~Canyon County~





   In 1883 the landscape of what was to become Canyon County was changed forever, when the Oregon Short Line Railway (a subsidiary of the Union Pacific) made its way from Granger, Wyoming to Huntington, Oregon. The sagebrush-covered ground was cleared and leveled so tracks could be laid, providing an opportunity for safer travel to the emigrants of the east. Towns sprung up about every 10 to 15 miles along the tracks. The county was established on March 7, 1891, with its county seat at Caldwell. It was partitioned from Ada County and originally included Payette County (1917) and the southern portion of Gem County (1915). Current sources attribute the name to the canyon of the Boise River near Caldwell. However, both John Rees and Vardis Fisher believed it was named for the Snake River canyon which forms a natural boundary for the county with Owyhee County. The cities of Canyon County include Caldwell, Greenleaf, Melba, Middleton, Nampa, Notus, Parma, and Wilder. Canyon County currently has a population of 188,923.


Caldwell Railroad Depot 1907


   Caldwell started out as nothing but desert, sage brush, volcanic soil, deer, and jackrabbits. Caldwell’s inception and growth occurred largely because of the railroad. In fact, the towns established by the railroad brought more people into the territory than the earlier gold rushes. For a time, Caldwell was known as Hamburg, after Jake Ham established a blacksmith shop. 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.

  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. 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.

City of Caldwell


John Greenleaf Whittier

  Greenleaf was named after Quaker poet and abolitionist John Greenleaf Whittier. The first settlers in the Greenleaf area were dry land farmers who came to homestead on the fertile agricultural land shortly after 1900. The soil quality was so good that the first orchards in the region were watered with water carried by horse-drawn wood water tanks from nearby rivers. Farming and settlement expanded with irrigation projects in the early 1900’s. A rail spur extending from the main line in Caldwell, Idaho through Greenleaf to the City of Wilder was put in, with original plans of expansion to San Francisco, California that did not come to fruition.

   Due to the fierce spirit of independence and close-knit culture of the community, incorporation as a city was not a priority. The City of Greenleaf incorporated in 1973 in response to the potential need for a community sewer system. With a water and wastewater improvement bond levy election in 2000, the city took ownership and responsibility for a water system and wastewater collection system operated to that point by a private water and sewer association.

City of Greenleaf


Photo of a few older buildings in Melba


   Settled in the midst of sagebrush, Melba became an oasis in the desert to the pioneers who had homesteaded south of there near the Snake River at the beginning of the 20th Century. The only sign of life was Sagebrush Annie, the train that went through the area and crossed the river to Murphy everyday. Folks on the north side of the river got their groceries and mail at the little town of Guffey in Owyhee County on the other side of the river. They walked across the train bridge or rode over on Perry’s Ferry.

   Clayton C. Todd was passing through the area on his way to Alaska to search for gold. He stopped over in Weiser to visit a friend, Mr. Fuller. Fuller told him about the new sale of state land going on. So, in August of 1912, Mr. Todd purchased 160 acres of land at Rock Spur, a siding on the railroad, and laid out a town. He named it after his little four-year-old daughter who was still in California with her mother, Bessie B. Todd.

   It was a boom town in the middle of the bustling farming community. Melba would always be known as a farming community. Right after the First World War, it would become famous for raising highbred sweet corn seed. While some were raising carrot seed, onion seed, alfalfa seed, as well as corn, for years it would be known as “The Seed Heart of America”.

   Middleton was named because it was midway between Boise and an old ferry on the Snake River. Middleton is the oldest settlement in Canyon County, with the land being parceled out in 1863 by William N. Montgomery. The Boise River flooded in 1872 and cut a new channel, isolating the town on an island; as a result, the town moved to a new location in the years after 1880. The town incorporated as a city in 1910 (although the certificate wasn’t issued until 1971.)

City of Middleton


Panoramic view of Nampa 1907


   It is not known for certain where the name “Nampa” came from. But as the Oregon Short Line was built through Idaho, unusual names were given to some of the stations. Many of these unusual names were believed to be of Indian origin. However, contrary to what many people thought, Nampa, Idaho is not the only place in the world with this name.  For example, there is a town in Canada named Nampa.

  Alexander and Hannah Duffes, with the encouragement of James McGee, saw the possibilities in the land east of Caldwell, and in 1885 homesteaded on 160 acres with the express purpose of creating a town. The next year, Duffes and McGee formed the Nampa Land and Improvement Company, dividing the property into lots. Duffes was a very religious man and dreamed of a town with no saloons. He refused to sell town lots to anyone who intended to build a saloon on them. This caused people to refer to the town of Nampa as “New Jerusalem”.

  Boise had been bypassed by the Oregon Short Line as they built west. But in 1887, the Idaho Central Railway was built, connecting Boise with the main line of the Oregon Short Line at Nampa. A wood frame structure was brought in from King Hill to serve as a passenger depot in Nampa.

  But it was the promise of irrigation that brought many emigrants to homestead in the land surrounding Nampa. During the season of 1890, the Phyllis Canal brought irrigation water to Nampa and surrounding areas, and in 1891, the extension of the Ridenbaugh Canal was completed. With the completion of these canals, an estimated 150,000 to 300,000 acres of prime farmland adjacent to Nampa could be cleared of sagebrush and put under cultivation. On April 17, 1891, a municipal government was formed and the town of Nampa was incorporated.

City of Nampa


  Homesteaders began arriving in Wilder as early as 1904 with the hope of irrigation water being provided soon with the development of the Boise Project. Referred to as a barren tract of sagebrush land, the area bloomed into one of the most fertile agricultural regions in the nation.

  The name “Wilder” is believed to have been named for Marshall P. Wilder, publisher of a popular woman’s magazine, “The Delineator.” Mr. Wilder allegedly offered to print a positive article about the community, if the town received his name. Many of the townspeople wanted to name the town “Golden Gate” after the first store built by E.M. Small named the Golden Gate Store which was located along the Oregon Short Line Railroad Company. Although the town did not acquire that name, other parts of the community did. A store, school, canal, church, irrigation district, and the highway district all received that name.

City of Wilder


  Notus – Has a population of 458



  Parma – The Old Fort Boise is located in Parma.

City of Parma



  Source: Wikipedia, City of Nampa, City of Wilder, City of Melba, City of Greenleaf, Caldwell Chamber of Commerce