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News & Press: Community Spotlights

AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Rigby

Friday, December 16, 2016  
Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
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Welcome to Rigby, birthplace of television sign.

Rigby is a historic farming community on the Upper Snake River Plain. Fields of mostly potatoes, alfalfa hay, wheat, corn and barley surrounded the city. The Snake River flows just a few miles to the east and north. The Caribou-Targhee National Forest and Kelley Mountain Ski Resort lie about 21 miles east.

The city is on U.S. Highway 20 between Idaho Falls, 15 miles southwest, and Rexburg, 13 miles northeast.

Historic Tidbits

In 1810 Andrew Henry led a party of trappers/explorers into Eastern Idaho and established a post at what is now Henry’s Lake, about 75 miles northeast of Rigby. At that time, tall sagebrush covered the land around what is now Rigby. American Indians migrated through the area as they traveled to their seasonal encampments.

In 1863 prospectors discovered gold in Virginia City, Montana. Freighters and stagecoach companies built a wagon road—called the Gold Road—from Utah to the Montana gold fields.

In 1879 the Utah and Northern Railroad built a rail line from Utah to the Montana gold fields generally following the trail of the Gold Road. The rail line went north from Idaho Falls through what is now Dubois, across the continental divide at Monida Pass and into Montana. The railroad construction crews included many men recruited from the rapidly growing settlements in northern Utah.

When one of the construction workers—John R. Poole of Ogden, Utah—returned home, he extolled the farmland potential of the Upper Snake River Plain. As other railroad construction workers returned home, they confirmed Poole’s glowing assessment.

At that time, the population of Utah was swelling. A stream of immigrant converts to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Church)—also known as Mormons—fueled the rapid population growth. When news of the settlement potential of the Upper Snake River Plain reached northern Utah, several families began preparing to homestead in Eastern Idaho. The railroad played an important role in transporting these settlers to the Upper Snake River Plain.

In 1882 Church leaders asked 54-year-old Thomas E. Ricks to be the Bishop of the immigrant settlers going to the Rexburg area. Ricks, a Kentuckian, joined the Church in 1844 and in 1848 was part of the Mormon exodus from Illinois to Salt Lake City, Utah.

In January 1883 Ricks led the first party of settlers to what is now Rexburg. One of Ricks’ counselors was William F. Rigby, an emigrant convert from Saddleworth, England. Rigby immediately went to work building sawmills in Beaver Canyon to provide lumber to the growing number of settlers.

Ricks named the ecclesiastical jurisdiction, consisting of several new communities, Bannock Ward—later to become a stake (diocese). By the end of 1883 Church records listed 815 members living in the Bannock Ward. By the end of 1884 the number had increased to 1,420.

As the settlers arrived, they immediately went about establishing homestead claims, building shelters and clearing and leveling the land—banding together to build irrigation canals and ditches and diverting Snake River water into the canals to irrigate their farms. Over the succeeding few years, their complex system of irrigation canals and ditches turned dry sagebrush-covered land into a fertile agricultural oasis.

The first settlers to file homestead claims around what is now Rigby came in 1884. They named their community Rigby after William F. Rigby. Characteristic of Mormon settlements, they surveyed the town on a north-south axis with eight-rod-wide—132 feet—streets. They marked Main Street by pulling a railroad tie behind a team of horses to break down the sagebrush.

Some of the more public-minded settlers donated a total of $20 to buy a lot on which they constructed the first public building—an assembly hall large enough to hold church services. However, the seller of the property apparently did not have clear title.

A real estate schemer and opportunist, Jack Robinson, discovered the legal omission and filed on the property. When the settlers arrived a few days later to hold a scheduled meeting, they were surprised to see their personal property set outside the building with Robinson armed with a pistol. He told them he had properly filed a claim and the property was his. The settlers consulted authorities and learned there was little they could do but buy Robinson’s claim. They paid him $250. Presumably, Robinson got out of town.

One of Ricks’ first priorities was to see to the education of the children. He formed a board of education with leaders that included himself and William Rigby. In 1888 that board created the Bannock Stake Academy, the forerunner to Brigham Young University-Idaho.

In 1889 the community applied for and received a post office named Rigby.

In May 1899 entrepreneurs formed the St. Anthony Railroad Company and built a railroad from Idaho Falls, through Rigby, to St. Anthony. They would later build lateral branches connecting several nearby communities. By 1909 the line would extend to Yellowstone National Park. This rail line was of major importance to Rigby because, previously, the nearest rail depot was the Utah and Northern Railroad, about 15 miles west at Roberts. Now Rigby had direct access to railroad transportation.

On June 14, 1903, Rigby—with a population of over 200—became an incorporated village.

Birth of Television

At a time when prominent scientists from around the globe were trying to develop technologies to transmit live images over the airwaves, the unlikely boy genius Philo T. Farnsworth, a student at Rigby High School, laid the technical groundwork for patents that established him as the inventor of television.

In 1920 at age 14, Farnsworth worked out the principle of the "image dissector television camera" while tilling a potato field. Going back and forth with a horse-drawn harrow, he realized that an electron beam could scan images the same way. He illustrated the mathematical formula on the school’s chemistry class blackboard. Farnsworth’s chemistry teacher wrote the formula down and produced the "prior art" evidence in a patent case that Radio Corporation of America, now known as RCA, brought against Farnsworth. In 1935 the patent court ruled in Farnsworth’s favor, establishing him as the inventor of television.

Over his career, Farnsworth produced hundreds of patents and lived in several cities. While many cities have markers commemorating his stay, Rigby commemorates its native son with the "Farnsworth TV & Pioneer Museum" which houses some of Farnsworth’s original memorabilia.

Amenities and Attractions Today

Rigby has four city parks covering 48 acres with a fifth planned for development. The Northwest Park is a soccer park. Central Park is in the center of town. It has two little league baseball fields, picnic shelters, restrooms, children’s playground facilities, basketball and tennis courts, horseshoe pits and a WWII anti-aircraft gun. Veterans Memorial Park memorializes all military service men and women who lived in the area that is now Jefferson County. Along with picnic facilities, it has a WWII army tank on display. Rigby South Rodeo Park has a rodeo arena, grandstand and bleachers, racetrack, restrooms and concession areas. It also has picnic areas, children playgrounds, skateboarding, basketball and volleyball courts, a climbing rock for children, three athletic fields and a walking path.

The city has two golf courses, the 18-hole Jefferson Hills Golf Course and the 9-hole Cedar Park Golf Course.

The city and community offer several annual events. Each May the Jefferson County high school and middle school rodeo athletes compete at South Rodeo Park. The County sponsors the Jefferson County Stampede each June followed by the county fair on the second week of August. The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Posse puts on their performances each September. Each December owners hook up their fast horses to sleek sleighs for the traditional cutter races.

Rigby Lake, also known as Jefferson County Lake, is located a mile outside the city. Lake amenities include boat docks, picnic shelters and campsites.

The Jefferson County Historical Museum has 14,000 square feet of artifacts and exhibits. One of the more prominent exhibits is devoted to a native son, Philo T. Farnsworth—the inventor of television.

Rigby’s near proximity to the much larger cities of Idaho Falls and Rexburg is an important amenity. Rigby residents are able to live in a smaller town yet are within a short drive to the educational, cultural, shopping and entertainment opportunities available in those cities.

The city is also close to beautiful scenery and outdoor activities. The Caribou-Targhee National Forest is within an hour’s drive north, east and southeast of the city. In addition to camping, hiking, hunting, fishing, snowmobiling and ATV riding, downhill skiing is available at Kelly Canyon Ski Area. The ski resort is 6,600 feet at the summit and has 26 runs, four ski lifts and two rope tows.

In addition to the vast acreages of Forest Service and BLM lands in the area, state and federal agencies have established several wildlife management areas (WMA). Those near Rigby include the 5,071-acre Market Lake WMA, located about 15 miles northwest above Roberts. The 10,578-acre Camas National Wildlife Refuge and the 8,853-acre Mud Lake WMA are a few miles west of Hamer. The small, but important, 71-acre Gem State WMA near Menan and the 5,619-foot-high Menan Buttes—two of the largest volcanic tuff cones in the world—are located about 8 miles north of the city.


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