Old American Falls

american falls crumbled remainsFor most of the year, the waters of American Falls reservoir, along Idaho's Snake River, conceal an ambitious chapter in the state's history. But on occasion, the waters recede and the rising shoreline reveals the remarkable story of a fallen community... Idaho's own Pompeii.

Valerie Hoyberg has spent years collecting bits and pieces of the American Falls story. "This area was suffering from a drought in the early 1900's," she says. "And to overcome that, they decided they better build a reservoir; and this was a natural reservoir."

But that meant they had to move an entire town! It was the first time anything of this magnitude had ever been attempted.

american falls crumbled remainsAs construction of the dam neared completion, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation spearheaded the effort to move more than 300 structures from the old townsite... to higher ground. Steam powered tractors did much of the heavy hauling. Some smaller buildings were hitched up to teams of horses. It was the largest government relocation project of its time!

Hoyberg recalls a story she heard about the move. "The Lutheran Church was in the process of being moved, and the faithful were not going to stop just because their church was up on a wagon. So they went to church in the wagon. Some said they kind of sang quiet that day, because they were worried about too much noise."

american falls crumbled remainsDuring the fall of 2004, the waters of the reservoir receded to near-historic lows. The old town of American Falls was visible, its sidewalks ending in broken down memories; the dog prints on cement recollect a lazy Sunday afternoon; the crumbled foundations hold the stories of young school children, now grown and gone.

But soon the waters will rise again. And the old town will be forgotten for another season.

Learn more about American Falls