The Hailey Historic Preservation Commission
Historic Old Hailey— A Nineteenth Century Town
From prehistoric times until well into the 20th century the Wood River Valley was visited in the warm weather months by Native Americans. 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-1800s 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 Basin Gold Rush in 1862. He established an extensive stage and freight line and at one time controlled 2,000 miles of service.
Betting the Wood River Valley was going to be a center of mining and commercial activity, Hailey filed a homestead on the future townsite 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 W. T. Riley had the townsite 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 $10,000, 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 townsite 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 Historic Old Hailey.
The town John Hailey and his friends laid out is the quintessence of a 19th century town. 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.
When Florence and J. C. Fox arrived in Hailey on May 1, 1881, they had to walk the last mile from Bellevue as the horses had given out. What they found on the wide, dusty, dirt road that would become Main Street was a hubbub of activity. Tinhorns, merchants, madams, lawyers, land agents and barkeeps hustled to meet the needs of the hundreds of miners who were working all the hills and gulches surrounding the future town.
The first thing the Foxes did was pitch their tents on Main Street. J. C. went into the grocery business in one and Florence set up a room and board establishment in another. She later wrote that the floor was dirt, which she swept with a hoe. "When rocks turned up we hoed them out." The dishes were dusted when placed on the raw plank table and dusted again when the food was served. Water was carried from the river until a town well was dug at the intersection of Main and Carbonate. J.C. showed his business acumen by charging Florence for her groceries, but taking his room and board at no charge from her. Fox finally limited his store to women's dresses and accessories, notions and dry goods. In the middle of the store was a "pretty little fountain, furnishing pure water at all times to patrons." Fox went on buying trips to the big cities and brought back the latest fashions for all the women of Hailey. After hours, he would open his store to the women of River Street, who entered by the back door, to do their shopping. J. C. finally ensconced himself in a brick building that housed his successful dry goods store, and Florence "retired" to their elegant Queen Anne home on Third and Bullion. The home has since burned and two new homes grace the lovely site. Each were built and owned by contractor and authors Arthur L. and Cynthia Thiede.
Early arrival H.Z. Burkhart opened a stationery store in a tent and guaranteed "subscriptions to any paper published in America." After unpacking his first shipment of goods, Burkhart sold the box to Frank Harding, editor of the Hailey Miner, who made his bedstead from it.
At this 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 – 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 lah-de-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 were 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.
Though 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."
The prostitutes remained in business until 1942, when Sun Valley became a naval hospital, and they were not so politely asked to leave town. A local merchant was heard to lament, "There goes the mainstay of Hailey's business. They always paid in cash."
By all evidence, 19th century Hailey offered a varied, seldom boring, active life for 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.
Although there is not a 19th Century building in Hailey today that has escaped fire or the unrelenting remodel, there is still a basic integrity to the remaining buildings. Because of space limitations this brochure does not identify all the historic buildings. Rather, readers are encouraged to use this as a basis for their own quest through Hailey Old Town to recreate the 19th Century town.
Some things to look for on Main Street are the brick detail, the ornate, stamped metalwork on some of the storefronts, and the few remaining stores with stamped tin ceilings.