AIC Shines Its Community Spotlight on Weiser Thursday, January 26, 2017 Posted by: Gay Dawn Oyler
Weiser is located at the northwest end of the Treasure Valley near the confluence of the Snake and Weiser Rivers. It is the county seat and largest city in Washington County. Fertile farmland and orchards surround most of the city and the Weiser River runs through it.
The Snake River forms the city’s western boundary and marks the state line between Idaho and Oregon. At Weiser, the Snake River turns sharply west for about 15 miles before turning north again.
The Payette National Forest lies 25 miles north and the Boise National Forest is 36 miles east.
For millennia, American Indians frequented the Southwestern Idaho area around Weiser. Archaeologists have excavated numerous prehistoric Indian artifacts a few miles west of town, 10 feet deep along Monroe Creek.
Thomas Galloway, Jacob Weiser and William Logan settled in what is now Weiser in 1863. Galloway operated a mail station from his small willow-log, dirt-floor cabin. Mail riders stopped for food and a place to stay the night, but they had to use their own blankets.
In the same year, Ruben Olds and two partners received a franchise from the first Idaho Territorial Legislature to build and operate a ferry across the Snake River on the Oregon Trail at Farewell Bend about 12 miles west of Galloway’s mail station. The law allowed them to charge $3 for a team and wagon, $1 for an extra team, 75 cents for a loaded pack animal, 50 cents for a returning pack animal, 75 cents for a horse and rider and 25 cents for each person on foot and each loose animal.
The origin of the name “Weiser”—which was first applied to the name of the river, then the bridge that spanned it and the valley—is not known. Some say the river was named after Jacob Weiser, a local settler who came in 1863. However, “Wisers” was also the name of a band of Indians and the name of a river shown on an 1818 map. As immigrants named Weiser came to America, their name was spelled in a variety of ways. It is more likely that the river was named after Peter M. Weiser, a member of the Lewis and Clark Expedition who, later, under employment with Manual Lisa’s Missouri Fur Company returned to Southwestern Idaho to trap and trade for beaver pelts.
Weiser Valley settlers divided the valley into two parts. The land between the Weiser and Snake Rivers, the location that included the site of what is now Weiser, was called “Lower Weiser.” They designated the northern end of the valley that included the small community of “Salubria,” meaning a favorable or healthy place and located just west of what is now Cambridge, as “Upper Weiser.”
Galloway successfully applied to postal authorities to convert his small mail station to a post office with the name “Weiser Bridge” and himself as postmaster. Residents dropped “Bridge” from the name of their community in 1887.
The town’s strategic location on a transportation corridor surrounded by a growing agribusiness community attracted a variety of lodging, retail and service businesses.
The Oregon Short Line Railroad began surveying a 424-mile route angling northeasterly across Southern Idaho from Granger, Wyoming, to Huntington, Oregon, around 1878.
Huntington was only two miles away on the western side of the Snake River and railroad surveyors were marking the exact route straight through Weiser Valley. The expectation of the railroad made Weiser an even more attractive location for new settlers who began buying and developing land in Weiser.
When the Idaho Territorial Legislature created Washington County on February 20, 1879, the voters picked Weiser over Salubria for the county seat. Two years later, taxpayers built the county courthouse and a one-room schoolhouse.
The anticipation of the railroad turned Weiser into a frontier boomtown. Railroad camp followers sat up their nefarious businesses in Weiser. In 1882 following two shootouts, Thomas Galloway wrote in the Idaho Statesman, “All the assaults, drag-outs, knock-downs, dirk carving and pistol practice of which we have heard so much has been intimately connected with one or the other of the whiskey mills in Weiser City.”
In 1883 as construction of the railroad neared Weiser it stopped south of town while the railroad bridge across the Snake River was completed.
At this time W.E. Strahorn, a land speculator and townsite promoter who developed Caldwell, began buying land along the surveyed rail line east of the present depot in the name of his company, the Idaho and Oregon Land Improvement Company. There he platted a town—which he named New Weiser—and started a marketing campaign to sell lots. Strahorn apparently had an agreement or understanding with the railroad that it would build its depot in New Weiser.
However, when Weiser residents discovered what was happening, they instigated a storm of protest, as they had major investments in the existing town. The railroad relented and in 1885 built its permanent depot in Weiser where the present depot now stands. Located too far from the train depot, Strahorn’s New Weiser development withered until, several years later, when it gradually became part of Weiser.
The advent of motor vehicles spelled an end of Olds Ferry at Farewell Bend. In 1904 federal and state governments financed construction of a motor vehicle bridge over the Snake River that linked up with Highway 201 in Oregon. They named the road U.S. Highway 95 Spur.
Weiser became incorporated as a village on October 12, 1887. Two years later, the town changed its legal status to an incorporated city.
Intermountain Institute—Private Boarding High School for Rural Children
Founded in 1899 as the Idaho Industrial Institute to provide children who lived too far out in the country to attend high school with the opportunity to obtain an education, it changed its name to Intermountain Institute in 1915. Over the years, its students came from eight states and one foreign country. In addition to attending classes, all students worked five hours per day to pay for part of their tuition, room and board. The school educated more than 2,000 students during its 34-year existence. The institute closed in 1933 and in 1939 deeded the property for use by the public school district. When a new high school was built in 1967, the Institute property was vacated. Today, the property is home to the Old Time Fiddlers Festival and the Snake River Heritage Center.
Amenities and Attractions Today
Weiser is known far and wide for the annual National Oldtime Fiddlers’ Contest and Festival held the third week of June. It attracts hundreds of contestants from across the nation. Thousands of spectators join each year’s celebration, which includes wonderful foot-stomping music and a carnival.
Another major event is the Weiser Valley Round-Up & Rodeo on the second weekend of June.
The city has a golf course and seven municipal parks, one of which is the historic Oregon Short Line Railroad Depot.
The Snake River Heritage Center displays artifacts and exhibits about the social and economic history of the region. The museum is in H.M. Hooker Memorial Hall on the grounds of the historic Intermountain Institute. The Intermountain Institute was a private boarding high school from 1899 to 1933. The museum is open from Memorial Day through Labor Day. Private tours are available by appointment.
In the wake of an 1890 fire, many building owners rebuilt with brick. Several of these brick buildings still stand and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.