Hey Idaho! What’s Your Story?
Welcome to the Gem State! An adventure in hiking, biking, skiing, snowboarding and more is waiting. But, wait! Did you know that the Wood River Valley has a rich, cultural history? It does! Buckle Up! You are going on a trip down memory lane! Figuratively, that is!
Exploring the Wood River Valley’s history is easy. An afternoon in Ketchum Town Square might award you the opportunity to catch up with an old-timer willing to share a story or two. Grabbing a beer at the Casino is guaranteed to bring out some local color. But, if you are looking for something a bit more subdued, a visit to Ketchum’s Community Library is the answer. You’ll discover David Ketchum, Ezra Pound, Ernest Hemingway, the Shoshone and Bannock Indians, and many more influences on our past. history. Soon, it will become crystal clear – just like an Idaho sky on any given day of the year – why Idaho is so incredible. Here is what we know:
As the 1800’s rolled toward the 20th century, the Wood River Valley was a thriving mining community with smelters, mines and transport systems. Between 1881 and 1892, the hustle and bustle of the local mining produced more than 60 million dollars’ worth of silver. But, all good things must come to an end – and, in 1893, the “crash of the silver market,” hit the area hard! While many folks left, many stayed. The sheep industry was on the rise and became a mainstay of the local economy. With cooler temps up north and the influence of the Basque community, the sheep industry thrived. By 1920, the valley was quite well known as the largest sheep/ lamb shipping station in America.
In 1935, the Union Pacific Railroad rolled into town carrying passengers to the nation’s first destination ski resort. Yup! This was the birth of Sun Valley as the first destination ski resort. Its remote location, glitz, and glam, attracted Hollywood royalty. On a snowy day hitting the slopes, skiing next to Gary Cooper, Marylin Monroe or Lucille Ball was common. Today, star sightings include Tom Hanks, Jamie Lee Curtis, Clint Eastwood, and Arnold Schwarzenegger just to name a few. Tourism gained a stronger foothold in 1973 with the opening of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area north of Ketchum. Declared a gateway to the Sawtooth Mountains, Ketchum was officially a year-round resort area. THIS WAS BIG! (Yup, screaming that!) Age-old stories, and of, course, good ole’ folklore may be enough to satisfy your itch. But, if you want more, a few local museums may help you relate to what makes Idaho, well…..Idaho.
Let’s start with the Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA). In addition to easy access to outdoor recreation, the SNRA has a visitor’s center, gift shop, restrooms, and parking. There are Park Rangers, tours, videos, audio tours, natural history exhibits, and an abundance of trails. You’ll discover the value of tracking scat. You’ll learn of animals commonly found in the mountains. Yes, indeed! The SNRA is a fantastic opportunity for the whole family to enjoy the wild side of Idaho. Don’t miss it!
The Ore Wagon Museum and the Bonning Cabin are in Ketchum on the corner of 5th and East Avenue. Only open in the summer, the museum houses the “Big Hitch Wagons” while Bonning Cabin was the bunkhouse for the Wagon’s crew. Back in the day, these seven, one-of-a-kind wagons, traveled through Central Idaho’s mountains over dirt roads and challenging terrain. They carried out silver and lead but also delivered mail, food and other essentials. Next time you are watching the Wagon Day’s Parade, you realize you are in front of the original wagons. Yup! History is pretty incredible.
Sun Valley History Museum (formerly The Ski and Heritage Museum) is nestled under the age-old pines in Ketchum’s Forest Service Park. Peek into the lives of the area’s first settlers. Explore the impact of mining, sheep herding, ranching, and tourism. There are exhibits of local Olympians, and everything that makes Sun Valley special. The museum is open Wednesday through Saturday, from 1 – 5 PM. Aching for more? Call 208-726-8118 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Main Street in Hailey, the Blaine County Historical Museum provides details of the everyday life valley-wide. And, they do a fantastic job! Visitors get a clear picture of life’s ups and downs in the late 1800’s. There were the mining community and the conflicts with the Chinese immigrants, as the Shoshone and Bannock Indians. There were towns, newspapers, restaurants, banks, saloons, casinos, and (cover the kids’ eyes) brothels! From A to Z, Blaine County has a story you will want to hear. The Blaine County Historical Museum is open in the summer, Monday through Saturday, from 11 AM – 5 PM.
Learning about the Gem State is an awesome thing to do! It will only enhance the appreciation of what makes this valley so incredible. Go ahead! Add a museum visit to your calendar. After all, it’s good to be in the know.