Upper Snake River Valley Historic Society
A newspaper article appeared in the Standard/Journal in April, 1965, asking for anyone interested in helping to form a historical society to meet at Ricks College on April 23rd. Thirty-six history minded people showed up at the David O. McKay Building that day. They were led in a discussion by Professor Norman A. Ricks and Professor John Nash. It was agreed by all that there was a need of collecting and preserving articles such as farm tools, furniture, diaries, pictures, letters, etc., while they could still be found. After much discussion a motion was made by Gale Reeser that there be an historical society formed in the Snake River Valley. Up to that time there were no historical societies in the Upper Snake River Valley. The motion was seconded and it passed unanimously.
The next week a group met to pass on a proposed constitution. The name of The Upper Snake River Valley Historical Society was formally adopted. The area to be covered by the Society was the counties of Bingham, Bonneville, Jefferson, Madison, Teton, Clark, and Fremont. Thirteen board of directors were appointed and John Nash was made chairman of the Society to serve until October 1965. The board members were Professor Norman A. Ricks, Professor John Nash, Dr. Blair Rich, Dr. Blaine Passey, Louis J. Clements, Darrell Huskey, Dick Smith, DeWayne Wilding, Parley Rigby, Martha Pond, Eldred Lee, Orville Larsen, Terrell Arnold, and Dorothy Hegsted as secretary.
On May 12 the Constitution and by-laws were presented and approved. At the next meeting of the board a new chairman was elected as Mr. Nash was leaving his position at Ricks College. Norman Ricks was elected and was to serve for almost five years.
With no budget and a limited membership there were no funds to really progress but the society was active in the community and in trying to rouse interest in its success. A booth at the Madison County Fair drew large crowds and created a great amount of interest. Many people were willing to give items to the Society as soon as there was a place to put them.
At the annual fall meeting held November 17, 1965, Dr. M. D. Beal of Idaho State University was the guest speaker. He expressed pleasure at the organization of a historical society and gave several pointers on how to keep it going.
The spring meeting was held in April 1966, and the speaker was David Crowder. He spoke on the history of Chief Tendoy. He joined the Board of Directors of the society shortly after this meeting.
The nature of the public meetings soon came to follow a pattern. The fall meeting was to feature the family of one of the prominent men of the early history of the area. The spring meetings were to feature history and guest speakers. Over the years there were many families so honored. This tradition still continues today.
In March 1967 a series of historical articles began appearing in the local papers of Rigby, Rexburg, St. Anthony, and Ashton. These short essays on history were prepared by Historical Society Board of Director, Louis Clements. They appeared under the heading of the Society and gave more publicity to the organization. This went on for almost four years and there were one hundred and fifty of them.
A contest was held at the Madison County Fair to challenge the public to design a seal for the Society. There were many entries and winners were picked. But the Board ended up designing the seal from the winning model.
On March 21, 1970, the Society found a home. Board director, DeWayne Wilding opened a new business (gun shop) and allowed the Society to rent half the space for a museum. Display counters were organized and artifacts arranged in a pleasing manner at his building on College Avenue. There was a large crowd in attendance at the grand opening and a lot of positive comments were made. The museum was to be there for viewing and for donations to be made until it was destroyed in the Teton Flood (1976).
At the meeting of the Board in October 1970, Chairman Norman Ricks resigned. He had been called to be a Bishop and felt he could not continue to serve. Harold S. Forbush was elected to succeed him.
The 1st Annual History Fair took place on April 9-10, 1971. It was held in the Madison High School auditorium (when the high school was located on the east side of Rexburg) on the first night with a program by Ed Williams featuring a slide show on the climbing of the Tetons. The second day was held in the Madison Jr. High School gym (when the Jr. High was in the building on Main Street across the street east of Broulim’s) and featured historical displays and collections of people in the valley. The public was invited to come to the displays and visit with the collectors. It was a super success and several were held in the following years.
It was in the spring of 1971 when the decision was made by the Board to begin a quarterly historical publication to provide a venue for researchers and writers to tell the history of the Valley. The original name was The Upper Snake River Valley Historical Society Quarterly. Two years later the name was changed to Snake River Echoes. Over the 37 years of publication this journal has gathered a treasure of Valley history and made it available to the public. In 1986 this publication won the Wyoming Historical Society publication award of the year with an issue on Star Valley, Wyoming.
With an eye on being able to serve the public and make information available at the least amount of expense, in 1971 the Society began to sponsor field trips to historical sites. The first was to the battlefield of the Nez Perce in Kilgore and was followed over the years by visits to numerous places in Eastern Idaho including Birch Creek Indian writings, Camp Henry, Caribou City, Chesterfield, Defense Caves, Fort Hall, Fort Henry, Fort Lemhi, Gilmore, Teton Valley, etc.
The Birch Creek field trip was held in conjunction with the Idaho State Historical Society. The director of that society told the Upper Snake River Valley Historical Society officials to not be disappointed if there was an absence of patrons on the trip as history was not a really popular subject. Then the cars began to appear. There was a line of 130 automobiles stretched out across the desert raising a high column of dust. This was one of the most memorable of the field trips held by the society.
As the college began to grow it became less desirable as a place to meet and the board meetings were moved to the home of Dr. Blair Rich above Center Street. Later, when he moved west to the banks of the Snake River the meetings went with him. Meetings were held there until the Society moved into the Rexburg Tabernacle with the opening of the Teton Flood Museum in 1981.
The Historical Society rejuvenated the Pierre’s Hole Rendezvous in 1972. A large boulder of granite was brought out of the Teton Canyon and placed on the south end of Driggs. A program was held and the area designated as part of the site of the 1832 trapper rendezvous. The Society also had a committee that organized the whole celebration in the Valley that 4th of July. Since then the program has grown and been taken over by the community of Driggs.
In 1974 the first of several gold panning classes and mineral recognition were held. A lot of people signed up and were rewarded at the end of the classes with a field trip to Caribous Mountain where there was gold to be panned.
In April 1976 Jerry Glenn became the president of the Society and was to preside over the damage of the Teton Flood in June of that year. He was to also see to the storage of the remaining artifacts. This on top of trying to care for his own home which also sustained severe flood damage. Kendall Ballard assumed the reins of the chairmanship of the society in late 1979. Then he moved his business to St. Anthony and Louis Clements became the Chairman in early 1980.
A committee had been formed to find a new home for the Society and for a museum. They had been investigating the possibility of the LDS Tabernacle building in Rexburg as it had been abandoned by the Church as a usable building. The flood sealed the fate of the building as it was damaged in the interior. The Church wanted to tear it down but the committee prevailed upon them and with a $75,000 grant from the Department of the Interior, it was purchased by the City. The Historical Society committee was the group that got the grant. Part of the agreement was that a museum was to be opened in the basement of the building. With a continued fund raising campaign, the remodeled basement of the building opened as the Teton Flood Museum on June 5, 1981, the 5th anniversary of the flood. The Society won the Orchid Award for preservation from the State of Idaho this year.
Madison County now made an appropriation each year to the support of the Historical Society. With this in mind a move was made to organize historical groups in the various counties of the Upper Valley. Up to this time there were delegates on the Board from each of the counties of the Upper Valley. Now historical societies were organized by the Upper Snake River Valley Historical Society in various places in the valley. The following societies were part of the ongoing organizing efforts: Island Park Interpretive Society, Fremont County Historical Society, Jefferson County Historical Society, Sugar City Historical Society, Mud Lake Historical Society, Howe Historical Society, and the Bonneville County Historical Society.
In 1983 Chairman Louis Clements was the speaker at the Rexburg Chamber of Commerce Farmers & Merchants banquet and he outlined the events that were being held in conjunction with the Rexburg Centennial:
1. March - Centennial Ball at Ricks College Manwaring Ballroom.
2. July - Rexburg Centennial Musical “We Can Do It.”
3. Book on Rexburg by David Crowder
4. Buffalo Bar-b-que outside the museum in the parking lot.
5. Individual area historical programs in Archer, Lyman, Burton, Hibbard, Plano, Salem, Teton City, Newdale, Sugar City, and Herbert.
The above events were held with large crowds in attendance.
Another program of the Historical Society was to honor each year a prominent historian who has made a contribution to the preservation of the heritage of the valley. These people have come from all corners of the Snake River Valley and each has made a significant contribution to the Valley.
The costs of maintaining the Teton Flood Museum soon became to large an obligation for the budget of the Society. An agreement with the City of Rexburg gave the running of the museum to the City and the Society loaned their collection of artifacts to the museum. The Society then took over the two rooms on the north entrance part way up the stairway. This is where the office of the Society is located today (2011)