History of Gem County and Emmett by James H. Hawley, 1920

The History of Idaho, The Gem of the Mountain, by James H. Hawley, Volume I, The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1920:

"On March 19, 1915, Governor Alexander approved an act of the Legislature providing for the erection of Gem County out of the western portion of Boise and the northeastern portion of Canyon counties, on condition that '60 per cent of the qualified electors voting in the territory composing the proposed new County of Gem, and hereinafter described, vote in favor of this act becoming operative at an election to be called and held for that purpose in said territory,' etc. Section 2 of the act described in detail the boundaries of the proposed county by section, township and range lines, and designated the Town of Emmett as the county seat, 'until otherwise removed or changed as provided by law.'

"The county commissioners of Boise and Canyon counties were directed by the act to call a special election for the second Tuesday in May, 1915, and to publish notice of the same. It was further provided that, if the required 60 per cent or more of the voters living in the territory voted in favor of the establishment of the new county, the governor should appoint officers therefor, to hold their respective offices until the next general election.

"The election was held on the appointed date (May 11, 1915), and the proposition to organize the new county was carried by a large majority. Governor Alexander then appointed the following officers, who entered upon their duties on May 18, 1915: John McNish, James A. Kesgard and J. H. Connaughton, county commissioners; R. B. Wilson, auditor and recorder; David Nichols, sheriff; George F. Church, assessor; David Murray, treasurer; J. P. Reed, prosecuting attorney; A. C. Vadney, probate judge; E. E. Forshay, surveyor; C. D. Bucknum, coroner; Bessie Von Horten, superintendent of public instruction.

"Gem is an irregularly shaped county, its greatest length from north to south being about forty–eight miles, twenty–two miles wide on the southern boundary and about ten miles in width in the northern part. The Payette River flows in a westerly direction through the southern portion. Its principal tributary in the county is Squaw Creek, which rises near the junction of Adams, Gem and Washington counties and flows southwardly, its waters falling into the Payette near the Village of Sweet. There are also several smaller streams in the county.

"The southern part is well provided with railroad accommodations, the Idaho Northern and Payette branches of the Oregon Short Line system, forming a junction at Emmett, with stations at Bramwell, Emmett, Jenness, Letha and Montour. People living in the northern portion find transportation facilities in the Idaho Northern, which traverses Boise County a short distance east of the Gem boundary. Sweet in the Squaw Creek Valley is the only village of importance away from the railroad. What is known as the lower valley, around Emmett, has an average elevation of less than four thousand feet and is especially adapted to fruit culture. In 1918 about one hundred carloads of apples, peaches and prunes were shipped from Emmett alone— The upper valley, in the northern portion, produces large crops of grain, hay and potatoes. Part of the county lies in the Payette National Forest, the supervisor of which has his office at Emmett. In 1918 the assessed valuation of property was $4,273,867 and the estimated population at that time was 4,500."


In the early '70s James Wardwell built a sawmill on the Payette River, at the head of the lower valley, where the old Boise-Umatilla stage line crossed the river. A few miles below the mill was a post office called "Emmettsville," after Emmett Cahalen (Cahalan), son of Thomas Cahalen (Cahalan), a leading lawyer of that period. A village grew up around the sawmill and in a few years the post office and name were transferred to the new settlement. Among the early settlers were James Johnston, Henry C. Riggs, Sr., Alexander Womack, Nathaniel Martin, Douglas Knox and David Murray. After the post office was located there, a tavern was built and the village became a trading point for the lumbermen and stock raisers of the Payette Valley.

In 1883 Mr. Wardwell caused a townsite of forty acres to be platted and two years later the independent school district of Emmettsville was established, with Douglas Knox, J. M. Martin and David Murray as the first board of trustees. The village was incorporated under the name of "Emmett" in 1900 and experienced its first boom in 1902, when the railroad was built through the valley. In 1909 the village government gave way to that of a city of the second class and in 1910 the railroad between Emmett and New Plymouth was completed.

The population of Emmett in 1910 was 1,351 and in 1918 it was estimated at 2,000. More fruit is shipped from Emmett than from any other point in Idaho, nearly fifteen thousand acres of land in the immediate vicinity being planted to orchards. The city has two banks, two weekly newspapers, a canning factory, a fruit drier, large mercantile interests, sawmills, electric light and waterworks, four public school buildings, church organizations of all the leading denominations, and the supervisor of the Payette National Forest has his office here. When Gem County was created in 1915 Emmett was made the county seat.

Copyright © 2013 - All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise attributed, all photos and text are the property of Gem County Historical Society

Serving Gem County since 1973.

Wednesday - Saturday 1:00pm - 5:00pm & by appointment    ::    Extended hours during The Cherry Festival in June.