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News & Press: Community Spotlights

AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Grangeville

Monday, August 1, 2016  
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
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Grangeville Main Street 

Grangeville is a city of multiple gateways. It lies at the northern base of the Clearwater Mountains where U.S. Highway 95 drops into the fertile 200,000-acre Camas Prairie and its beautiful mosaic of wheat, barley and pea fields. The heavily wooded mountains of the Nez Perce National Forest form the city’s eastern, southern and western skyline.

Idaho Highway 13, running east out of Grangeville, leads to roads that enter or pass near three wilderness areas.

To the northeast, U.S. Highway 12 skirts the northern border of the 1.3-million-acre Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness Area—215,000 acres are in Montana—as it heads to Lolo Pass on the Idaho/Montana border.

Idaho Highway 14 just east of Grangeville leads to the unincorporated but historic sawmill and gold mining town of Elk City and runs near the 2.5-million-acre Frank Church-River of No Return and the 206,000-acre Gospel Hump Wilderness Areas.

The Salmon River, the River of No Return—so named because supply boats could only travel one way—flows several miles to the west and southwest. Thirty miles further west, the Salmon River joins the Snake River as it runs through the 215,000-acre Hells Canyon Wilderness Area—131,000 acres are in Oregon.

Grangeville is the seat of Idaho County, the largest county in Idaho at 5.4 million acres. Idaho County, Boundary County and Bonner County have the distinction of being the only three counties that cross the entire state, east to west.

Historical Tidbits 

In 1860 Elias D. Pierce led a party of prospectors who discovered placer gold near what is now Pierce, located about 70 miles north of Grangeville. The following year, several thousand miners rushed to the area, and by 1863 settlers and ranchers were homesteading on the Camas Prairie, grazing cattle and selling their commodities to the miners.

However, once the gold claims played out, the miners left and the homesteaders lost their market. Further settlement on the Camas Prairie languished for more than a decade.

Then in 1874 the local chapter of a fraternal society called the National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry wanted to acquire five acres in the community of Mount Idaho for a hall and flour mill. The society’s national organization had been founded seven years earlier in Washington, D.C., to advance the interests of farmers. During that time, the national organization had established over 20,000 local granges with 850,000 members nationwide.

At the time, Mount Idaho was the dominant town in the area. A year later, county voters would name it the Idaho County seat, replacing the gold mining boomtown of Florence where the mines were playing out.

Loyal Brown, a leading citizen and founder of Mount Idaho, opposed the Grange organization and did not want them in the community. John M. Crooks, an entrepreneur who owned land about two miles north of Mount Idaho, saw the increasingly popular Grange movement as a business opportunity and sought to accommodate the desires of Charity Grange No. 15, the local chapter. In 1875 Crooks platted a townsite on his property, and, to get the town started, he gave a five-acre lot to the Charity Grange. The following year, the Grange built its flour mill and hall with a stockade-type enclosure around its facilities.

However, Crooks did not name the town. Community residents discussed the matter at a Grange Hall meeting. Isabelle Pearson suggested they name their town Grangeville. Others suggested Millville and Wheeling. The residents voted and Grangeville won by one vote. Postal authorities approved the Grangeville Post Office, and the town began to grow at the expense of Mount Idaho. Twenty-seven years later, voters moved the county seat from Mount Idaho to Grangeville. Today, Mount Idaho is a Grangeville suburb.

By 1879, after the threat of the Nez Perce War was past, several frame homes and businesses dotted the new town site. There was a general merchandise store, a small hotel, a Chinese store, a blacksmith shop and a drugstore operated by the town’s medical doctor, a retired army surgeon.

The upstairs of the Grange Hall was used for a school until 1884 when a new school called the Columbia River Conference Academy was built with the Rev. W.A. Hall as principal.

Within six years, the Academy became a public school with a new school building erected on Main Street four years later. The old Academy building became the courthouse.

On December 3, 1885, County Surveyor F.P. Turner made the first official plat of Grangeville. It included nine 200 by 400 foot city blocks bordered by North Second Street, South Street, Mill Street and State Street.

Six months later, A.F. Parker published the first issue of the Idaho County Free Press, a newspaper which is still being published. It played a major role in the growth and wellbeing of the community.

While the Grange gave the city its name, nearby sawmills and mines bolstered it economy. In 1890 the town was becoming a vibrant regional shopping center. It had three general stores and several other retail businesses along with a hotel, legal and medical offices, a new school and two new Methodist and Episcopal Churches. Within a few years, there were two banks, a second flour mill and a Roman Catholic Church in town.

By 1893 it was clear that the population and economy were shifting from Mount Idaho to Grangeville. However, a ballot initiative to make Grangeville the county seat failed. When the issue resurfaced nine years later, it passed with an overwhelming majority.

Grangeville became an incorporated city on October 15, 1897. Within a year, the town built a domestic water system, and a private utility was providing electricity.

The Grange Hall and the Nez Perce War

It was just months after the Grange completed the stockade walls that the facilities were needed for protection. June 17, 1877, marked the opening battle of the Nez Perce War at White Bird Canyon, about 15 miles southwest of Grangeville—a humiliating defeat for the U.S. Army, Thirty-four soldiers died without the Nez Perce losing one warrior.

As the army regrouped with reinforcements, the Nez Perce moved close to Mount Idaho, and 39 settlers fled to the Grange Hall stockade.

Over the next 3½ months the Army relentlessly pursued the bands of Chiefs Joseph and White Bird, covering 1,500 miles—a modern army never quite able to catch the Nez Perce who were traveling with women, children and equipage. Wiring ahead, the pursuing army requested the military in Montana to intercept the Nez Perce. They intercepted Chief Joseph and his band 40 miles south of the Canadian border. Chief White Bird escaped into Canada.

On October 5, 1877, Chief Joseph surrendered with a statement against war that would become famous in American history: "I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed…The old men are all dead…It is cold and we have no blankets…The little children are freezing to death…My people, some of them, have run away to the hills and have no blankets and food…I want to have time to look for my children…Hear me, my chiefs; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever."

With the threat of war past, the Grange Hall became the center of community events.

Amenities and Attractions Today 

Grangeville has three parks on 20 acres, offering athletic fields, picnic areas, children’s playgrounds and a public swimming pool. The city also has a golf course, a museum of local history and artifacts, an art gallery and a library.

For three days around July 4th, Grangeville celebrates the nation’s independence with its annual "Border Days," a kick-up-your-heels Western celebration that includes parades; street games; dances; and, most importantly, a rodeo that dates back to 1912 and is termed "the oldest rodeo in Idaho."

The nearby Nez Perce National Forest is an outdoor paradise. Located in the forest are approximately 35 campgrounds and stretches of the Selway, Snake, Rapid and Salmon Rivers. Within an hour’s drive of the city, opportunities abound for white-water rafting, canoeing, kayaking, hunting, fishing, camping, snowmobiling and skiing.

Downhill skiing and tubing are available at Snowhaven Ski Resort seven miles south of Grangeville, and skiing is available at Cottonwood Butte Ski Resort 18 miles northwest.

Fish Creek Meadows, seven miles south of Grangeville, is a year-round trailhead for a variety of outdoor recreation. There are 11 camp units with parking for large recreational vehicles. A separate parking lot is the trailhead for cross-country skiing and snowmobiling on 90 acres of groomed trails in the winter and mountain biking, ATV riding and horseback riding during the warmer months.

Grangeville is located near 600 miles of groomed snowmobile trails running from Winchester to Elk City and Dixie. Parts of the trails reach elevations of 8,000 feet. ATV enthusiasts use the trails in the summertime.

The Highway 13 leg of the Idaho Transportation Department’s Northwest Passage Scenic Byway—Highways 13 and 12—begins in Grangeville. Highway 12 generally parallels the trail that Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery followed when it trekked across Idaho in 1805 and on their return trip in 1806.

State Route 14 begins several miles east of the city. It is the only road to the historic sawmill and gold mining town of Elk City and the Idaho Department of Fish and Game’s 314-acre Red River Wildlife Management Area.

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