Sunday, June 23, 2013

More stuff you miss if you stay on the highway

IDAHO CITY, IDAHO -- Overheard outside Harley's Bar and Pub: "Monday morning I got fired. Monday afternoon I got acquitted."

There was no irony in the statement, but there's surely a good story. The speaker didn't look like the sort of fellow you could ask for a complete explanation. Welcome to Idaho City.

Idaho City, like most of Idaho's ghost or near-ghost towns, rose up around gold mines and when the gold ran out, so did most of the people. The Idaho World is Idaho's oldest continuously publishing newspaper, founded in 1867 and still telling the comings and goings of Boise County's 7,000 residents. (Boise, the city, is not in Boise County -- it's in Ada County). On the day we were there, the newspaper's original home was getting a nice spruce-up with fresh paint.

There are two main streets with historic buildings in various states of repair, the best being the "Junk House," which you can own for a mere $279,000 (MAKE OFFER!).

Idaho City is the site of the state's first Masonic Lodge (which has since relocated to Boise, as has the town's only dentist).
I know nothing about the history of the Junk House, and my brief Internet search didn't yield significant results. I'm going to inquire of the owners of the Idaho World, which is a member of the Newspaper Association of Idaho (for which I served as founding president a few years back). Meanwhile, if anyone has information, please drop me a note.

Our drive from Boise to Idaho Falls via Idaho City, Lowman, Stanley and Arco added three hours to the trip. Kathleen would likely dispute this, but it was worth the added time, just for the brief wander around Idaho City. Not everyone thinks old buildings where significant (or, for the matter, insignificant) things happened are worth saving, but they apparently do in Idaho City.
Clearly, a good deal of money and effort have gone into keeping Idaho City's history alive and buildings standing. It is, after all, a county seat. The population actually grew by 28 souls between 2000 and 2010. That's a healthy 6 percent.

We didn't get to see everything -- there's a Boot Hill Cemetery nearby, as are many gold tailings and remains of buildings near town.
As is true of many mining towns, there's a significant Chinese history here -- as many as 4,000 Chinese once lived here. The state's first Catholic parish was established here. One of Idaho's greatest U.S. senators, Frank Church, announced his candidacy on the porch of the county courthouse in 1976.

Want to know more? Pick up Cort Conley's seminal book, "Idaho for the Curious." I'm sure Cort knows the history of Junk House, too.

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