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A Brief History of Caldwell, Idaho

The valley is surrounded by the Owyhee, Weiser and Boise mountain ranges that rise steeply to 8-9,000 feet above sea level and range in distance from eight to twenty miles away from Caldwell, surrounding the Treasure Valley. The slopes are partly covered with sagebrush, which gives way to chaparral, then to ridges of fir, pine, spruce and juniper. Recreational activities are a highlight of Idaho and the Caldwell area provides access to a variety of enthusiasts from rock hounds to river rafters, skiers to hot springs lovers, trail riders to hikers and much, much more.

For residents, Caldwell is a pleasant mix of old and new, with many things close to home such as schools, churches, parks and downtown. Even as we grow, a strong sense of community remains integral to life in Caldwell.

You are welcome to browse our Community Calendar below. If you wish please
click here to visit the City of Caldwell Website for more information about our fair city.

- The City of Caldwell Events Calendar

A Historical Walking Tour

"Welcome to the Cleveland Boulevard and Upper Dearborn Street neighborhood of Caldwell - an area rich in the lore of our town. This is not the oldest residential district of Caldwell, but grew between 1900 and 1940. Carrie and Robert Strahorn founded the town in 1883 as a commercial center for the Railroad, and it didn't take long for many settlers to 'move up' from a tent to a modest house, and then to a fine home. This area represents a 'fine home' phase of Caldwell's growth."

- A Historical Walking Tour. Caldwell Historic Preservation Commission, Susan M. Stacy, n.d. Print.

Download the brochure here

Caldwell History

Rich in history, Caldwell began as nothing but sagebrush, volcanic soil, deer, jackrabbits, and a vision in the eyes of the farsighted. Its inception and growth occurred largely because of the railroad, and in fact, the towns established by the railroad brought more people into the territory than the earlier gold rushes.

Image: Potato Harvest, Caldwell

Potato Harvest, Caldwell

For a time, Caldwell was known as Hamburg, after Jake Ham established a blacksmith shop here. An early railroad camp for construction employees of the Oregon Short Line Railroad nearby was dubbed Bugtown and the community shared this name as well. Caldwell burst into existence suddenly and grew rapidly with its eleven saloons and a private water pump – an oasis in the desert area of sage and ankle-deep alkali dust.

Image: Caldwell Depot - 1907

Caldwell Depot - 1907

In August of 1883 the original town site was platted parallel to the Oregon Short Line rail tracks (later to become part of Union Pacific). The property was owned by the Idaho and Oregon Land Improvement Company, which was interested in persuading settlers and businessmen to move here. The group ignored compass and section lines and established the town site in honor of the company’s president, C.A. Caldwell, ex-senator from Kansas. Others prominent in the company’s operation included Robert E. Strahorn, vice-president and Howard Sebree, Caldwell’s first mayor. By January 1884, there were more than 600 residents and 150 structures, 40 business operations, one school, a telephone exchange and two weekly newspapers (the Caldwell Tribune and Caldwell Record) in the community of Caldwell. Two months later there were several churches and social activities including an amateur theatrical group, a skating rink, and the Caldwell Silver Cornet Band. The first circus in 1884 drew from surrounding areas and had 7000 paid admissions. The date of ordinance establishing Caldwell as a city is January 15, 1890. The College of Idaho, a Presbyterian college, was founded in Caldwell in 1891.

Image: Saratoga Hotel on right and City Hall at center looking south from the Depot

Saratoga Hotel and City Hall

In 1882, Caldwell endured a major fire with an estimated loss of $20,000 to business and property. However, the expansion of the town continued. Orchards were set out, and farmland fenced in. In January 1884, Carrie Leech became the first schoolteacher, with 30 students attending her classes.

The Caldwell Fair Association was organized in the spring of 1897. The fair was held for three days with 25 cents being the price of admission. The Caldwell Board of Trade, the forerunner of the current Caldwell Chamber of Commerce, was established that same year for the purpose of influencing an increase in immigration by advertising the favorable manufacturing opportunities available and taking advantage of any other means of furthering the cause of the town.

Image: Van Buren School

Van Buren School

The city was officially chartered by the order of the Ada County Commissioners on January 15, 1890, with its boundaries (six square miles) set around the railroad. On March 7, 1891, Canyon County was created as a separate entity from Ada County, and Caldwell was named the county seat.

The College of Idaho, also established in 1891, is the oldest institution of higher learning in the state. It continues to be known as one of the best liberal arts colleges in the entire country.

During this time a complete water system from pure artesian wells was installed under municipal ownership.

Image: Main Street 1910 - Looking East from the Depot

Main Street - 1910

For several years during the early 1890's, the Boise Interurban provided electric streetcar service to valley towns including Caldwell. One of the town's greatest periods of growth took place between 1905 and 1908 when the population grew to approximately 5,000 an increase of nearly 4,000 in three years!

In 1959, the first change in city government took place when the council authorized a full time salaried mayor.


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