Monday, December 26, 2016

Canal Builder and Idaho Falls Mayor Joseph Clark [otd 12/26]

Mayor Clark. Idaho Falls Post-Register.
On December 26, 1837, future Idaho Falls Mayor Joseph A. Clark was born in Randolph County, North Carolina, south of Greensboro. The family owned slaves, but Joseph’s father so opposed the institution that he freed them and later moved the family to Indiana. After graduating from a small Indiana college in 1862, Joseph began a career as a civil engineer.

Starting in 1872, Joseph served five consecutive terms (10 years) as county Surveyor for Hendricks County, Indiana (west of Indianapolis). Then, in 1885, he and his family moved to (then) Eagle Rock, Idaho. At that time, stock raising far surpassed crop production in the area.

 When Clark arrived, a number of cooperatives and private companies were trying to expand regional canal systems to allow greater irrigated agriculture. Joseph found work there and also, in 1887, received a contract from the U. S. General Land Office to survey portions of the Lemhi and Nez PercĂ© Indian reservations.

By the late 1880s, companies had built several larger canals systems and much more extensive acreage came into production. In 1891, land developers/speculators led a successful campaign to change the town’s name to Idaho Falls. Their promotions were indeed successful in attracting more settlers.

Among the newcomers were farmers who founded New Sweden to the west of Idaho Falls. They then constructed a considerable canal system there, and established the first formal Irrigation District in the Upper Snake River valley. Clark was one of the principles in the construction of the Great Feeder Canal, which delivered its first water in the summer of 1895. The Feeder and its auxiliary canals eventually became the largest irrigation system in the Upper valley.
Great Western Canal construction.
Bonneville County Historical Society.

By 1897, irrigators were operating over 500 miles of major canals in Bingham County alone. (At that time Bingham encompassed today’s Bingham and Bonneville counties.) Besides his investments in canal projects, Clark also operated an Idaho Falls mercantile store.

In 1899, the village Board elected Joseph as its chairman. A year later Idaho Falls qualified as a “city of the second class” – a designation primarily based on population. Clark was then elected as the city’s first mayor.

For several years before that, ambitious developers had tried to promote an electrical power system for the growing city. Clark had been one of the most active backers of the idea. Finally, he and other advocates persuaded voters to pass a bond election for a municipal power plant. As a result, a hydro-power plant soon went into operation [blog, Oct 22].

Joseph left office in 1902. Meanwhile the city continued to grow: The Oregon Short Line railroad built a new station, some streets were paved, two new banks opened, and the main city school was expanded.

Clark passed away in September, 1905. His son Nathan had been the first chairman of the village boards and another – Barzilla – would twice serve as mayor of Idaho Falls. Barzilla [blog, Dec 22] and a third son, Chase, each served a term as Idaho governor. The entire family would play a substantial role in business development in and around Idaho Falls.
References: [Illust-State]
Annual Report of the Commissioner of the General Land Office for the Year 1887, Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. (1887).
Mary Jane Fritzen, Idaho Falls, City of Destiny, Bonneville County Historical Society, Idaho Falls (1991).
“Golden Jubilee Edition, 1884–1934,” Idaho Falls Post-Register (September 10, 1934).
John V. Hadley (Ed.), History of Hendricks County, Indiana … , B. F. Bowen & Co., Indianapolis, Indiana (1914).

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