Yesterday I wrote about our best 2018 destination, Bendigo: today is for our worst, Idaho City, Idaho. Worst doesn’t mean not historical. It just means we didn’t find it especially worth going there, and Ruth and I were in this small community on a festive occasion, the 4th of July. We even got to watch Idaho City’s patriotic parade. However, the town lives on past glory and is seedy.
Australia had a gold rush centered in Bendigo, and everybody who studies American history learns about the California gold rush. Few, however, know about the Idaho gold rush that centered in Idaho City. Gold was discovered here during the 2nd year of the Civil War and probably didn’t get much attention as a result. Before Idaho City began its long decline, it had 250 businesses and was the largest population center in the Northwest. It was larger than Portland, Oregon. Most of the gold had been recovered by the year after the Civil War ended.
A fire devastated the town in 1865 one month after the Civil War peace treaty was signed. Some of the brick buildings that replaced wooden ones remain. The creeks in the area were panned out in 5 years, and the miners went on to other gold-producing places. Even so, $250 million worth of ore had been found, which is more than was discovered in the Klondike and California. Almost 94 tons of gold came out of the Boise Basin according to some local estimates. The Union might not have won without the gold that flooded into the national treasury from distant Idaho.
Idaho City sits in the Boise Basin only 40 miles from Idaho’s capital. Other towns in the area have fallen on hard times too. For example the town of Placerville has only about 50 residents now, down from 3,000 at its height.
Idaho City’s Boise Basin Museum is currently in an 1867 brick post office. If you like mining museums and wild west places, you’ll probably rate it excellent. Other gold rush era survivors include the Pioneer Cemetery, a jail, the Pon Yam Chinese Museum, a Catholic church, etc. The drive up from Boise takes you from a Mediterranean climate to green mountain glory.