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Learn About the Couple Who Put Wood River Valley on the Map
Monday, January 28, 2019


We hear much about Count Felix Schaffsgotsch, the man who identified Sun Valley as America’s choice place for a destination ski resort.

But historian John Lundin contends that there is another man, without whom there would be no Sun Valley as we know it today.

Lundin, who recently authored “Early Skiing on Snoqualmie Pass,” is talking about Robert Strahorn and his wife Carrie Adell Strahorn.

Lundin and local historian Florence Blanchard will talk about “The Strahorns: The Couple That Brought the Wood River Valley to the World” during a free presentation at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 30, at Ketchum’s Community Library.

The Strahorns were responsible for Union Pacific Railroad building a branch into the Wood River Valley in 1883—a project that made possible the creation of Sun Valley Resort in 1936.

Robert Strahorn, who lived from 1852 to 1944, was a publicist for the Union Pacific Railroad in the late 1870s and early 1880s.  His territory: the swath of Idaho and Oregon that would serve as the location of the Oregon Short Line.

Archetypal Robber Baron Jay Gould had completed Idaho’s first railroad, a 466-mile line through southeast Idaho to newly discovered copper mines around Butte, Mont. And in 1877 he hired Strahorn to tour Idaho to scout places for a potential line connecting Utah to the Pacific Northwest.

Strahorn and his wife toured the area, and Strahorn wrote “immigration brochures” summarizing the areas’ weather, minerals and agricultural potential to convince easterners to move there to seek their fortune.

Strahorn convinced Union Pacific to build the Wood River Branch from Shoshone to Hailey to access the valley’s silver mines.

 And in 1882 Strahorn and others formed the Idaho and Oregon Land Improvement Company to develop towns at locations they knew the new rail line would go. They laid out townsites, installed irrigation, bridges, and roads and then sold that land in places like Hailey, Shoshone, Mountain Home, Caldwell and  Weiser.

Purchasing the townsite of Hailey for $100,000, the Strahorns developed the Alturas Hotel and the Hailey Hot Springs Resort in Croy Canyon. They also helped start what became the College of Idaho in Caldwell.

Della Mountain is named for Carrie Adell, who was also known as Dell.

The railroad transformed the Wood River Valley, said Lundin. To wit, it took his great-grandparents two weeks to travel from Nevada to Bellevue by wagon in 1881. Two years later they could travel to Shoshone in two hours, reach Boise in a few more hours and be in Portland eight hours later.

Carrie Adell, who lived from 1854 to 1925, accompanied her husband, whom she called “Pard,” inspecting mine tunnels, canoeing down rapids and traveling by stagecoach at the height of the Bannock Indian War.

While her husband published such tomes as “Resources & Attractions of Idaho, Topics Applicable to the Wants of the Homeseeker, Capitalist and Tourist,” Dell wrote stories for women’s magazines. She eventually compiled them into a book, “15,000 Miles by Stage,” in 1911.

Her role in building the West earned her the nickname “the Mother of the West” from the New York Times.

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