trail – to a rock ledge overlooking the Snake River. The nook, which includes the staircase and several picnic areas, had been cleared out several times over the years by the Kiwanis Club, said long-time club member David Mead.

“There were no railings way back when,” said Mead, “and the stairs were rather dangerous.”

The church volunteers worked their way down two flights of stairs, clearing mud and replacing rocks as they went. The upper path is still a little rough in places, but navigable.

The bottom stairs and overlook are gone — erased by time. But it is not likely that nature will reclaim the staircase any time soon.

“We’d like to see the staircase brought back to how it looked in its Glory Days,” Bowyer said.

Artesian: A City with High Hopes

The Awed Duck

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Artesian: A City with High Hopes

BY MYCHEL MATTHEWS

Twin Falls County Historic Preservation Commission

ARTESIAN CITY • A few headstones in the Artesian City Cemetery are the only evidence that a town ever existed here.

Cattleman James E. Bower is credited with settling the area where Dry Creek flows out of the South Hills in Cassia County and into Twin Falls County on its way to the Snake River.

Bower came to Idaho in 1873 with a large herd of A.J. Harrell’s cattle, and settled in the Shoshone Basin just north of the Nevada border. By 1876, Harrell claimed some 800 acres of homestead and desert land at the mouth of Dry Creek Canyon.

According to the memoirs of long-time Murtaugh resident Oliver Johnson, Bower was described as “a small man with beady eyes and had a mean reputation typical of hard men who settled the West.”

Locally, Bower…

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Sleuth Finds Pistol Likely Used in 117-year-old Murders

MYCHEL MATTHEWS/FOR THE TIMES-NEWS Retired State Representative Max Black holds a short barrel .44 caliber Model 1878 Colt Frontiersman pistol, possibly owned by James Bower in 1896. Note the missing sight at the end of the barrel, which indicates that the pistol was shoulder holstered. Also seen in the photo is a .44 slug Black discovered at the crime scene of the 1896 killing of two sheepherders near Shoshone Basin.

MYCHEL MATTHEWS/FOR THE TIMES-NEWS
Retired State Representative Max Black holds a short barrel .44 caliber Model 1878 Colt Frontiersman pistol, possibly owned by James Bower in 1896. Note the missing sight at the end of the barrel, which indicates that the pistol was shoulder holstered. Also seen in the photo is a .44 slug Black discovered at the crime scene of the 1896 killing of two sheepherders near Shoshone Basin.

Sleuth Finds Pistol Likely Used in 117-year-old Murders
BY MYCHEL MATTHEWS
Twin Falls County Historic Preservation Commission

SHOSHONE BASIN • Either Jim Bower or Jeff Gray — or maybe both — shot and killed Oakley sheepherders John Wilson and Daniel Cummings in 1896.

Never heard of any of them? Chances are you are not alone.

The title character of southern Idaho’s best-known murder mystery was “Diamondfield Jack” Davis, an innocent man who was tried, convicted and sentenced to hang for the killings. Over the years, Davis’ story has eclipsed the real story about the victims and the shooters.

Several years ago, former Idaho Representative Max Black visited the city park in Albion, where a historical marker is dedicated to Diamondfield Jack. The story on the marker left Black hungry for more details of the crime itself.

“I couldn’t find anyone who knew exactly where this took place,” Black said. “Then I wondered about the court records.”

Black contacted the Idaho State Historical Society and was led to a large box containing old newspaper clippings and transcripts from Davis’ trial.

In mid-February 1896, Oakley sheepherder Ted Severe found his friends Wilson and Cummings shot to death in their sheep-camp wagon along Deep Creek, in the Shoshone Basin area, north of the Nevada border. Cassia County authorities estimated that the sheepherders had been dead for two weeks.

Davis quickly became the one and only suspect in the deaths.

John Sparks — who later became the governor of Nevada — hired Davis to police the range claimed by the Sparks-Harrell Cattle Co.

Jeff Gray and Sparks-Harrell foreman Jim Bower, who were known to have been in the area when the shooting occurred, denied any responsibility in the murders.

Davis’ trial was high profile from the beginning.

Cassia County Prosecuting Attorney John C. Rogers brought in William Borah — who would later become a U.S. senator from Idaho — and Orlando Power, a former Supreme Court Justice in Utah Territory.

Davis’ defense team included future governor of Idaho James Hawley, Kirkland Perky — a former law partner of William Jennings Bryan — and future U.S. senator Will Puckett.

Davis was convicted and sentenced to hang the following year. Shortly before Davis was to face the gallows, Bower and Gray confessed to shooting the sheepherders in self defense, and Davis was given a short reprieve.

According to their depositions, Wilson attacked Bower in the camp wagon, knocking Bower down. Fearing Bower would be killed, Gray shot both Wilson and Cummings. In the scuffle, Bower was able to remove his short barrel .44 caliber Model 1878 Colt Frontiersman from its shoulder holster, and fired a few shots of his own.

Despite the confessions, Borah was not willing to concede defeat. Through appeal after appeal, Davis spent a total of six years in prison, before he was eventually pardoned and released.

Black became somewhat obsessed with the murders, trying to sort out fact from fiction. In the court papers, he found surveys of the crime scene that eventually directed him to the site.

Black solicited the aid of Hollister native Alex Kunkel to triangulate the coordinates determined by the 1896 surveys. The two located the old camp site on private property in what is now southern Twin Falls County.

With a metal detector, Black located a .44 slug wedged under a rock. It is believed to be the missing slug that was shot through a saddle hanging on a large sagebrush in the camp.

Black believes the slug was shot from Bower’s pistol, which according to Bower’s deposition, was lost in the desert after the shooting.

Black took the slug to a Boise firearms expert to verify its age and caliber. After Black explained the story of the slug, the man told Black that he had purchased a short barrel .44 caliber Model 1878 Colt Frontiersman from a man who had found the rusted pistol in the desert near the area Black had described.

The sight had been filed off the pistol, which was then a common revision to shoulder-holstered pistols like Bower’s.

Black recently wrote a book titled, “Diamondfield: Finding the Real Jack Davis,” which will be released this summer.

Norman Herrett: The Wizard of Kimberly Road

 

The Herrett Arts and Science Center on Kimberly Road, just east of Blue Lakes Boulevard. Herrett's jewelry store is seen on the left, his planetarium on the right, and his museum in the middle of the photo.  PHOTO COURTESY DON HITE

The Herrett Arts and Science Center on Kimberly Road, just east of Blue Lakes Boulevard. Herrett’s jewelry store is seen on the left, his planetarium on the right, and his museum in the middle of the photo.
PHOTO COURTESY DON HITE

Norman Herrett: The Wizard of Kimberly Road
BY MYCHEL MATTHEWS
Twin Falls County Historic Preservation Commission

TWIN FALLS • Some say the man was a genius. Others say he was an ordinary fellow who did extraordinary things when he set his mind to it.

Either way, Norman Herrett was a man who inspired many lives.

Herrett taught school for some 20 years before building his legacy, the Herrett Arts and Science Center, on Kimberly Road, just east of Blue Lakes Boulevard.

In 1946, Herrett turned a hobby of collecting rocks into a business of selling polished agate when he opened Herrett Manufacturing Jewelers. Herrett and his wife Lillie lived in the back of the building, part of which still stands today.

 

Norman Herrett at the controls of his planetarium, which he built from scratch. PHOTO COURTESY DON HITE

Norman Herrett at the controls of his planetarium, which he built from scratch.
PHOTO COURTESY DON HITE

With income from his jewelry store, Herrett built a planetarium and observatory onto the store. In his spare time, he made telescopes from scratch, using irrigation pipe and various odds and ends to bring his creations to life.

“Norm was a wizard, a magician and a visionary,” said Don Hite, who worked at the planetarium in his youth. “But most importantly, he was very human.”

And he understood how kids learn.

Herrett knew that “kids would listen to other kids more readily than they would listen to adults,” Hite said. So in the 1950s, Herrett designed a program of kids teaching kids at the planetarium.

Hite and other student lecturers from the Magic Valley took countless groups of school children on trips through the solar system in a planetarium that had sound effects and vibrating seats that simulated a ride in a rocket ship.

“As soon as the lights came down, the trip became a most unearthly experience,” Hite said. “Norm really knew how to reach out and grab kids.”

Bus loads of students from as far away as Mountain Home and Burley flocked to the planetarium. Hite estimates that 10,000 kids went through the planetarium each year.

Eventually, a museum that housed prehistoric artifacts was built onto the complex.

In 1972, Herrett agreed to donate his collections to the College of Southern Idaho if the college agreed to build a place to house them. A planetarium and observatory were also planned.

And the Herrett Center for Arts and Sciences was born.

Hite’s memories of Norman Herrett can be read online by visiting www.donhite.com/herrett.

“Herrett was simply larger than life,” Hite said.

Buildings Lost over the Years

 

Buildings Lost over the Years

BY MYCHEL MATTHEWS
Twin Falls County Historic Preservation Commission

TWIN FALLS • Many century-old buildings have been preserved in the historic downtown district. But unfortunately, several magnificent buildings have been lost over the years.

One of the first buildings constructed in the original townsite of Twin Falls was the Hotel Perrine, located in the center of town on the west corner of Shoshone and Main.

Sources debate the identity of the designer of the building. Some say the hotel was designed by planner E.L. Masqueray, the man responsible for the diagonal orientation of the townsite’s streets. Others say it was designed by architect J. Flood Walker. Both men were associated with the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition in St. Louis.

Three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan is seen speaking to a crowd outside the Hotel Perrine in September 1907. The Twin Falls landmark - located on the west corner of Shoshone and Main - was demolished in 1968. CLARENCE E. BISBEE - RESTORED PHOTO COURTESY BLIP PRINTERS

Three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan is seen speaking to a crowd outside the Hotel Perrine in September 1907. The Twin Falls landmark – located on the west corner of Shoshone and Main – was demolished in 1968. CLARENCE E. BISBEE – RESTORED PHOTO COURTESY BLIP PRINTERS

The grand hotel opened in December 1905.

The three-story building was constructed in a U shape, with a second-story balcony facing Main. The hotel occupied the second and third floors, while the ground floor was filled with businesses.

The hotel was a model of prosperity in its day. It featured an atrium and a formal dining room. Each hotel room had running water, electric lights, steam heat and a telephone.

A steam engine-driven Case threshing machine behind the hotel ran an Edison generator, producing enough electricity to power the hotel and businesses in several blocks each direction.

Twin Falls grew rapidly over the next few years.

By 1910, Bickel and Lincoln schools were bursting at the seams. Across Shoshone Street from the city park, a new school was built next to the courthouse, which was also under construction.

Twin Falls High School is seen standing next to the courthouse on Shoshone Street North in this Bisbee photo dated 1912. The date may or may not be correct, taking into consideration the existence of a 1914 Bisbee photo showing the school under construction. CLARENCE E. BISBEE - RESTORED PHOTO COURTESY BLIP PRINTERS

Twin Falls High School is seen standing next to the courthouse on Shoshone Street North in this Bisbee photo dated 1912. The date may or may not be correct, taking into consideration the existence of a 1914 Bisbee photo showing the school under construction. CLARENCE E. BISBEE – RESTORED PHOTO COURTESY BLIP PRINTERS

Twin Falls High School opened in February 1912. By the 1912-1913 school year, there were more than 1,700 students enrolled in the new school. It was hailed as the best equipped high school in the Northwest.

By 1921, the school accommodated both senior and junior high school students. In 1925, Vera C. O’Leary was appointed principal of the junior high school students.

When high school students were moved to the new high school on Filer Avenue East in 1952, the old school became known as Twin Falls Junior High School.

In 1963, the junior high was renamed “Vera C. O’Leary Junior High School” in honor of O’Leary, who, due to declining health, was unable to continue as principal.

Over the years, the building deteriorated faster than it could be repaired. Eventually, the third floor was condemned.

For several semesters during 1976 and 1977, the building was closed by the fire department. Junior and high school students alike attended the newer building in double shifts, until a sprinkler system could be installed inside O’Leary.

The old building limped along until 1978, when it was replaced by a new O’Leary Junior High on Elizabeth Boulevard.

The Hotel Perrine survived until 1968, when the building was replaced with a new bank. The old Twin Falls High School was demolished in 1980 to make way for the county judicial building and jail.