From prehistoric times until well into the 20th century Native Americans visited the Wood River Valley in the warm weather months. Fur trappers roamed the inter-mountain Rockies in the early 1800s and Alexander Ross led a band of trappers into the area for a look-see in 1824. The first mining claim was filed in the Gold Belt west of Hailey in the summer of 1865.
Settlers and miners, however, did not come to the area in earnest until 1879. Things got really serious in 1881, when on July 1 the first shipment of ore left Hailey.
It weighed 22,000 lbs. (11 tons) and contained 154.5 ounces of silver to the ton. The mining boom continued until the mid-1890s when many of the veins played out and the bottom fell out of the silver market.
The town's founder, John Hailey, was an early pioneer in the Northwest who took part in the Boise BasinGold Rush in 1862. He established an extensive stage and freight line and at one time controlled 2,000 miles of service.
Betting that the Wood River Valley was going to be a center of mining and commercial activity, Hailey filed a homestead on the future town site in 1879. The next year, he increased his holding with a desert land claim of 440 acres. Calling themselves the Hailey Town Company, Hailey, A.H. Boomer, U.S. Marshal E.S. Chase and WEL Riley had the town site surveyed April 20, 1881 and officially platted at the county seat in Rocky Bar, May 10,1881. The speculation paid off. By July 6, $30,000 worth of lots had been sold.
In 1882, when the Town Company sold to the Idaho and Oregon Land Improvement Company for $100,000, the transaction included 2,500 acres in Quigley Gulch (east of town) and 8,000 acres in Croy Gulch, the site of the Hailey Hot Springs Hotel (west of town).
On August 24, 1882, the town site was amended, expanding from 72 blocks to 140 blocks. This annexation process would continue sporadically throughout Hailey's history, reaching a peak with the Woodside extension to the south in the 1970s and the Northridge addition in the 1980s. The original Old Town plat, however, remains the heart of the town.
The town John Hailey and his friends laid out is the quintessence of a 19th century town- now copied in new town developments such as Seaside in Florida. In the residential part the wide tree-lined streets provide an open inviting avenue for course and discourse. The long narrow lots march back to alleys-an added living space, and by common agreement (before planning and zoning directives) homes were set back 25 feet from the street.
At the time the town boasted a population of 2,700, housed in hundreds of tents, plus 75 buildings and five saloons, where "first class liquor is sold at two bits a drink." By 1884, Sheriff C.H. Furey had issued 18 saloon licenses and 12 gambling licenses. "Round the clock' gambling, including poker, faro and roulette was de rigueur."
In the beginning the various elements of society joined together in common purpose, working hard during the day and hurrying off to a dance at night. 'Someone would pass the word along to the next one- 'there'll be a dance tonight'- and in an hour or two everyone would be there.' The first dance was held at the Riley and Tracy drugstore, a tent with a roof of bed ticking located at the northwest corner of Bullion and Main. The dances were later held on the upper floor of the Grand Central Hotel.
The egalitarian society continued until 1883, when in an attempt "to separate the gambling and saloon elements from social functions," a secret group was formed. Thereafter, every invitation was signed "By order of the Committee" and the gentlemen arrived at dinner and social affairs in the accepted dress attire of the day. Few knew for sure who "the Committee" was, but it was suspected that Homer Pound and his sister Florence, who was described in a local paper as "a cultural la-di-dah" T.E. Picotte, editor of that very same paper, and members of the Republican led "Hailey Ring," had not a little to do with it. It is certain they all received invitations to all the social affairs.
From Bullion Street north on River Street was the Red Light District and some 75 "shacks" where the Chinese population lived. The alley behind the Main Street businesses and homes was the dividing line. Beyond was a place "we didn't know very much about. We just knew that was their territory and the rest of us didn't go near," a woman on the "right" side of Main Street said.
Generations of youngsters would sell buckets of berries to the residents of River Street over the alley fence and neophyte newspaper boys would learn not to haphazardly toss the paper and run, but instead deliver it to the front door of each "house."
By all evidence, 19th century Hailey offered a varied, seldom boring, active life to all walks of life in an incredibly intimate, indelibly human atmosphere. Other boomtowns have faltered and turned to dust, but the people of Hailey have persevered.
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