Idaho Falls - City of Destiny

The Snake River at Idaho Falls

The Bridges at Eagle Rock

As you travel across the well engineered bridge on Broadway, pause for direction from a stop light, and gaze out at the beautifully landscaped greenbelt area, it is hard to imagine the challenges which faced the early inhabitants as they tried to bring civilization to this untamed territory.

The earliest travelers in this area were Indians or trappers. They rode horses through the shallows or made driftwood rafts to cross the rivers. Some were successful and some drowned. Their stories which were told around campfires or in civilized parlors brought others who in their time attempted to reach the other bank.

One of the better places to ford the Snake River was about nine miles upstream from Idaho Falls at a place called "Flathead Crossing." It has been told that five young braves from the Flathead Valley of Montana left their beautiful mountains to journey to St. Louis in search of "Blackrobes" or Catholic Priests so they could learn the white man's religion. As the story goes, the young men made it to the "Flathead Crossing" but they never reached the east side.

The ford seemed inviting in late summer with the low water caressing the trailing moss on the rocky bottom. When winter came, it brought special problems for the wayfarer. There were always questions. Is the ice thick enough to bear the weight of the iron wheels? Will it break and cause all sorts of difficulties? Floating chunks of ice could bruise an animal's leg or break a weakened wagon wheel. Many travelers seemed to develop a great deal of patience. If the ford could not be forded, there was always livestock to be grazed and washing to be done while they waited for an opportune time.

In 1862 the ferry came to Eagle Rock, just downstream from the "Flathead Crossing." The first ferry was operated by the Barnard Brothers of Bear River, Utah. This ferry was identified by members of the Utah Militia. In July, 1862, the Militia under command of Lot Smith chased some horse-stealing Indians all the way from Green River, Utah, north into Wyoming. The Indian marauders eluded them. At that point, Smith took a vote, and the hungry men gave up further pursuit and headed west to the food and comforts of the Montana Road. They bought provisions from a freighter near Barnard Ferry, but there is no further reference to that ferry.

In his book, Bonneville County in the Making, Barzilla Clark tells about wild Bill Hickman and Harry Rickard building a ferry at the Eagle Rock site. The first crossing was made June 20, 1863, after a wagon party from Soda Springs had waited a couple of days. The emigrants had rested their stock and washed clothes while the thing was finished. The only description left to us is a line in a book which calls the ferry "a two rope affair."

Among the freighters making their way to Montana were "Matt" Taylor and Alexander Toponce. Both of these men were to gain fame and fortune in this part of Idaho in the years to come.

James Madison "Matt" taylor always planned to camp near Black Rock Canyon, the site of the present falls of Idaho Falls, because the rushing waters kept the area free of mosquitoes. At some time, he tied a cord around a rock and flung it across the chasm. After a few tries he was able to get a stone to rest on the edge where he planned to build a bridge abutment. The distance was determined to be 83 feet. During his freighting trips to Montana, he had seen trees tall enough to form the stringers for his bridge. His dream began to take shape.

On June 1, 1864, Taylor formed a partnership with W. F. Bartlett and Edger Morgan. They incorporated for $30,000.00 and called themselves the Oneida Road, Bridge and Ferry Company. They bought the Eagle Rock Ferry and operated it.

That fall, Matt Taylor journeyed to Lewiston, the territorial capital, and obtained a charter to operate the ferry at Eagle Rock and to build a bridge over the Snake River at Black Rock Canyon. That same year, Ben Holladay had been awarded a mail contract from Fort Hall to Virginia City. By this time, hundreds of outfits and animals were churning up the dust along the Bannack Road in Idaho to Bannack and Alder Gulch in Montana.

Taylor's Bridge included several buildings which were put in place before winter set in. About the same time as Taylor was traveling to Lewiston to obtain the charter, twelve 45-foot heavy timbers were selected, cut, and hewn at Beaver Canyon and hauled eighty miles to the bridge site at "Taylor's Crossing." W. F. Bartlett was an engineer and he obtained the long bolts and other iron from a wrecked steamer near Fort Benton, Montana, and some other hardware from Fort Hall. In December, 1864, and January, 1865, the Taylor Bridge stringers were put in place. After six days the thing would bear its own weight, and Taylor announced the bridge opening for high water or midsummer. All manner of supplies were offered for sale at "Taylor's Crossing."

The bridge was a modified Queen Post Truss. There were two vertical support beams in the center instead of one used in a King Post Truss bridge. It was in place a short year when high water in 1866 took it out after driftwood had lodged high against it. The big beams were salvaged because they had been attached by cables to the surrounding rocks. With the coming of winter, the bridge was rebuilt higher and better than before. Until the bridge could be rebuilt, the ferry was back in operation.

In 1872 when the Hayden Survey came through, pioneer photographer William Henry Jackson photographed the span in stereo. The lines looked clean and sharp and the rock filled "cribs" of logs are plainly visible.

In 1879 when the Narrow Gauge Railroad came to town, a steel railroad bridge was built about fifty yards to the south. A well- known photo of that time shows both bridges. The Taylor bridge was beginning to show its age. The photo reveals center support logs and also poles spiked into the stringers and support beams, but it would last about ten more years.

By this time, the Taylor bridge was owned by the Anderson Brothers. The Taylor bridge original franchise was for 20 years. The Anderson Brothers asked the County Commissioners for an extension of the franchise but it was denied. The bridge was declared a public highway in April of 1889. Later that year, it was declared unfit for use and condemned.

W. W. Keefer was hired to build masonry piers alongside of the Taylor Bridge for a steel bridge replacement. Bids were advertised for the Idaho Falls bridge and one for the North Fork of the Snake River west of Rexburg. No one bid for the Idaho Falls bridge, so Keefer just kept right on working. The only thing shown in the Commissioner's minutes for the new structure was a bill of April, 1890, for $1100.00 from the King Iron and Bridge Company. This Keefer steel bridge would be in place until 1907. It was dismantled and taken to Woodville for use there. The abutments and midstream pier are still visible.

When they "straightened out Broadway" in 1907, another steel bridge was erected. This bridge pier or foundation was still in place in the power or "dry" channel until it was removed as part of the bulb turbine project in 1981. However, that steel span was moved upstream to Johns Hole about 1928 in order to make way for a new concrete bridge.

The concrete bridge at Broadway was beautiful. Anchored and solid it seemed to have the strength to bear the heaviest load. Ferris Clark backfilled the ends of the structure with a team of horses and "dumpbed" planks for $2.00 a day. The planks were hacked off at the ends so that gravel or whatever could be dumped out of the wagon without shoveling. The fill material dropped down as the planks were shifted out of position sideways. This method was used a lot in building new farm-to-market roads in the thirties.

Barzilla Clark's daughter, Lois Clark Young, cut the ribbon when the Broadway Bridge, opened in 1928, was dedicated. A grandson of J. M. "Matt" Taylor attended the ceremony.

Fred Keefer stated that the Johns Hole Bridge was mainly intended as a stock driveway crossing to leave the Broadway structure free and clean for the motor cars to cross over.

About 1970, increasing traffic made it evident that the Broadway Bridge could not efficiently handle the vehicles wanting to cross the river. The best idea at that time was to add a lane on the upstream or north side. So the north railing was chopped off, a steel beam was lowered into place, and a new deck was poured. More vehicles could move in commerce and trade. While this addition was being made, a ten wheel truck loaded with grain broke down on the bridge just as the evening AEC buses were coming along. A massive traffic jam all the way to Reeds Dairy corner resulted.

The Johns Hole Bridge, that old, black, 1907, iron thing, clattered when heavy truck traffic crossed. It was replaced about the same time the Broadway Bridge was widened. It had served its purpose and the wreckers didn't even want it for junk.

The old cement Broadway Bridge had one more baptism of fire, or rather water, to pass through. The Teton Dam washed out, June 5, 1976. All communities were warned of the millions of gallons of water about to fill the channel of Snake River all the way to American Falls. The banks were sandbagged from Johns Hole down to Sportsman Park and anxious eyes were turned to the new steel beam protruding six feet down into the path of all those millions of gallons of water. The surge of the flood brought with it thousands of pieces of driftwood and many dead animals. On a Sunday afternoon, water from the deluge splashed onto the deck of the Broadway Bridge as a dragline tried to dislodge the driftwood. Of course, the bridge was closed to all traffic.

In the end, part of the power channel retaining wall below the bridge was dynamited, and a channel was dug around the west end to help lower the pressure on the bridge. During the digging, a telephone cable was cut, and telephone service was disrupted, but the bridge was saved.

Meantime, the City of Idaho Falls planned to upgrade its aging power plants, and square in the middle of the improvement project was the now old Broadway Bridge. The City and the State of Idaho sat down and figured out that thousands of dollars could be saved if a new, all-steel bridge could be built at the same time as the bulb turbines upgraded the City's power system. The plan materialized. In 1981, Governor John Evans cut the ribbon on the wider, stronger Broadway Bridge making it easier than "Matt" Taylor ever dreamed to get from one side of the Snake River to the other.

Submitter: Quincy Jensen
Sources: Interviews with oldtimers; Edith Lovell, Captain Bonneville's County; Joe Marker, Eagle Rock U.S.A.

Greenbelt Historical Features

The following historical markers along the Snake River greenbelt have been proposed by Media Coordination Services:

The Snake River

The Snake River that flows through Idaho Falls is the confluence of the Henry's Fork of the Snake from Island Park and the South Fork of the Snake River that flows from Wyoming's beautiful Jackson Lake and Idaho's magnificient Palisades Reservoir.

In the early days, the Snake River was known by a multitude of names to both pioneers and Indians. Names such as "Pohogwa" meaning "River of the Plain" as well as "Saptin," "Shahaptin," "Sho-sho-ne- pah" and "Piupa." To Lewis and clark the river was known as the "Lewis River." To Hunt's Astorians the South Fork was the "Mad River" or the "Accursed Mad River." The early British referred to the Snake River as the "Great South Branch of the Columbia." At one time the mighty river was considered as much of a hindrance to travel as it was a hazard. However, even in the early days, it was recognized for its potential value for large scale irrigation. Pioneers saw the towering sagebrush plants and dreamed of the promise of rich soil.

Early settlers of Idaho Falls forded the Snake River when possible in the warm months and walked on the ice in the winter. They ferried it, bridged it, and portaged their belongings around its rapids.

The Falls

Until the turn of the century the river through Idaho Falls was a series of rough rapids. In the early 1900s the city administration contracted William Walker Keefer to build a dam and retaining wall along the old dry bed to make a forebay for the city's first power plant. The project "tamed" the rapids into the picturesque falls we enjoy today. The diversion of the waters at Idaho Falls provided the city with its first power from hydroelectric turbines. The "Falls" received a facelift in 1982 during the construction of a new bulb-turbine hydroelectric plant a short distance downstream from the falls.

The Snake River Bridge

J. M. "Matt" Taylor operated the ferry across the Snake River in 1865. That same year, discouraged by the high number of mosquitoes, Taylor built a bridge of timbers to hasten the trip across the river. The first steel bridge was constructed just south of the present Broadway Bridge in 1890 by William Walker Keefer.

Keefer's Island and Cabin

Keefer's Island is a 1.7 square-mile stretch of land in the Snake River just a short distance north of the falls. The small cabin on the island was actually inhabited by Fred Keefer from 1938-1959. The island was deeded to the city in the early 1900s. During the Spring of the year, ducks and geese comfortably nest along the banks of Keefer Island until their young can paddle to the west bank near the walkway. People travel long distances each 4th of July to view spectacular fireworks displays launched from the island.

Eagle Rock Island

This island was so named by travelers who spotted an eagle nested in the top of a Juniper tree growing from a large rock in the Snake River. The "rock" can be seen north of Idaho Falls approximately one mile south of the Bonneville County line. Our city was known as Eagle Rock before it was named Idaho Falls before the turn of the century.

The Idaho Falls Temple

The Temple site was originally a cactus-covered sand hill where Indians often camped during the summer months. Latter-day Saints leaders felt inspired by the location that comprised nearly 10 acres, bordering the beautiful Snake River. They considered the property truly valuable and paid $16,000 to obtain it. LDS church architects and engineers, in cooperation with the city of Idaho Falls, re-designed the street and re-platted the Temple site. Groundbreaking for the estimated $548,528 project was on December 19, 1939 with construction commencing in August of 1940. The cornerstone was laid in October that same year and completion of the temple was in 1945. The renaming of several streets occurred during the project. Western Street became Memorial Drive; River Street became Riverside Drive, and Sand Street became I Street.

The Idaho Falls Hospital

During the period, 1906-1914, several makeshift hospitals served early Idaho Falls. In 1915, Doctors C.M. Cline and A.R. Soderquist built a General Hospital at Idaho Avenue and K street which was the first actual hospital building built in Idaho Falls. This facility was maintained until the LDS Hospital was completed on Memorial Drive in 1923. The LDS Hospital became known as the Idaho Falls Hospital in later years, and more recently as Riverview Hospital. It was razed in 1987 after the new Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center was built.

Submitter: Richard Carr and Trudy McClure, Media Coordination Services
Sources: Beautiful Bonneville, Joe Marker, Quincy Jensen.

Note: See separate stories on bridges, temple, and hospitals.


The Post-Register, September 24, 1945, featured the temple dedication: "Temple dedicated at impressive rites. In most impressive services President George Albert Smith of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints dedicated Sunday morning the newly-completed, gleaming white temple on the banks of the Snake River in this eastern Idaho city as a `house of praise and worship'. It was an occasion rare in the history of the church for this is the eighth such temple in present use...."

The newspaper's edition, July 2, 1976, gave some history of The Idaho Falls LDS Temple, perhaps the leading tourist attraction in the city.... "Church authorities first decided to build the Idaho Falls Temple March 3, 1937, with surveying completed in September of that year. The site chosen on the east bank of the Snake River covered some barren sand hills. Thirty-nine separate parcels of land had to be acquired for the temple site.

"The ground was broken December 19, 1939, and David O. McKay, 2nd Counselor, laid the cornerstone October 19, 1940. The outside of the building was completed in September 1941; work on the inside took until the spring of 1954 to complete. Birdwell Finlayson of Pocatello was general contractor for the $1 million project.

"The Idaho Falls LDS Temple was dedicated September 23, 24, and 25, 1945, by George Albert Smith, LDS Church President. All of the LDS Church general authorities were present. Eight sessions of dedication were held to accommodate an estimated 30,000 visitors....

"Prior to the dedication, the temple was open for a six-day public inspection. Some 44,000 people went through the building during this period.

"When the temple opened, it served 90,000 church members in 21 stakes. Chosen to make up the directorate of the new temple was President David Smith, with 1st counselor John Sayer and 2nd counselor Fred Schwendiman. The first ordinances were performed in the temple Dec. 5, 1945. The massive structure of the Idaho Falls Temple is 95 by 131 feet, with the tower rising to a height of 143 feet."

Submitter: Mary Jane Fritzen
Sources: Post-Register in Bonneville Museum Files; See also D.V. Groberg, Idaho Falls Temple, 1985.



Begin Here
Introductory Comments
Chap. 1 - Agriculture
Potatoes, grains, sugar beets, livestock, irrigation.
Chap. 2 - Business and Industry
Banking, Chamber of Commerce, Rogers Brothers Seed.
Chap. 3 - Amusements, Arts and Music
Amusements: dancing, circus, baseball, theaters, Heise Hot Springs, War Bonnet Roundup, parades. Arts: painting, drama, dance, music, symphony, opera theatre.
Chap. 4 - Communications
Newspapers, telephone, broadcast.
Chap. 5 - Celebrations
Centennials and Jubilees, Pioneer Day, Intersec.
Chap. 6 - Churches
Chap. 7 - City Government
Mayors, City Hall, Public Library; Departments of Electricity, Fire, Police, Building and Planning, Parks and Recreation, Public Works.
Chap. 8 - Courthouse and Federal Post Office
Chap. 9 - Historic Preservation Efforts
Bonneville County Historical Society, Idaho Falls Historic Preservation Commission (Historic buildings, places, homes), Daughters of Utah Pioneers.
Chap. 10 - Schools
Chap. 11 - Clubs/Fraternal Organizations
Lodges, Sportsmen's Association, American Legion and other Veterans Associations, Boy Scouts.
Chap. 12 - Transportation
Railroad, Automobiles, Aviation.
Chap. 13 - Medical Practice &Amp; Hospitals
Chap. 14 - Native Americans
Chap. 15 - Snake River
Bridges, Greenbelt, Temple.
Chap. 16 - Tourism and Hotels
Chap. 17 - Lawyers and Judges
Chap. 18 - War Efforts
Red Cross, World War I, World War II.
Chap. 19 - Population Growth
Chap. 20 - INEL
Appendix 1 - Bibliography Guide
Appendix 2 - Chronology