Idaho Falls - City of Destiny

Tourism and Hotels

Tourism in Idaho Falls

Tom Sutton, mayor of Idaho Falls in 1949, recalled when he first came to town in 1917 to work at Anderson Lumber Co.: "When I climbed down from the train and saw all the sagebrush, and not too much of anything else, I could have climbed right back aboard and left."(1)

However, like so many others, he stayed. The railroad, which had come to Eagle Rock in 1879, brought many homeseekers. It encouraged them enthusiastically. Oregon Shortline Railroad and Sunset Homeseekers Bureau published a beautifully illustrated brochure in about 1917. "How To Get to Idaho Falls, Idaho." Subtitled "Perfect Irrigation--Never-failing crops," its cover showed a farmer harvesting grain with his three-horse team.(2)

While many tourists were homeseekers, Idaho Falls also attracted vacationers. An early brochure, (about 1910) published by the Club of Commerce, discussed "Vacation Spots":

"All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy even though Jack's vocation be that of the agriculturalist, the most diversified, invigorating, and healthful occupation known to man. No centralized business region in America is so conveniently situated with respect to nature's great playgrounds as is this region of the Upper Snake River Valley. One hundred eight miles north-east of Idaho Falls on the Park Branch of the Oregon Shortline Railroad lies the west entrance to the Yellowstone National Park, the greatest region of natural wonders to be found on Earth.... Thousands pass through Idaho Falls each season, while during the park visiting season scores of parties in commodious and comfortable camp wagons are seen moving along the country roads, all directed toward the Park, or homeward bound from what each one declares to be the most delightful outing of a lifetime. Many of the older settlers have made this trip again and again in this manner and each successive trip but adds to the charm of the outing.

"For the sportsman, every variety of game in its native haunts....In cold, rushing mountain streams lurks the trout, the delight of the fisherman. Catches of hundreds are the rule rather than the exception....Great flights of ducks....great lava beds to the Southwest....the needle-like peaks of the mighty Tetons....The family Heise Hot Springs, the Carlsbad of America, are located 20 miles east of the City."


Yellowstone Park had been opened since 1872. The Post Register, 10 July, 1980, tells us, "During early years, few people were privileged to visit the Park. The only means of reaching the Park was by train. Travel in the Park was by stagecoach only." But after automobiles were admitted in 1915, tourist traffic greatly increased.(4)

The building of the railroad from Eagle Rock to the entrance to Yellowstone Park came in two phases. The first phase was built by the St. Anthony Railroad Company to St. Anthony [1899-1900] and the second phase was built by the Yellowstone Park Railroad Company to extend it to the park.

The first passenger train to reach West Yellowstone arrived on June 5, 1909. Travel on the line was hazardous at times. The most serious accident was the striking of a bull moose by the engine. Snow was the main hazard.. The snow would lie at depths from six to thirty feet. The job of clearing the tracks usually took four days of hard work. It was begun in mid-March to try to get the track ready for the opening of the Park. A wedge plow was used in open spaces and a rotary was used to open the cuts and deeper snow. The rotary would throw the snow seventy-five feet and cut a corridor fourteen feet wide. The Continental Divide was the worst spot at elevation 6,934 feet. The Divide was located just ten miles south of West Yellowstone terminal.(5)


Tourist accommodations began with the stage station. The Post Register in 1927, recorded: "The Anderson brothers, truly the original pioneers of this section, were the "hosts" and many is the tale told today by those old enough to remember the hospitality extended the patrons and guests of the rude log cabin given the title of stage station and hotel. For it was there that the traveler was permitted to rest and refresh himself after the hard ride by stage across the practically trackless desert, scorched by the sun in the summer months and lost almost in the snows of winter." It states the food was excellent.(6)

Oldtimers interviewed by the Post Register usually referred to the good old times. Frank Beam summed it up in 1934. "Voicing a quiet regret at the changing conditions which have so nearly destroyed the old-time community spirit, Mr. Beam remembers the years of homesteading, of community socials and canal building as the happiest of his life...."(7)


Old timers used to sleep in the open when traveling. A blanket spread on the ground under the stars, using their saddles for a pillow, served the purpose.

As the town grew, John Lingren's wooded ten acres, now known as Highland Park, was a popular campground. Eddie Pedersen, who grew up here and became mayor (1964-78) recalled: "Highland Park was really a place for tourists. Especially I remember John Lingren for the many many trees he planted....It was a place for tenting and camping, a tourist spot, the only place where people could stay in the city."(8)

Ancestor of the highway rest stop, Dan Clyne's Livery Stable also provided campgrounds, as well as facilities to freshen up both man and beast.

(see Hotels)

(see also Automobile business)

Bonneville Hotel was built in 1927 on the former site of one of the first full-fledged service stations in town, built by Ray Sullivan, who remembered later: "I had the most modern pump in town. It would pump one gallon at a time. Then you would have to turn it back down to zero and pump another gallon. I had a contract in those days with two oil companies for the oil and gasoline which came bulk by railroad."

More tourist facilities were developed. In 1930 Sullivan established one of the first motor courts in town, in the 100 block of First Street. He recalled, "There were a couple of little ones [motels] at that time with just one room and a bed. However mine featured modern plumbing, kitchens with refrigerators and all. Three years after the motor court was built, the highway route was changed, so I decided to build another motor court on the corner of Gladstone and Lee Ave."

He also told the Post Register in 1976, "Motels have certainly come a long way in the past few years. Just look at the Westbank now. Why I can remember when Ferris Clark had just a few cabins over there along the river. They weren't even modern, just one room houses."(9)


Tourists knew about Dad Clay. Clay built a small auto shop in 1909. In 1910 he built a larger garage at Cottage (now N. Yellowstone) and A Street. In 1914 he published Idaho's first road log describing 5500 miles of road. He also set up hundreds of small orange signs with black letters on major and minor roads at regular intervals, telling how many "Miles to Dad Clay's Garage, Idaho Falls."(10)


Union Pacific Stages were the forerunner of Greyhound bus lines. As a matter of fact, they were the same thing, just bought and taken over by Greyhound, according to N.D. Andersen of Idaho Falls, who was district agent for buses. He recalls that Union Pacific Stages, a subsidiary of Union Pacific Railroad, operated buses that stopped in Idaho Falls from about 1929. Bus travel peaked during the years just after World War II. with at least five round trips to Pocatello and Salt Lake. Buses departed for West Yellowstone from about 1931, but only during the summer--from June til Labor Day.(11)

By 1934 one could travel from Idaho Falls to Yellowstone Park during tourist season by wagon, auto, bus, train, or plane.

Submitter: Mary Jane Fritzen

  1. "Idaho Falls Thrived Under His Leadership." by Louise Mahoney. Post Register, 29 Feb. 1976
  2. "How To Get To Idaho Falls, Idaho," brochure published by Oregon Short LIne Railroad. Idaho Falls Public Library. Idaho Falls history files.
  3. Brochure published by Idaho Falls Club of Commerce about 1910. Idaho Falls Public Library. Idaho Falls history files.
  4. "Yellowstone Park's Always Been News," in Post Register, 10 July 1980. F-18
  5. Louis J. Clements, "Railroad-Idaho Falls to Yellowstone," Snake River Echoes Vol. 18, 1989,p. 38.
  6. "Pioneer Hotels of Idaho Falls," in Post Register, May 31, 1927, special edition about Bonneville Hotel.
  7. "Frank Beam Here 56 Years," in Post Register, Golden Jubilee Edition, Sept. 10. 1934.
  8. Eddie Pedersen, transcript of interview of Eddie Pedersen by Elaine Lingren, Idaho Falls, 1977, Bonneville Museum Reading and Reference room.
  9. "The Ray Sullivans--Business Pioneers of Idaho Falls," by Louise Mahoney. in Post Register, 4 July 1976.
  10. "Dad Clay One of First to Operate Garage in Idaho," in Post Register, 10 Sept. 1934.
  11. N.D. Andersen: Telephone interview by Mary Jane Fritzen, Idaho Falls, 24 April 1991. Notes in Bonneville Museum Reading and Reference Room.

Early Idaho Falls Hotels

Ever since Matt Taylor set up his toll bridge at Eagle Rock to cross the Snake River, having a place to stay and rest has been an important enterprise for the residents of Idaho Falls. From the early "eating and rooming" houses in Eagle Rock to the modern motels of today, these establishments have enhanced Idaho Falls' reputation as the "convention center of southeast Idaho."

The earliest hotel was not really a hotel, but merely a stop on the stage coach line. As early as 1865, passengers could find a place to rest from their trip at the stage station in Eagle Rock, a crude two-room log cabin operated by the Anderson brothers. The two brothers "hosted" visitors cordially, even those who could not afford to pay, by sharing in the family-style meals and giving weary travelers a brief respite from the desert dust and wind.

As the community grew, so did the need for a real hotel for visitors and a central meeting spot for permanent residents of the territory coming to town for business. "Uncle Dick" Chamberlain filled this void by building a two-story saloon which had rooms available as well as plenty of food and drink, but it was George Heath who built in 1886 the first "real" hotel when he built an adobe structure named the Burgess House on Eagle Rock Street and South Capital Avenue. Later called the Brooks Hotel, it was known as a "good place to stop" and served the community until the late 1880s when the southern part of town began losing some of its importance.

Next came a series of hotels closer to the heart of town. Mr. and Mrs. Scott built the Scott Hotel on a small hill on Lava Street. It opened in January of 1892 but was destroyed by fire in August, so the Scotts took over management of the Graehl Hotel, a one-story stone building on Broadway built around the same time as the Scott by Poe Graehl. The Graehl went through several managers and owners after the Scotts, including C.M. Johnson, Mr. Smith, Charles Dawson, and Ben Jenne, until N.D. Porter took over around 1901, renamed it the Porter Hotel, and managed it until 1930. The upper parts were then converted into 24 apartments by Joseph Lippman of Santa Monica, California, but by August it was purchased by E.W. Finlayson, remodeled (for $12,000), and reopened in the fall of 1930 as the New Porter Hotel.

Other high-class hotels built downtown include the Cutter Hotel on Shoup and B Street, the Nelson Hotel, the Eleanor Hotel (1914) on the corner of Broadway and Yellowstone, and the Idaho Hotel which was part of a cluster of hotels on C Street built near the Courthouse and the railroad depot. First built and owned by F.C. Hansen, it was later owned by Ira J. Taylor (1944) and Ross Gillespie (1954).

Although several hotels were available, by the mid-1920s, the community demanded a bigger and more luxurious hotel to serve the city which was undergoing such rapid growth. Thus the Bonneville Hotel was conceived and built as a cooperative effort of 481 citizens of Idaho Falls. The Community Hotel Corporation was headed by local attorney O.A. Johannesen and financed through the Hockenbury System, a method of constructing and financing 123 previous hotels nationwide as developed by F.J. Hockenbury of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

The Bonneville Hotel was designed and built by the H.L. Stevens Company of San Francisco in less than a year for $335,000. They broke ground on August 24, 1926, and the formal opening and dedication was held June 1, 1927. Located on the corner of C Street and Park Avenue, it was an impressive 5-story building designed in the Italian Renaissance style with a wire-cut brick facade in colors ranging from salmon to maroon brown and ornamental iron balconies and Spanish tile grooves.

The Bonneville, originally under the jurisdiction of the Hotel Utah, was managed by William Gill, formerly with that hotel for ten years. With the help of 25 other workers from the Salt Lake City hotel, the Bonneville soon became the meeting area the community residents had envisioned. Along with the 76 guest rooms (each tastefully decorated and accompanied by a private bathroom), the Bonneville housed a cafeteria, club room, and banquet room on the first floor,making it a convenient and popular area for local meetings, luncheons, private parties, and banquets, as well as conventions. It could seat 300 people.

One of the later hotels, the Rogers, was opened in 1937 by B. M. "Brunt" Rogers on the corner of Shoup and B Street; but in recent times the hotels have generally found other uses or fallen to disrepair and the motel business has taken their place. Motels now line the banks of the Snake River near the falls as Idaho Falls serves southeastern Idaho residents and tourists alike as the hub for the region.

Submitter: Barbara Watson
Sources: The Times-Register, May 31, 1927; "Idaho Falls" by Joe Marker in Beautiful Bonneville; National Historic Preservation nominations, Bonneville Museum files.



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