IDAHO HISTORY: Shoshone grew rapidly in the early 20th century

SPECIAL TO THE STATESMANFebruary 2, 2014 

R.L. Polk & Co.’s Idaho Gazetteer and Business Directory, published in 1889, lists Shoshone as “county seat of the new county of Logan.” But when Logan County was abolished by the legislature on March 5, 1895, Bellevue was its county seat. Less than two weeks later, a new Lincoln County was created on March 18, 1895, with Shoshone as its county seat.

Rapid growth of Shoshone led the Idaho Statesman’s correspondent there to send in such optimistic reports on the town’s future that you might think he was writing for a Chamber of Commerce. A lengthy article about Shoshone, published in the Statesman on March 25, 1904, bore these subheadlines: “Energy and Enterprise of its People Bringing Forth Satisfactory Results. Improvements of All Kinds Under Way and the Outlook Most Promising — Light and Water Systems to be Installed at Once and many Buildings Being Constructed.”

The writer thought Shoshone was so well-located that it could become the commercial center of “a vast section of country in every direction.” He estimated the town’s population to be about 1,000, at a time when the 1900 federal census listed only 1,784 for the entire county.

By the 1910 census, Lincoln County’s population had jumped dramatically to 12,676.

The creation of Gooding County out of the western part of Lincoln and Minidoka County out of its eastern part in 1913, along with the founding of Jerome County to the south in 1919 reduced Lincoln’s population to 3,446 in 1920. The long agricultural recession of the 1920s was an added factor in the loss, and by 1930 the population of Lincoln County had dropped to 3,242.

“Nearly all the people here own their own homes and have them beautified” enthused the Statesman’s 1904 correspondent. “The principal industries are farming, fruit growing and stock raising.” He stated that more than 30 buildings had been finished in the past year, the most important being the Lincoln County courthouse then nearing completion at a cost of $20,000 (the equivalent of more than $800,000 today).

Shoshone, like many other small towns in Idaho, had what was called an “opera house, though no opera was ever performed there. In May 1904, a crowd turned out for the high school graduation ceremony. The class consisted of six of the town’s “most popular young ladies.” It was the largest class ever graduated from the Shoshone public schools.

Shoshone’s Methodist Church, described in the Shoshone Journal as “an unsightly shell at best,” was replaced by a new building using the plentiful black lava rock found in the vicinity. Local lore says that the stone mason on the job worked for a pint of whiskey a day — surely legend, since the Methodist denomination had, from its beginnings, been dead-set against the use of alcoholic beverages.

Next week we’ll continue the story of Shoshone.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email histnart@mindspring.com.

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