Sunday, August 7, 2016

Murphy and Twin Falls Get Regular Train Service [otd 8/7]

Coincidentally, August 7 marks two different Idaho railroad milestones.

On this day in 1898, the Boise, Nampa & Owyhee Railway initiated railroad service to Murphy. Colonel William H. Dewey [blog, Aug 1] promoted the line, with construction beginning in September 1896. The venture encountered just one unusual obstacle, but it was a substantial one: They had to bridge the Snake River. Even the economical design chosen – Parker trusses – represented a major expense in the overall budget.
Guffey Bridge, ca. 1898. Directory of Owyhee County.

Right after workers completed the bridge in 1897, the town of Guffey, named for one of Dewey’s partners, sprang up a mile or so downstream from the crossing. Guffey was the railway terminal for a time, and grew to be quite a respectable little town. Shippers transferred their freight to wagons for the long climb into the mountains.

Then crews laid the tracks into Murphy. The transfer point quickly moved there once trains began arriving. At the time, developers had high hopes for the mines around Silver City, but those optimistic notions never panned out.

In fact, the original concept called for the tracks to continue into the town of Dewey, a few miles from Silver City. That would have required the construction of another 25 miles of railway, with an ascent of over 3,800 feet. Needless to say, that line was never completed. By around 1912, all the big mines in the Silver City area had shut down.  Still, shipments of livestock and other agricultural products kept the railway going until 1947.

Today, Murphy – although it is the county seat of Owyhee County – has a population of less than two thousand. Hardly a trace of Guffey remains … but the Guffey Bridge is still in place as a pedestrian crossing.

Citizens of Twin Falls hailed August 7, 1905 as “Railroad Day,” for that was when the first train on the Minidoka and Southwestern Railroad arrived in town. The Milner Dam project, promoted by Ira B. Perrine [blog, May 7] brought irrigation to the plains south of the Snake River Canyon. That, in turn, spurred the formation and growth of Twin Falls.

In late 1904, further promotion by Perrine and others initiated the construction of a branch line to run from Minidoka to Buhl. The promoters also created the town of Burley where the tracks crossed the Snake River [blog, July 19]. As the tracks neared Twin Falls, townspeople planned a gala celebration in anticipation of their arrival. Celebrants rode into town from all over the region for the big day.
Buhl Depot. Twin Falls Public Library.

In fact, a special dispatch to the Idaho Statesman (published August 8, 1905) on the big day said that, “About 350 people came in this morning on the train, and hundreds came from all portions of the surrounding region by team.”

The dispatch writer estimated that “Five thousand people are in Twin Falls tonight celebrating the advent of the Minidoka & Southwestern railroad to the metropolis of the Twin Falls region.”

The railroad’s arrival sparked an even greater surge in the growth of Twin Falls. Within a few weeks, local stockmen began shipping substantial numbers of sheep and cattle from their depot. In less than a decade, the town had a population of about eight thousand. Similar expansion occurred at the terminus of the line in Buhl, which was incorporated in 1908.
                                                                                 
References: [French], [Hawley], [Illust-State]
“Boise, Nampa & Owyhee Railroad (1896-1898),” Reference Series No. 218, Idaho State Historical Society (January 1993).
Jim Gentry, In the Middle and On the Edge, College of Southern Idaho, Twin Falls, Idaho (2003).
A Historical, Descriptive and Commercial Directory of Owyhee County, Idaho, Owyhee Avalanche Press (January 1898).

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