Saturday, December 10, 2016

Franchise Granted for Taylor's Bridge Across the Snake River [otd 12/10]

On December 10, 1864, the Territorial legislature granted a bridge franchise to the Oneida Road, Bridge, and Ferry Company for a span across the Snake River in eastern Idaho.
Taylor’s Bridge, 1871. Library of Congress.

James Madison “Matt” Taylor was one of the principals in the Company.

In 1858, Taylor began hauling freight to a Colorado camp called Cherry Creek. When the camp became Denver, he purchased some lots. Then gold discoveries near Bannack (now a ghost town) and Virginia City, Montana set off a major rush into the area. Matt and many other like-minded men began hauling freight to the gold camps.

The earliest trains loaded wagons east of the Continental Divide, but suppliers soon established depots at Fort Bridger and north of Salt Lake. In either case, the traffic through Idaho generally passed near Soda Springs or Fort Hall.

A ford about sixty trail miles north proved to be a good spot to cross the Snake River. Then, in June 1863, entrepreneurs Harry Rickard and William Hickman began operating a ferry near the ford. An eagle’s nest on a nearby rocky island provided a name: Eagle Rock Ferry.

On a trip through the area in 1864, Taylor identified Black Rock Canyon, a few miles below the ferry, as an ideal place to build a bridge. Lava cliffs provided a solid foundation, so Matt attached a string to a rock and, after several tosses, measured the span: just 83 feet. That summer, Taylor and two partners purchased the ferry and incorporated the Oneida Road, Bridge, and Ferry Company. Matt then made the long trip to Lewiston – then the Territorial capital – and obtained the franchise.

The new bridge opened in 1865, supplanting the ferry. Taylor sited a stage station near the bridge and a tiny settlement sprang up. After unprecedented run-off washed away the first bridge, in 1867, one partner sold his interest to the others. That left Taylor and Robert Anderson as the sole owners. At considerable cost, the bridge was rebuilt using higher and sturdier abutments.

For many years, different records referred to the settlement at the crossing as either “Taylor’s Bridge” or “Eagle Rock.” Taylor later sold his interest in the bridge to Anderson and went into stock raising; after that, the name Eagle Rock was used almost exclusively.

When Utah & Northern Railway tracks reached the area in 1879 [blog, Apr 11], the railroad built its bridge not far from the original Taylor toll bridge.
Bridges at Eagle Rock, ca. 1880.
Utah State Historical Society.

The presence of the railroad spurred development in the area, especially when the company shops were located there. The Salt Lake Tribune reported (January 1, 1881) on the project: “The Utah & Northern Railway Company are now putting up buildings and making improvements in the town of Eagle Rock … About 150 men are at work now upon these improvements … Three large boarding houses have lately been erected and are filled with guests.”

By the time the railroad relocated those shops to Pocatello in 1887, ranching and agriculture had grown enough to ensure the survival of the town.

In 1891, developers seeking to capitalize on newly-irrigated land around the town led a successful campaign to rename the town Idaho Falls. For over a half century after that, agriculture was the mainstay of the Idaho Falls economy, and is still a major factor.
Reference: [Illust-State]
Barzilla W. Clark, Bonneville County in the Making, Self-published, Idaho Falls, Idaho (1941). 
“Eagle Rock Ferry,” Reference Series No. 71, Idaho State Historical Society (1982).

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