The year was 1862. In the eastern United States, brother fought brother in the bloody battles of the Civil War. But in the Idaho Territory, men had something different on their minds.
Gold had just been discovered in the Boise Basin. Drawn by the lure of instant wealth, prospectors poured into the area by the thousands. Towns sprang up everywhere, like mushrooms. The development of the State of Idaho was underway.
Almost overnight Idaho City became the largest town in the territory. It was a beehive of commercial activity. In its heyday the city boasted more than 250 businesses, including such amenities as opera and theater houses, music stores, tailors, breweries, bowling alleys, barber shops and bakeries, pool halls and drug stores. And, of course, numerous saloons.
It was a bawdy, lusty town where whiskey was cheaper than water. Life was cheap, too. Men went armed at all times and were quick to defend themselves. Winners in disputes often spent time in the stout log jail. Losers were carted off to Pioneer Cemetery.
Despite the atmosphere of lawlessness, Idaho City flourished. Within three years of its founding, the city had surpassed Portland, Oregon, as the most populous in the Northwest. And no wonder: during the gold rush more than $250,000,000.00 worth of the precious yellow metal was taken from the Boise Basin.
Within a few years of the strike, the gold had become harder to find and more difficult to mine. With fortunes no longer to be made, the prospectors left in droves.
Fires also ravaged the community. The first, in 1865, wiped out eighty percent of the buildings in town. Others, in 1867, 1868 and 1871, were similarly destructive. Luckily, due to the extraordinary wealth of the gold strike, the town was speedily rebuilt each time. Today some of the best examples of early brick work and wooden architecture still exit in Idaho City. Many structures erected in the 1860's remain standing and represent some of Idaho's most important historical buildings.
In spite of adversity, Idaho City still thrives more than 100 years after its founding. And while the gold rush days are gone forever, much of the boom town flavor remains ready to be experienced during a fascinating, insightful walking tour of the area.
Stroll along the planked boardwalks that formerly rang beneath the boots of rough-and-tumble miners. Drop into the "Merc", where it once cost a pinch of gold to buy an apple. Peek through the bars of the old jail, where desperados carved their names on the thick wooden walls. Gain new understanding of the way it was in the 1860's by examining the Boise Basin Museum's excellent collection of gold rush memorabilia. Visit the Idaho World Building, the old schoolhouse, and all the other absorbing landmarks that fully recapture the unique character of a bygone era. And don't miss Pioneer Cemetery, full of ancient headboards that tell intriguing tales from the past.
Idaho City is much more than simply the remnants of a glorious history. It's also the headquarters for year-round recreation with food, drink and overnight accommodations readily available.
The entire Boise Basin is surrounded by the Boise National Forest, which offers timbered mountains, crystal-clear creeks and rivers, photogenic dams and bridges. The Ponderosa Pine Scenic Drive winds through it to the beautiful Sawtooth National Recreation Area, where you'll find some of the most spectacular, unspoiled scenery in the world.
Spring and summer come to the Basin accompanied by brilliant wild flowers, sparkling streams, and bright days—the perfect backdrop for a variety of activities.
The adventurous can take side trips to other nearby "ghost towns", such as Placerville, Pioneerville, and Centerville for an overview of the huge mining operations that once existed. Hikers will enjoy the many trails which allow glimpses of the abundant flora and fauna. Equestrian trails present breathtaking vistas. Fishing, particularly for rainbow and brook trout, is especially good. There are ideal spots for camping and picnicking everywhere.
Fall and winter present the area in an entirely different light and permit a wide new range of activities: Hunters will find such quarry as elk, deer, and blue grouse plentiful. Snow blankets the Basin by Thanksgiving, signaling the start of winter sports. Just outside Idaho City are 15 cross-country trails criss-crossing the Basin. Skiers from novice to expert will have a field day. Nor are snowmobilers forgotten—they can roam more than 150 miles of Forest Service roads. Snow campers and snowshoers will look forward to winter, too.
There's never a lack of things to do on a visit to Idaho City!