WOOD RIVER MINING DISTRICT
There were actually some mineral discoveries in the Wood River area as far back as 1862, during the gold rush fever spawned by the strikes in the Boise Basin. A galena lode and some promising quartz veins were located and a few claims were filed but Indian hostilities held back most development for much of the 1860's and 70's.
When hostilities ceased with the end of the Bannock War in 1879 a number of miners returned to the area, including Warren Callahan, who had found that original galena lode years early. And while the lead-silver discovery hadn't caused much excitement in the 1860s, new mining methods now made it an attractive proposition.
By the spring of 1880 the rush to the Wood River was on. David Ketchum found some rich lead-silver lodes near the head of the Wood River. Further south the town of Ketchum would later become a thriving community. Meanwhile Frank Jacobs started the Queen of the Hills mine near what would later become Bellevue (Although the first settlement to serve the mine was called Broadford). The Queen of the Hills would emerge as one of the major lead-silver producers of the region. And west of what became the town of Hailey mines were established along nearly every gulch.
With all the ore being mined a number of smelters were needed. Before long a smelter was built at Bellevue, one was constructed at the mouth of Indian Creek near Hailey, and yet another was put up in Ketchum. In fact, the mill at Ketchum owned by the Philadelphia Mining and Smelting Company became the largest mill in Idaho. It included twenty kilns to provide charcoal and was powered by water from the Wood River.
In 1883 the Oregon Short Line Railroad to Hailey was completed and by 1884 it was built through to Ketchum. The railroad gave the areas mines a more efficient transportation system and brought a real boom to Ketchum, Hailey and Bellevue.
It also spelled the end for the famous twenty mule team ore wagons that had served the Wood River Valley for many years.
Also in 1884, a new toll road was built up Trail Creek from Ketchum, connecting the area to the Clayton, Bayhorse and Custer mining settlements.
The boom of the 1880s saw the Wood River area receive the earliest phone service in Idaho as well as its first electric light installations. At the time it was likely the most progressive region in the entire territory.
Unfortunately production at the mines dropped severely in 1888 causing the Philadelphia smelter to close. Then in 1892 the declining price of silver led to an even greater collapse. The early years of prosperity for the Wood River Mines were over.
Yet, in later years a new discovery named the Triumph mine produced even more than the twenty million dollars the early mines had produced. From 1936 to 1957 the Triumph yielded between twenty-eight and twenty-nine million dollars. Some even more recent mining in the 1970s added a few more million dollars to the total from the area.
By that time though, the skiing and tourism that have become the valleys current claim to fame were already overshadowing mining. Yet the past is not forgotten. Each year an event called Ketchum Wagon Days celebrates the mining heritage of the Wood River Valley.