Monday, November 4, 2013

Grangeville Wins County Seat From Mount Idaho [otd 11/04]

On November 4, 1902, voters decisively favored the transfer of the county seat of Idaho County from Mount Idaho to Grangeville. This result culminated a vigorous decade-long campaign to wrest the seat away from the older town.
Historic Grangeville. City of Grangeville.

Pioneer Loyal P. Brown established Mount Idaho as the first town on the Camas Prairie. He started in 1862 from a waystation on the road to the Florence gold fields [blog, Sept 26]. In 1875, his political maneuvering won the county seat for the town.

Grangeville began with the establishment of Charity Grange No. 15, Patrons of Husbandry, in August 1874. When Loyal P. refused to donate a Mount Idaho plot for a Grange Hall, members asked rancher John Crooks if he would help. He agreed, and donated land about three miles to the north. To finance the hall project, Grange members organized a milling company and built a flour mill.

With the mill ready, they began construction of the Grange Hall, completing it in 1876. Grangers immediately developed the area around it, starting with a small general store and some residences. In the summer of 1877, during the Nez Perc├ęs War, locals built a stockade around the hall. Fortunately, they suffered no attacks and the few other existing structures were not damaged.

After the war, the nearby presence of Camp Howard helped the local economy, but the Army decommissioned that facility in 1881. Despite rather slow growth, by the middle of the decade Grangeville had become an important supply and commercial center for the ranches and farms that spread across the Camas Prairie. In 1886, the town got its own newspaper, the Idaho County Free Press (which is still publishing today.)

By 1892 it was the largest town in Idaho County. (That was also the year when Grangeville’s first two banks opened.) An undercurrent of sentiment to relocate the county seat burst into an active campaign. Although supporters polled a simple majority in the subsequent election, they failed to garner the necessary two-thirds vote. The setback was perhaps a tribute to L. P. Brown, who was still highly respected. But Brown would pass away in 1896.

Grangeville continued to grow. In 1893, voters there overwhelmingly agreed to issue bonds to build a new, larger schoolhouse. The following year, telephone service to Lewiston was initiated, and new businesses continued to open. Meanwhile, Mount Idaho declined.

In 1898, prospectors discovered new gold lodes in the “Buffalo Hump” area, about 30 miles southeast of Grangeville. The subsequent rush caused a “boom” as the town became a major supply point for the mines. Grangeville added another hotel, set up a volunteer fire department, and even attracted a brewery.
Grain elevator. Univ. of Idaho photo.

The election in 1902 gave Grangeville nearly three-quarters of the votes in their favor for the county seat. Thereafter, Grangeville would grow even more substantially, especially with the arrival of the railroad in 1908. Mount Idaho continued its decline to what is now basically a ghost town.

Today, Grangeville is a regional center for farming and forestry operations – the U.S. Forest Service is a significant presence in the area.
References: [Hawley], [Illust-North]
“Early Idaho County,” Reference Series No. 324, Idaho State Historical Society.
M. Alfreda Elsensohn, Eugene F. Hoy (ed.), Pioneer Days in Idaho County, Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho (1951).

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