Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Railroad Town of Burley Incorporated [otd 7/19]

The town of Burley, Idaho, was incorporated on July 19, 1909. The village had grown explosively since being platted four years earlier, and many businesses supported the growing farm population. That included a new Bank of Commerce, founded in the spring of 1909 with former Boise Mayor James H. Hawley as Vice President.
Burley, ca 1918. [Hawley]

The location, near where Goose Creek emptied into the Snake River, was a familiar landmark on the Oregon Trail. Other than the river itself, the creek represented the last reliable water source before Rock Creek. Guidebooks warned emigrants that they faced a hard day's travel over rugged terrain. In a moderately poor year, they might find no water whatsoever.

Goose Creek water and grass also attracted stockmen and settlers. By 1900, the area had a number of homesteads. Then developer Ira Perrine [blog, May 7] spearheaded the construction of Milner Dam and its irrigation system, which spurred the creation of Twin Falls.

In late 1904, the Minidoka and Southwestern Railroad Company began construction of a branch line from Minidoka through Twin Falls to Buhl. The next year Perrine and five partners platted a town near where the tracks crossed the Snake River. They called the town Burley, after David E. Burley, an agent for the Oregon Short Line Railroad Company.

French's History of Idaho (1914), emphasized the town's rapid development into a substantial, modern municipality: "The streets are well lighted, the cluster lights being used in the down town section. Burley owns and operates its own electric light, heat and power system and has the benefit of exceptionally low rates. There have just been installed municipal waterworks, which cover the entire town. A trunk sewer has also been constructed."

Six years later when Hawley produced his History, he mentioned those advances and more: "Burley ... has two weekly newspapers, three banks, a good public school system, six churches, an elaborate system of rural telephones, a sugar factory, well-stocked stores of all kinds, good hotels, and more hogs are shipped from this place than any other point on the Oregon Short Line in Idaho."
Train stop on the Minidoka-Buhl line. Twin Falls Public Library.

When the Territorial legislature created Cassia County in 1879, the only towns of any consequence in the region were Albion and Oakley. For various reasons, Albion got the nod as county seat.

Just a year after Burley incorporated, it had a population two-and-a-half times that of Albion. Still, an attempt in 1912 to move the seat to Burley failed. Determined, folks in the area decided to push for their own (new) county, of which they would be the county seat (Idaho Statesman, November 13, 1912). Although the legislature did carve out six new counties in the next session, Burley’s scheme failed.

By 1918, the town's population was four times that of Albion and a vote moved the county seat to Burley, where it still is. In fact, today Burley is a thriving city of around 10 thousand while Albion contains only a few hundred people. Although the railroad is no longer an economic powerhouse, it still plays an important role in transporting the area's farm products.
                                                                                 
References: [B&W], [French], Hawley]
Cassia County History, Cassia County web site.
Kathleen Hedberg, Cassia County, Idaho: The Foundation Years, The Caxton Printers (© Cassia County Commissioners, 2005).

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