Idaho Falls - City of Destiny

Bonneville County Courthouse and Federal Post Office

Bonneville County. Explorers, trappers, traders, and mappers made Idaho a busy place from 1805 to 1843. As they worked their way along the streams and rivers of the state, many left their names on the lands they found. In 1832 Captain B.L.E. Bonneville received a two-year leave of absence from the U.S. Army to embark on an expedition to exploit the fur trade of the Rockies. Although he explored throughout the Snake River area from 1834 to 1836, Captain Bonneville never actually saw the area that now bears his name.

As the explored area became known to others, a settlement grew up at the site of Eagle Rock Ferry in the 1860s. By 1880, permanent settlement had begun. Mormon settlers filed claims, put in irrigation ditches, and established agricultural communities. When the Utah and Northern Railway was completed in 1881, Eagle Rock, later named Idaho Falls, became a division point and remained so until 1887.

Idaho became the nation's 43rd state July 3, 1890, but Bonneville County didn't come into being until 1911 when it was created by the Stte Legislature from the north and east parts of BIngham County. Idaho Falls then became the county seat. (From program for Idaho Centennial, Bonneville County Centennial Station, U. S. Postal Sevice, Jan. 8, 1990)

Bonneville County Courthouse

Bonneville County was created February 17, 1911, from Bingham County. The first courthouse was a two-story brick business building on the southeast corner of Broadway and Capital.

In that building, on July 9, 1912, the County Commissioners purchased a site at the end of C Street on which to build a courthouse, paying $7,600 for the property.

C Street was out in the country then. City planners intended it to be a nice tree-shaded street with ample parking leading directly to that hub of economic activity, the railroad station, four blocks east on C Street.

Courthouse and railroad station--at some time in their lives most people would be transacting business in one or the other of those locations. Six to eight times a day passenger trains pulled in, loading and unloading people, mail and produce. Countless freight trains puffed in and out with assorted cargo.

By 1919, Bonneville County was known as one of the big, wealthy and progressive counties of the state with the smallest indebtedness of any county. On June 3, 1919, citizens voted to bond the county for $250,000 to build a courthouse which would house a jail in the basement.

After traveling far and wide to look at other county courthouse buildings, the commissioners hired architects Fisher and Aitkins to draw up plans. These were approved August 12, 1919. Bids were called for October 21, 1919, contracts awarded December 1, 1919, to W. H. and E. M. Holden. Other contracts were awarded June 7, 1920, to North Pacific Construction Company, S. K. and George Mittry, owners, to complete the building, and to Tarbet Heating and Plumbing to install the plumbing and heating works.

On March 16, 1921, with bands playing, the handsome new courthouse, gaily draped in bunting, was formally opened. It was a beautiful day, befitting the opening of the Idaho Falls First Annual Spring Festival. An orchestra played in the basement during the afternoon and most of the 8,000 population of Idaho Falls and many others from surrounding communities crowded into the building.

People went on guided tours, commenting on the lofty ceiling, many windows, polished doors and artistic rostrum. The domed ceiling with the stained glass was called awesome. People praised the mosaic floors, marble pillars and decorations.

Captain Murphy from Dubois was the main speaker for the evening. After the speeches there was dancing in the rotunda with free punch for all. A flashlight picture was taken inside the building for publicity in the Kiwanis journal. The sheriff said the only place without a reception line was in the jail.

The only ones not rejoicing at the completion of the building were the Mittry brothers. The Commissioners had paid out monies available as work progressed until the $250,000 fund was used up. There was no money left to pay the remainder of the amount incurred by the Mittry brothers, $18,880. They filed suit on March 12, 1921, and Judge Robert Terrell ruled in their favor. The Commissioners appealed the case.

On November 27, 1923, the State Supreme Court ruled that the county could not legally pay out more than its bonded indebtedness. According to Alvin Denman, a practicing attorney in Idaho Falls for 60 years, the loss pretty much put the Mittry brothers out of the building contract business.

The Bonneville County Courthouse still faces east. The railroad station is long gone. But increased population and county business squeezed more and more activities into the courthouse.

To relieve the crowded conditions, an annex was built to the south. The City-County Law Enforcement Building, completed in 1978, houses the law enforcement division, the magistrates division, the jail and other related facilities.

When the courthouse was formally opened, the commissioners said proudly, "This building should be good for 50 years."

Not only has it served Bonneville County for all of that, it is well into its second 50 years. In addition, the Bonneville County Courthouse is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places as an example of neo-classical public architecture.

Submitter: Margaret Hawkes Lindsley
Sources: Wylie Snarr, Joe Marker, Rita Scott, Post Register of Sept. 30, 1979; Edith Haroldsen Lovell, Judge Linda Cook, Renee Magee of Idaho Falls Historic Preservation Committee; Bonneville Museum archives.

Editor's Note: The Idaho Falls Times of February ..., 1911, printed:

Now Bonneville County. Legislature Passes Measure Making Idaho Falls a County Seat.

Thursday last the house passed the Bingham county division bill, creating the county of Bonneville, with Idaho Falls as the county seat, by a vote of 58 to one. And thereby has Idaho Falls come to a realization of her hopes and aims after years of work and effort.

At one time considerable opposition developed against the bill, but that practically withdrew from the field and left the coast clear.

But slight changes were made in the bill as it was originally drawn up. The principal changes were the changing the name from Snake River county to Bonneville county, and making it a county of the second class instead of third. The latter was an error in drawing up the bill.

The county derives its name from Captain Bonneville, a soldier and explorer who came to the southwest in 1833 and remained two years, crossing the territory embraced in old Bingham county a number of times, spending part of one winter at Tilden. After the war with Mexico he was returned to Oregon by the War department. He served for a long time as commissioner of Indian affairs in Oregon and Washington.

A number of attempts have been made to divide Bingham county, but in every instance those in charge could not agree on what would be considered an equitable division; one that would be agreeable to a majority of the people of both the north and the south parts of the county.

When the question was agitated this winter, the Club of Commerce took hold of the matter and appointed a committee to meet a like committee from Blackfoot. The latter part of December these two committees met in this city and proceeded to get together on some plan for division.

U. S. Post Office and Postal Service

Mail service was established in the upper Snake River valley which was then in Oneida County in December 1866. The stage station was known as Eagle Rock and mail was postmarked Eagle Rock. The first postmaster was Robert Anderson, who served six months. Mail was carried by stage lines from Malad and Fort Hall in southern Idaho to Virginia City in Montana with stops at stage stations along the way.

The next postmaster was W. F. Bartlett, who was appointed in May 1867. Bartlett was a partner in the Oneida Road, Bridge and Ferry Co. He was succeeded by Tom Lauder in February 1868, who was serving as the Wells Fargo agent in Eagle Rock. Lauder served only 60 days as postmaster. He came west with the Adams brothers, John and William, who were also in the freighting business. The Adams brothers were supplying wood and hay to the Market Lake Stage Relief Station and had homesteaded on the lush wild hay land there. Tom Lauder soon joined them, resigning his postmastership.

The next postmaster was John Adams, and he shortly thereafter moved the post office from Eagle Rock to Market Lake, and all mail received the Market Lake postmark. Adams served as postmaster for a year and a half. The next postmaster was Israel Heald, a well- known citizen of the Island, or Menan as it is now known. He was appointed in November, 1869. He moved the post office back to Eagle Rock on November 5, 1869. His assistant postmaster was Matt Taylor.

In the early years people came to the post office to pick up their mail, so it was a prominent social location for the community. Heald served as postmaster for 11 years. John C. Anderson was appointed postmaster of Eagle Rock Nov. 11, 1880. He served in that position for 8 years 3 months.

During the term of the next postmaster, William E. Wheeler, the name of the post office was changed from Eagle Rock to Idaho Falls. This change was made on October 10, 1890. This was the year Idaho was made a state in the United States. Wheeler was a well- known newspaper publisher. He started the first newspaper in this area, Idaho Falls Register. After serving five years, Wheeler was replaced by E. P. Coltman, a railroad man. Idaho Falls was now nearing 1000 in population. Coltman was postmaster for just over three years. Ruel Rounds was the next postmaster. He was appointed April 19, 1897 and served four years. He later served as U. S. Marshall and as an associate of Senator Fred Dubois in law enforcement work.

Ed Winn, the first fire chief of Idaho Falls, was appointed postmaster on April 25, 1901. He served seven and a half years. During the early years of the post office in Idaho Falls, it was located on the southwest corner of Broadway and Capital Ave. It was later moved to the building now housing the Pioneer Book Store at 360 "A" St.

A. T. Shane replaced Winn as postmaster on November 7, 1908. During his term as postmaster, the Federal Building was built on the southwest corner of "C" St. and Park Ave. It covered a quarter of the block on which it was built. The post office rented the entire first floor of this building with some storage rooms in the basement area. The cornerstone of this new building was laid by William G. McAdoo, Secretary of the Treasury, in 1914.

On January 24, 1918, W. J. Coltman succeeded Shane as postmaster. Post office box service was installed during this period and delivery to business and home addresses was started. Delivery was made using two-wheeled carts which were pushed by the mailmen. Some of the first carriers and clerks were George Keller, Harrison Greenhalgh, W. J. Ireland, Walt Davis, Harold Pattee, Burke Gaines, Charles Gullixson, Al Hargraves, Levi Hawkley, Ernest Anderson, Joseph Waters, Clarence Owens, and Robert Owens. Some of these men served under Coltman, who was replaced on February 1, 1922 by Joseph W. Morley. They also served under Parley Rigby.

During Morley's term of office an historic event took place for the post office. On September 1, 1934, the first airmail flight from Idaho Falls took place. A plane operated by Salt Lake-Great Falls Airline landed at the Idaho Falls airport at 7:50 a.m., picked up 72 pounds of mail and one piece of air express. Several state and local officials, regional and local post office personnel were present. Prominent men were A. C. Bloomgren, State Aeronautical Commissioner; M. M. Bodell, Assistant Chief Clerk Railway Mail Service; A. E. Smith, secretary of Chamber of Commerce; Joseph W. Morley, Idaho Falls postmaster; and Mayor Barzilla W. Clark. Since that historic date, airmail has played an increasingly important part in the postal operations.

On September 19, 1934, Parley Rigby replaced Joseph Morley, who had served twelve and a half years. Idaho Falls had grown to about 15,000 population by this time. It had expanded principally to the east of Snake River, with numerous businesses and fine homes. Mail delivery was done by mail carriers on foot in the city limits, and by rural carriers in their own cars in the country area surrounding the city. The rural carriers also delivered the packages for their routes. Package delivery over a shoe-box size was done by delivery men in trucks within the city.

Railway Mail Service provided nearly all of the mail transportation during the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. The trains were Butte and Salt Lake City Tr 29, 30, Green River and Portland Train 17 and 25. Truck transporting of mail gradually came about as the need for shorter hauls and faster delivery schedules became apparent. Soon truck delivery carried all mail under 300 miles from originating post office.

In 1936, the space the post office occupied was enlarged in the downtown Federal Building to accommodate the growing needs of mail distribution and carrier route space. By 1939, there were 9 city carrier routes, 2 parcel post routes, and 5 rural routes.

By 1941, Idaho Falls was nearly 18,000 population and residential building was expanding east and west. Businesses were moving to North and South Yellowstone Avenues, West Broadway, 1st and 17th Streets. It became increasingly apparent that larger postal facilities would be needed. Post Office Department representatives asked the local postmaster to begin a study of the present and future needs of the city of Idaho Falls, relating to postal service. Under the personal supervision of Postmaster Parley Rigby, and with the support of Mayor John B. Rogers and the City Council, several sites were considered.

Another important world event came along at this time--World War II. A number of postal employees who were of draft age were called into the military services. These men were guaranteed their jobs when they returned. This slowed down building plans for about 7 to 8 years. Commercial and home financing was restricted for some time.

After studying the possible locations for the new post office for some time and with the concurrence of the Mayor and City Council, a site on the east side of the city was selected. This site was on the Northeast corner of 4th Street and Freeman Avenue. After securing the proper zoning and required building permits, the Post Office Department issued a contract to the Arrington Construction Co. for $325,000 to build an 18,000 square foot building with 22,000 square feet of parking adjacent to the building. After construction was begun in mid-1957, it took about a year to complete the building. With the installation of required equipment, some from the old post office location and some of it new, the move to the new office came in November 1958. It was the main post office. The downtown office remained as a station to serve downtown businesses.

Within a few years after moving into the new office, one of the most important new procedures in postal history came into operation. It was the Zone Improvement Program, better known as the ZIP Code program. This assigned every delivery area in the 50 states a 5-digit identification code number. Distribution of all mail was then done by sorting to the ZIP Code numbers. The first sorting was to the first three numbers of the Code. Each central distribution area in the nation was designated as a sectional center, and one of these 3-digit codes was assigned to it. Upon arrival of the mail at these centers, final distribution was made to the 5-digit code which identified every town and city in the nation. A system of star routes was then organized to transport mail to every city.

Routes organized at Idaho Falls served eastern Idaho to the northwest north and northeast of the sectional center here in Idaho Falls. To the northwest Salmon was the terminal point with offices at Lewisville, Menan, Roberts, Hamer, Terreton, Monteview, Leadore, and Lemhi being second enroute. To the north Ashton was the terminal with Ucon, Rigby, Lorenzo, Thornton, Rexburg, Sugar City, St. Anthony, Chester being intermediate offices. To the northeast Alpine, Wyoming, was the terminal point. Offices served enroute were Iona, Ririe, Swan Valley, Irwin, and Palisades. At terminal points, the star route carriers picked up mail from connecting routes. A route also went east from Rexburg via Sugar City to Teton City, Newdale, Tetonia, Driggs, and Victor, making connections with a star route from Jackson, Wyoming. The Island Park area was served out of Ashton.

As this new ZIP Coding system, which began in 1963, became more widely used, sophisticated sorting machinery was used to replace the old manual or hand sorting procedures. This new sorting system was a great step forward in the processing of the billions of pieces of mail generated in the United States. More mail is generated and processed in the States than all other countries of the world. During this period when all these improvements began, George L. Crapo was the postmaster, having replaced Parley Rigby, who retired in November 1959, after serving 25 years. Crapo was postmaster until November 1969, serving almost 10 years. Monte A. Mason was the next postmaster. He served from November 1969 to April 1, 1984.

In November 1971 the Post Office Department was changed from a cabinet post to a semi-government operation with the title of U. S. Postal Service. It was mandated to pay its own way through its own revenue by 1984. Idaho Falls had now grown to about 42,000 population. The city was served by 32 carrier routes and 10 rural routes. The city carriers each have their own vehicle and deliver all mail to the homes of their routes. Since Mason's retirement the Idaho Falls office has been managed by Melvin Kuykendall. During his term, the downtown station was moved to a new location at Memorial Drive and "F" Street. The Federal Building was sold to a city realtor who has converted it to office space.

Fifty years ago postal employees were paid 65 cents an hour as substitute employees, and the top salary for regular employees was $2,100 a year. Now employment with the Postal Service pays well.

Submitter: Monte A. Mason, former Postmaster
Sources: "Origin and History of U. S. Mail Service in the Idaho Falls Area," by Monte A. Mason, June 25, 1991; Personal knowledge, past articles from the Post Register, records on file at the Idaho Falls Post Office, and files at the Bonneville Museum.



Begin Here
Introductory Comments
Chap. 1 - Agriculture
Potatoes, grains, sugar beets, livestock, irrigation.
Chap. 2 - Business and Industry
Banking, Chamber of Commerce, Rogers Brothers Seed.
Chap. 3 - Amusements, Arts and Music
Amusements: dancing, circus, baseball, theaters, Heise Hot Springs, War Bonnet Roundup, parades. Arts: painting, drama, dance, music, symphony, opera theatre.
Chap. 4 - Communications
Newspapers, telephone, broadcast.
Chap. 5 - Celebrations
Centennials and Jubilees, Pioneer Day, Intersec.
Chap. 6 - Churches
Chap. 7 - City Government
Mayors, City Hall, Public Library; Departments of Electricity, Fire, Police, Building and Planning, Parks and Recreation, Public Works.
Chap. 8 - Courthouse and Federal Post Office
Chap. 9 - Historic Preservation Efforts
Bonneville County Historical Society, Idaho Falls Historic Preservation Commission (Historic buildings, places, homes), Daughters of Utah Pioneers.
Chap. 10 - Schools
Chap. 11 - Clubs/Fraternal Organizations
Lodges, Sportsmen's Association, American Legion and other Veterans Associations, Boy Scouts.
Chap. 12 - Transportation
Railroad, Automobiles, Aviation.
Chap. 13 - Medical Practice &Amp; Hospitals
Chap. 14 - Native Americans
Chap. 15 - Snake River
Bridges, Greenbelt, Temple.
Chap. 16 - Tourism and Hotels
Chap. 17 - Lawyers and Judges
Chap. 18 - War Efforts
Red Cross, World War I, World War II.
Chap. 19 - Population Growth
Chap. 20 - INEL
Appendix 1 - Bibliography Guide
Appendix 2 - Chronology