The Moving of a Town
The first permanent settlement of American Falls was founded in 1800 and located on the West bank of the Snake River, on the opposite side of the river from the present location. In 1888, the “town” was moved across the river to the (what is now called) “original town site”.
In 1925, the Bureau of Reclamation began the job of moving American Falls once again to make way for the American Falls Dam. The most difficult part of building the 94-foot-high and 5,277-foot-long composite concrete and earthen dam was not its construction and financing, but resolving the problems that the 23 mile long reservoir would have on the businesses. In all 344 residents, 46 businesses, three hotels, one school, five churches, one hospital, six grain elevators, and one flour mill were moved from the original town site, making this the largest government relocation project of its time! Depending on the quality of the building, dwellings would be relocated to one of three neighborhoods on the east, south and west side of the new town square.
The new city was platted on higher ground and had a park in the center of town; commerce lots would be on one side of the square faced by the government buildings on the other. Churches were to situated on the other two sides of the park, and homes were platted out from there. The alignment of the streets was not without controversy. The streets were laid out diagonally; parallel to the reservoir shore. Residents complained. “How will we teach our children north or south?” The city planners responded that the city was laid out so that the sun could shine in every window.
The Oneida Milling and Elevator Company’s grain elevator was the only structure that was not moved. Its 40-foot-deep foundation and 106-foot reinforced concrete walls still stand with its top rising above the water. It stands as a silent reminder of the remarkable history of American Falls.
The Dam was completed sixty days ahead of schedule on April 21, 1926. The dam’s gates where shut and the spring run-off started to collect in the reservoir which would eventually cover twenty-five miles upstream. On July 29, 1926 the “moving road” across the Dam was officially closed, ending the relocation of American Falls.
Historic Homes of American Falls
American Falls- a small, multicultural Idaho city of modest historical homes- was moved to their present site by a 1925 damming of the Snake River nearly a century ago. It is 20 miles from a state university and less than 3 hours from the metropolitan Salt Lake City. Within a day’s drive are several national forests, as well as, Craters of the Moon National Monument, Yellowstone and Teton National Parks. The City and Power County have many parks and recreation opportunities for residents, friends, and visitors to enjoy. It is a quiet and friendly city where you can afford to live
Power County Press June 25, 2014 page 1 and 7: “First Historical Homes” – “The goals of this action include protecting neighborhoods from physical deterioration and perhaps enhancement of property values by preservation of characteristics valued by local residents and visitors. Recognition of historic structures by the City Council carries with it a sense of pride for the owners and potential purchasers.” “The Bailey home on McKinley was home to Charles Johnson and family. Charles was the first superintendent of the power plant on the falls beneath the dam. His family lived in the power plant, but when his wife was scared one of their small children was going to fall into the river, they moved into the Bailey house in town. Kay Bailey’s parents bought the house from the Johnson family, and it was the house she was raised in.”
For more information about the history of American Falls, visit the AF History Site.