Historical Sketch of Heyburn - Eva Warner

Historical Sketch of Heyburn, Idaho

“The Town that Refused to Die”

Compiled and written by Eva Warner, March, 1970


Heyburn, originally named Riverton, is the fourth oldest community in the Mini-Cassia area and the second frontier town to be settled in what is now the county of Minidoka.


After the Civil War, and following the Oregon Trail days, cattle men and sheep men began to come into southern Idaho to run their flocks and herds.  In the spring of 1904, the Twin Falls tract and the Minidoka Project opened up and by fall, many people were swarming over the area looking for homesteads and a place to settle down.


About this time, a placer board was anchored in the Snake River in the vicinity of the present town of Declo.  It was soon brought down the river and anchored near the railroad trestle, where a Mr. Ferrin – the owner – lived in it and operated a hotel and restaurant on it, for it was a houseboat.


As more people decided to settle here, they began filing claims on homesteads and building lumber shacks for their families.  They had to travel to Hailey to file their claims, by horseback or lumber wagon, as that was the nearest land office.  Irrigation ditches and canals were dug so they could have water on the land; sagebrush was grubbed by hand and crops were planted by people who came from all over America.  There were farmers, carpenters, doctors, miners, teachers and merchants; so many places of business soon began to function at the new town site. 


As business progressed, there was a bank, a newspaper, three lumber yards, a brick yard, a doctor’s office, railroad depot, a general store, two grocery stores, a meat market, a millinery store, a hardware and seed store, a harness shop, rooming houses, restaurant, a barber shop, a cream station, a livery board and a saloon, as well as two or three churches and a school, and later a movie theater and telephone exchange.


The years 1908 or 1910 to 1920 saw the peak of population and early in this period it was reported that as many as 5,000 people came in to town for a celebration.  


Senator Heyburn came to the Territory of Idaho in the winter of 1883, from Leadville, Colorado, to practice law in the Coeur d’Alene mining country in Shoshone County.  He served in the United States Senate from 1903 until his death on October 17, 1912.  He was instrumental in the conversion of the Territory of Idaho into the State of Idaho. 


For a number of years, Heyburn was quite prosperous in a limited way, but year-by-year, the town surrendered to nearby towns that sprung up such as Rupert, Paul, and Burley.


During the depression, the bank closed its doors and many of the businesses also closed their doors and moved away.  The buildings they had occupied were eventually torn down or moved away until only one grocery store was left.  This store weathered the decline of the town and is still doing a thriving business; first as Holsten’s General Store and now as Mac’s Market.


Although the town declined severely for a while, it refused to die.  A good school had been established and one of the churches, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, continued to grow and add strength to the community.  When the Heyburn Ward was organized June 10, 1910, it took in all the territory from Minidoka Dam west to Jerome and from the Snake River north to the lava beds.  Later branches, then wards, were organized at Acequia, Rupert, Paul, Eden and Emerson.  They first built a neat white frame chapel and later a fine brick chapel, which is a credit to the community. 


Heyburn has for years been an agreeable residential area with good schools and many local community activities.  The first school was held in a two-room building on a hill north of the railroad track, then in 1906, a three-room schoolhouse was built just south of the present grade school, and in 1908, a four-room brick building was completed and the school enrollment was 168.  Children walked, rode horseback, or came to school in buggies.  Later, an auditorium was added to the school as attendance increased. 


After the decline of the town and when new interests came in, one of the finest was the Heyburn Art Exhibit.  This was started by Superintendent J.M. Whiting while he was connected with the School from 1935 to 1940.  He had been associated with the Springville School in Utah where the Springville Art Exhibit was held and wished to bring some of the same cultural benefits to Heyburn.


His idea was to start a collection of oil paintings at the school; hanging at least one picture a year for the collection.  Mr. Whiting recognized his limitations in the field of art, so he enlisted the professional aid of a young artist, Olaf Moller, who had married one of our Heyburn High School English Teachers, Miss Aenon Graham.  Through Mr. Moller’s influence, more and more artists exhibited each year until nearly every state was represented.  All the pictures that were hung represented a high professional standard.


The exhibits were held every spring and the guest book at one time showed that over 2,000 persons had attended during the two weeks run coming from all over Magic Valley and surrounding states.  These exhibits were free to the public and twice a week presented programs of outstanding talent from local sources, neighboring colleges and universities, and our own high school.  These exhibits continued until 1953, with only three years out during the war when social functions were limited, and resulted in a collection of 46 oil paintings, which is the largest privately owned art collection in the state.  These paintings still hang in the Heyburn Junior High School.  Needless to say, this brought much renewed interest to the town of Heyburn itself.


The way back was not easy, but enthusiasm has a way of catching on, and as municipal improvements were made, housing was modernized and industry and business was invited.


A tremendous boost to the growth of Heyburn came in 1956 when the J. R. Simplot Enterprise began excavating land along Highway 30 North in Heyburn from the Snake River with a mammoth construction project.  The result is the J. R. Simplot Potato Processing Plant – Heyburn Division.  Several million hundredweight of field run potatoes are now processed each year in the local plant with the majority of them grown here in southern Idaho.  Now included in the plant operations are a starch plant, processing plant for french fries, frozen and dehydrated products as well as huge cellars for storage, a modern motor pool, and service and overhaul facilities as well as greenhouse for test pilots.  Many hundreds of people have been brought into this area by the work involved in this plant alone. 


Other businesses and enterprises to come in include the Wendell Mill and Lumber Company and a coop fertilizer plant, both located just west of the train bridge on the north side of the river, another grocery store, an auto repair shop, Western Seeds and Fertilizer Company, and a child care center.  A modern laundromat is in the process of completion. 


All of this business and resulting population expansions is now benefiting from a modern sewer disposal plant, several oiled streets, additional electric lines, development of our existing park with playground and recreational facilities and two new parks, a fraternal lodge, a Chamber of Commerce, Lion’s Club and the changing of Heyburn from a village status to a city status with a population of 1,250 and climbing persistently through the years.


The LDS church was improved with an addition several years ago to accommodate a division of the ward, with Hard R. Hurst as bishop and Desmond Welch as bishop of the Heyburn 2nd ward, and these wards furnish much religious and cultural refinement to our city and community.


The School system advanced steadily from the four room yellow brick building which later gained an auditorium on the top floor and progressed into a combined grade school and high school, to the addition of three small portable buildings; then to a new high school in 1939.  In 1961, a fine new red brick primary grades building was completed to care for increased enrollment and now in 1970 we will see the completion of an additional five room facility with a complete new modern kitchen and multi-purpose room to adequate care for the near 800 enrollment of grades one through six.


Next year, our area 7th through 9th grade students will attend a nearby junior high school which is under construction and which will be ready for occupancy this fall with accommodations for 700; while our high school students have been attending a central county high school which reached a 1,600 capacity a few years ago.