You might think your town is old, but it probably isn’t the oldest in the country.
That is unless you live in St. Augustine, FL. Which looks pretty good for being 454 years old.
That’s older than America for those playing at home.
So that got us thinking, what is the oldest city in Idaho? And how old is that when you put it into perspective of St. Augustine or American Independence in 1776?
Because even if your Idaho city or town is old, it isn’t really all that old in the grand scheme of things. For example, the Pyramids in Egypt were built around 2600 BC, a cool 4100 years before St. Augustine.
And now that we have you thinking about how the time line of your existence is really kind of unimpressive on the timeline of history, let’s drop right into the analysis.
These are the 10 oldest cities and towns in the Gem State according to their ‘date of foundation’:
- Emmett (Photos)
- Rathdrum (Photos)
- Weiser (Photos)
- Boise City (Photos)
- Rupert (Photos)
- Middleton (Photos)
- Payette (Photos)
- Blackfoot (Photos)
- Hayden (Photos)
- Ammon (Photos)
For being 114 years old, Emmett doesn’t look a day over 40. And the newest city in Idaho? That would be Twin Falls — a brand spanking 13 years old.
How We Determined When A City Was Founded In Idaho… Or Is It Settled?
Surprisingly, there’s not a definitive data set that contains the dates of incorporation or settlement for cities in America. Put differently, there’s no official data set from the Census that contains when every place in America was founded.
So what did we do instead?
Use the internet’s version of official government data — Wikipedia of course!
For the majority of cities in Idaho, Wikipedia offers data on some kind of ‘date of foundation’ in the infobox. Unfortunately, because it’s Wikipedia and not a sprawling government bureaucracy, that can take the form of any of the following nomenclature (plus others):
And then even more stuff — for example Atlanta has a ‘Terminus’ date, whatever that is.
If no ‘date of foundation’ was found in the infobox, we looked to the general text in the History section of the city for ‘Founded in XXXX’.
All in all, we were able to collect data on 22 out of 33 in Idaho with over 5,000 people. That’s good for a 66.7% completion rate.
We then ranked them from oldest to newest with Emmett turning out to be the matriarch of Idaho at the ripe old age of 114.
Here’s a look at the top ten and a snippet of their history from Wikipedia.
Rising some 5,906 feet (1,800 m) above sea level, Squaw Butte, named by Native Americans who used this area as their winter resort, stands at the north end of the valley. The Payette River was named after Francois Payette, a fur trader from Quebec who was put in charge of old Fort Boise in 1818 and traveled through the area. Permanent settlement began in the early 1860s, after gold discoveries in the Boise Basin brought people over the established stage and pack train routes. Two of these trails joined at the Payette River north of the present river bridge in Emmett.
In the 1800s the town was initially called Westwood in honor of one of the founders of the town, a Pony Express rider and rancher, Charles Wesley Wood, also known as ‘Wes.’ But in 1881 the postmaster in the town was informed by the federal government that the town would need to change its name since it was already taken by another town in the territory. A local businessman, Michael M. Cowley, recommended the name ‘Rathdrum’ from County Wicklow in Ireland, his place of birth.
The city was named after the nearby Weiser River, but exactly who that was named for is not precisely known. In one version it is for Peter M. Weiser, a soldier and member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1804–1806. Another has it for Jacob Weiser, a trapper-turned-miner who struck it rich in Baboon Gulch in the Florence Basin of Idaho in 1861. William Logan and his wife settled in the vicinity of Weiser in 1863 building a roadhouse in anticipation of the opening of Olds Ferry west of them on the Snake River across from Farewell Bend. In 1863, Reuben Olds acquired a franchise from the Territorial Legislature and began operating Olds Ferry. Olds ferry business did well (as did Logan’s) as it diverted much of the traffic from the old Snake River crossing point at Old Fort Boise. Increasing settlement on the Weiser River valley increased Weiser’s population. A post office was established in 1866 as Weiser Ranch. In 1871, it was renamed Weiser.
4. Boise City
Accounts differ regarding the origin of the name. One account credits Capt. B.L.E. Bonneville of the U.S. Army as its source. After trekking for weeks through dry and rough terrain, his exploration party reached an overlook with a view of the Boise River Valley. The place where they stood is called Bonneville Point, located on the Oregon Trail east of the city. According to the story, a French-speaking guide, overwhelmed by the sight of the verdant river, yelled ‘Les bois! Les bois!’ (‘The wood! The wood!’)—and the name stuck.
The name may instead derive from earlier mountain men, who named the river that flows through it. In the 1820s, French Canadian fur trappers set trap lines in the vicinity. Set in a high-desert area, the tree-lined valley of the Boise River became a distinct landmark, an oasis dominated by cottonwood trees. They called this ‘La rivière boisée’, which means ‘the wooded river.’
In 2006, Rupert celebrated its 100th birthday.
Middleton was named for its location between the old fort Boise and Keeney’s Ferry; it being the midpoint between the two. It served as a rest stop for those heading for Keeney’s Ferry. It had a stage station in the early days of the Oregon Trail, a post office in 1866 and a water powered grist mill in 1871. The Ward Massacre occurred near the site in 1854.
The settlement was originally named ‘Boomerang,’ a construction camp for the Oregon Short Line from 1882-84 at the mouth of the Payette River. Logs were floated down the river to the sawmills at the camp to produce railroad ties. After completion of the railroad, the settlement moved upstream to its present site and incorporated in 1891 as ‘Payette,’ to honor François Payette, a French-Canadian fur trapper and one of the first white men to explore the area. He arrived in present-day Idaho from Astoria and was later the head of the Fort Boise trading post for the British Hudson’s Bay Company from 1835-44. A large merry man, Payette was highly regarded for his helpful assistance to the many travelers who came through the fort. After his retirement in 1844, he returned to Montreal, but the rest of his life is a mystery.
The city of Blackfoot is located near the center of Bingham County, on the south side of the Snake River. It was designated the county seat by the Thirteenth Territorial Legislature on January 13, 1885. Originally, the county seat was to be Eagle Rock (the original name for Idaho Falls). However, supposedly, on the night before the legislation was to be signed, men from Blackfoot bribed a clerk to erase Eagle Rock and write in Blackfoot. The measure went through without opposition and was signed by the governor. The origin of this accusation, written many years after the event, was a Blackfoot newspaper editor named Byrd Trego. The battle for county seat between Eagle Rock and Blackfoot was a political tug-of-war involving sectional and anti-Mormon factions in the Idaho Legislature. The leader of the southeastern Idaho anti-Mormons was a Yale graduate named Fred T. Dubois, who settled in Blackfoot in 1880. The legislative maneuvering to overturn Eagle Rock as the county seat naturally left “disparaging rumors intimating some skullduggery on Blackfoot’s part.”
Hayden was once called ‘Hayden Village’; it was incorporated as a city in 1955.
Ammon was founded by members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1888. It was originally called South Iona because it was the dependent branch in the south end of the Iona, Idaho ward. The area was made a ward in the church in 1889 with Arthur M. Rawson as bishop, who renamed the town in honor of Ammon, a figure in the LDS book of scripture, the Book of Mormon. Since it was now independent of the Iona Ward, a new name seemed appropriate. On February 9, 1893, the name of the town was changed from South Iona Ward to Ammon.
Oh How Time Flies For The Oldest Towns And Cities In Idaho
So there you have it, a look at some of the oldest places to live in Idaho. If we missed your city’s ‘date of foundation’, let us know in the comments. Or feel free to take a look at the table of the oldest places in Idaho.
And now, let’s raise our glasses, to the next 100 years of existence for these cities and towns in the Gem State.
And for those wondering, here are the newest additions to Idaho:
- Twin Falls (Founded in 2005)
- Preston (Founded in 2005)
- Post Falls (Founded in 2005)
Detailed List Of The Oldest Cities In Idaho