With such a long and fascinating past, no article could possibly be long enough to cover Idaho’s rich settlement history. Today, we’re continuing to explore the Gem State’s oldest and most historical original towns, each with their own unique story and contribution to our awesome state. (
See our first list of historic towns here.)
1. Lewiston (1861)
Lewiston isn't just Idaho's original capital city. It's also home to Idaho's only seaport and the main source of the Oregon Short Line in Idaho. The original townsite was where Lewis and Clark first entered Idaho from the Pacific Coast.
2. Middleton (1910)
Despite having an incorporation date well after Idaho's official statehood, Middleton makes the list as the oldest town settlement in Canyon County, but you might also say that Middleton is one of Idaho's youngest cities as well. An intense legal battle prevented its official documentation from being filed until 1971. That being said, the town was actually founded in 1863; needless to say, Middleton has quite a history!
3. Almo (1881)
Best recognized for its proximity to the City of Rocks, Almo was once known as Durfeeville, after a prominent ranch land owner and original Mormon settler.
4. Moscow (1871)
Now home to Idaho's second largest university, Moscow was once named "Hog Heaven," "Palouse Valley," and finally "Paradise Valley," a name which still appears throughout the city after nearby Paradise Creek. Uniquely, Moscow as we know it today wasn't incorporated as a town until 1887, although it was well-established for nearly two decades prior; in fact, Moscow's development as a college town "middleground" was meant to appease North Idaho at the time.
5. Malad City (1864)
Despite being founded by Brigham Young himself, Malad City has a relatively undocumented history. The town was once a quickly growing trade stop between Idaho and Utah, situated on the Malad Road, but it wasn't until a small group led by Henry Peck created a thriving irrigation farming settlement that the town formally established itself.
6. Placerville (1864)
When gold was discovered in the Boise Basin in the early 1860s, Placerville (named for its use of placer mining) became a booming gold town with a population that rivaled many of Idaho's rural towns today -- somewhere around 5,000. So rich was the ore here that many of Placerville's original buildings were built up off the ground on stilt-like structures to enable mining underneath.
7. Craigmont (1891)
Craigmont, as one of the first towns to be formally established after Idaho's official statehood, has a unique history. When the Nez Perce Reservation opened for settlement, the tiny town of Chicago was formed, but confusion with Chicago, Illinois forced the town to change its name to Ilo. At the same time, on the opposite side of the tracks (literally), a man by the name of John Vollmer had started his own town and the two spent thousands of dollars trying to outdo each other in terms of growth and profit. The towns joined together in 1920 to form Craigmont.
8. Bellevue (1882)
One of Bellevue's claims to fame is its status as Idaho's only remaining chartered city, It was platted in 1880 and thrived as a silver mining town well into the last decade of the century. Eventually, Bellevue outgrew and outlasted nearby settlements due to its easy access from the Wood River Valley corridor -- a well-traveled road use by trappers, traders, and even even Native Americans.
9. Cottonwood (1862)
Cottonwood is renowned across the country for the Dog Bark Park Inn -- the giant beagle-shaped bed and breakfast which we've featured on here before. But Cottonwood was also an important supply town and resting point for miners and prospectors on their way to and from claims. The Monastery of St.Gertrude is also one of Idaho's most ornate churches, overlooking the beautiful rolling plains of the Palouse.
10. Silver City (1864)
Silver City was once one of the largest cities in the Idaho Terrtory, booming with thousands of residents and businesses even before Idaho was incorporated as a state. While never completely abandoned, its remote location leaves it often remembered as a mere ghost town, but as an oft-forgotten part of Idaho history. How often do you hear about Silver City spite being the first city in Idaho to have its own newspaper, and one of the first to have electricity?
Love me some Idaho history! Of course, there are plenty of towns that fall between and before the dates listed above – what’s your favorite “old” townsite and what sort of kooky history does it have?