Saturday, May 7, 2016

Irrigation Pioneer and Twin Falls Developer Ira B. Perrine [otd 05/07]

Ira B. Perrine.
Grubb & Guilford, The Potato, 1912.
Twin Falls area developer Ira Burton Perrine was born May 7, 1861 in Indiana. He followed relatives to the Wood River Valley in 1883 and briefly pursued mining claims. He then decided he could do better selling dairy products. In the fall of 1884, Perrine wanted to move his small herd to a more protected spot for the winter.

Locals told him that early pioneer Charlie Walgamott could help him find a good spot. “Bert,” as he then called himself, drove his cattle south and found the Walgamott homestead without too much trouble. He arrived fairly late in the evening, but Charlie’s wife fed him and they provided a spot for the night. Charlie later said, “Next morning we drove the cattle to the Blue Lakes and with very little trouble worked them down the Indian trail to the valley below.”

The spot, deep in the Snake River Canyon,  so impressed Perrine that he filed a claim and began raising fruits, vegetables, and other farm products. He also raised stock, partly because they could walk themselves out of the canyon: It rises over 500 feet in three-quarters of a mile, with one stretch where the grade is nearly 40 percent – steep even for a set of stairs.

Perrine studied how to efficiently divert water from the river to irrigate more and more land at Blue Lakes. He prospered and soon owned considerable property in Shoshone, located about thirty miles from his spread. There he could load his products onto the Oregon Short Line Railroad.

Much back-breaking labor converted the Indian trail into a decent road. Perrine eventually also cut a road into the south face of the canyon, across the river. Traveling over the countryside high above both sides of the canyon, he saw vast expanses of arable land. But that soil was bone dry for most of the year.

Perrine now knew what needed to be done to irrigate that land. The question was: How to do it? Years earlier, a river surveyor had recorded, but only in his notes, the notion that a dam at “The Cedars” could impound water to irrigate the high ground. The Cedars marked a spot where the Snake constricts from the high plain into its narrow canyon.

Milner Dam, 1905. Library of Congress.
Perrine had the same vision … and followed up. In June 1900, he filed water rights at The Cedars on both sides of the river. Various financial and technical obstacles slowed his vision for Milner Dam. Still, in the spring of 1905, water began flowing onto tracts around the brand new town of Twin Falls.

In February 1907, the legislature split Twin Falls County off from Cassia and made the town the county seat. Even before that, Twin Falls had rail connections to the outside world. Perrine continued to encourage development projects in south central Idaho for many, many years. He also had projects elsewhere, including a mineral-extraction company near Soda Springs (Twin Falls News, Aug 24, 1918).

Perrine was among those leading the push for a huge bridge to link Twin Falls with the north side of the Snake River Canyon. The “Twin Falls-Jerome Bridge” officially opened on September 15, 1927. Years later, the name was changed to the “I. B. Perrine Bridge.”

Two year after that, at aged 68, I. B. was still busy promoting growth for the region, in this case a fruit packing plant in Jerome. (North Side News, Jerome, reprinted in the Idaho Statesman, February 18, 1929.)

Perrine passed away in October 1943.
                                                                                 
References: [B&W]
Jim Gentry, In the Middle and On the Edge: The Twin Falls Region of Idaho, College of Southern Idaho (2003).
Eugene H. Grubb, W. S. Guilford, The Potato: A Compilation of Information from Every Available Source, Doubleday, Page & Company, Garden City, NY (1912).
Charles S. Walgamott, Six Decades Back, The Caxton Press, CaMwell, Idaho (1936).

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