Early History

In 1810 Major Andrew Henry crossed a pass to enter that northeastern point of Idaho that is surrounded on three sides by Montana and Wyoming. He camped at the lake that was later to share his name. He followed the South Fork (Henry's) of the Snake River to enter the valley and built a fort just north of present Rexburg.

This was the first American fur post west of the Rocky Mountains. He stayed just a year, but through his descriptions of the streams and the abundance of beaver the area became a crossroads of many future trappers. Word spread as to the worth of the hunting and trapping that could be had along the Teton River which flows through Rexburg, and the two forks of the Snake River flowing to the north and south of the town.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) Church was having tremendous growth in the late 1800s. Thousands were pouring into Salt Lake City and Church officials were on the lookout for promising places to encourage the immigrants to move to.

The leaders of the Church chose Thomas E. Ricks to select the site for a town and to become the spiritual leader, Bishop, of all who would follow. Surveyor Andrew S. Anderson was with the first group of seven sleighs to arrive in the Rexburg area. The town was named Ricksburg after the Bishop. The name was changed to Rexburg, the German stem name for Ricks, before it was registered.

People started arriving and homes were being constructed. With many hands a log house could be erected in a day and the town began to take on the shape of a community. A typical pioneer brought seed for crops, seedlings for fruit trees, and food supplies for a year. By June 14, the city canal was begun to bring water to the town.

Grain was the primary crop in the early settlement period as it provided food for both man and beast. It also provided a money crop for the settlers. In 1898, dry farm wheat was grown on this land opening up a change that led to huge farms of potatoes in the 1900s.


From those early, small farms established by the pioneers in Rexburg, the cultivated land in Madison County has grown to over 172,000 acres. Another 40,000 acres are pasture and range land. There is an additional 12,645 acres of forest and woodland on the eastern side of the community.

Throughout the whole century, agriculture has been the main economic provider. Canals have wound their way through the whole area to bring much needed water. A sugar beet factory was constructed northeast of Rexburg in 1903. This brought about the creation of Sugar City.

A major change came to the community in 1900 as the St. Anthony Railroad continued its way through the valley all the way to Yellowstone Park after coming to Rexburg in November of 1899. This railroad established a valuable marketing service to the agricultural community. By 1915, a "loop" rail line was built to the west and the east of Rexburg to better serve the outlying areas.

Community leaders saw the potential of an economic boom as early as 1913 when they organized to improve the highway between Pocatello, Idaho and Yellowstone Park. Today this is the most traveled road to bring tourists to this national park.

Steady growth characterized the community as the college grew and a few industries came into the area. Most industry was associated with the agricultural business. However, in December, 1951 a 32 bed community hospital commenced service in town.

A modern airport was constructed on the western edge of the town in 1961. An extension was made to the runway in 1972 making it useful to the Ricks College aeronautical training program.

A major shock to the community came in 1976 with the collapse of the Teton Dam and the resulting flood. Water has been an important issue in the Rexburg area since its beginning. One of the solutions was seen to be the building of a dam on the Teton River about 15 miles northeast of Rexburg, which would supply needed water for the agricultural season.

Interestingly, the flood seemed to act as a stimulus to growth. Instead of losing population there was an increase of activity. Economic boom was the result of all the rebuilding. An 18-hole golf course was built. The highway leading out of town to the north became a business center with the addition of malls and new stores. Housing on the fringes of the community began to eliminate farms.


Rexburg has a population of 17,257 (2000) which is a 11.4% rise from 1990. It is located in a high country valley with an elevation of 4850 feet. The Teton Mountains can be seen to the east, the Centennial Mountains to the north, and many different mountain ranges drop into the desert to the west. The area is semi-desert with an annual precipitation of only 13.77 inches contributing to the urgency of water supplies throughout the history of the country.

Although agriculture remains first in economic impact in the community of Rexburg, many large business enterprises also dot the landscape. BYU-Idaho is the largest employer in the community. Artco, a mail order printing business, is next with several hundred employees. Technoloy companies have sprung up to take advantage of the large labor supply. Tourism is becoming a major impact to the community

located just a short drive from Yellowstone Park, from Jackson Hole, from Craters of the Moon National Monument, and from excellent hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities.

A group of college and community officials touring Europe with the Ricks College folk dance team decided to see if a folk dance festival could be started in Rexburg. The Idaho International Folk Dance Festival has been listed several times as one of the top 100 events to see in North America.

Started in 1888 as the Bannock Stake Academy, Rexburg's school of higher learning struggled to keep afloat through its early years. In 1902, the name changed to Ricks Academy in honor of the founder of the town. With the addition of higher education classes the name was changed to Ricks College in 1923. The Ricks name was to remain with the school until 2001 when the name changed to Brigham Young University Idaho.

The Rexburg Tabernacle Civic Center houses the Teton Flood Museum. In 1983 the museum opened its doors with a flood exhibit, historical exhibits, and special exhibits about the history of the Upper Snake River Valley. The library of the Upper Snake River Valley Historical Society has the most extensive collection of historical documents in the valley.

Becoming more popular each year with off road enthusiasts are the 20 miles of sand hills located just north of Rexburg. This sand is the left over of a huge lake that filled the Intermountain west until it drained to the Pacific through the Snake River. It is also a popular place for family picnics and hiking.

The combination of agricultural interests and recreation has transformed Rexburg into an environmentally clean community that can appeal to almost every interest. Expanding business has created an atmosphere of job opportunity. The future of growth in Rexburg seems to be assured.