History of Nampa
In 1883, the landscape of what was to become Canyon County was changed forever, when the Oregon Short Line Railway (a subsidiary of the Union Pacific) made its way from Granger, Wyoming to Huntington, Oregon. The sagebrush-covered ground was cleared and leveled so tracks could be laid, providing an opportunity for safer travel to the emigrants of the east. Towns sprung up about every 10 to 15 miles along the tracks. Nampa is one such Town.
It is not known for certain where the name “Nampa ” came from, but as the Oregon Short Line was built through Idaho, unusual names were given to some of the stations. Many of these unusual names were believed to be of Indian origin. Annie Laurie Bird, Nampa Historian, concurred with research previously done by F. G. Cottingham of Nampa and others, that the Shoshoni Indian word “namb” means “footprint” or “moccasin”. Indians of the region were known to stuff their moccasins during cold weather with sagebrush. This would make their footprints larger than usual size. However, contrary to what many people thought, Nampa, Idaho, is not the only place in the world with this name. For example, there is a Town in Canada named Nampa.
Land & Improvement Company
Alexander and Hannah Duffes, with the encouragement of James McGee, saw the possibilities in the land east of Caldwell, and in 1885, homesteaded on 160 acres with the express purpose of creating a Town. On September 8, 1886, Duffes, McGee and James M. Stewart formed the Nampa Land and Improvement Company, dividing the property into lots. Duffes was a very religious man and dreamed of a Town with no saloon. He refused to sell Town lots to anyone who intended to build a saloon on them. This caused people to refer to the Town of Nampa as “New Jerusalem”. It is interesting to note that “The Nampa Progress”, Nampa ’s first newspaper, lists in June 1888, that there were 28 businesses in Nampa, of which three were saloons. Ironically, twenty-one years later, the Duffes home was moved and a brewery built in its place.
Boise had been bypassed by the Oregon Short Line as they built west, but in 1887, the Idaho Central Railway was built, connecting Boise with the main line of the Oregon Short Line at Nampa. A wood frame structure was brought in from King Hill to serve as a passenger depot in Nampa .
But it was the promise of irrigation that brought many emigrants to homestead in the land surrounding Nampa. During the season of 1890, the Phyllis Canal brought irrigation water to Nampa and surrounding areas, and in 1891, the extension of the Ridenbaugh Canal was completed. With the completion of these canals, an estimated 150,000 to 300,000 acres of prime farmland adjacent to Nampa could be cleared of sagebrush and put under cultivation.
On April 17, 1891, a municipal government was formed and the Town of Nampa incorporated. (View document)
By 1900 the Town of Nampa had a population of about 800.
Colonel W. H. Dewey, a promoter and wealthy mining man from Silver City, became interested in Nampa. He built a railroad line, the Boise, Nampa, and Owyhee Railroad, from Nampa to Murphy, Idaho, and also promoted another railroad which was built from Nampa to Emmett and eventually to Lakeport (McCall). With Nampa now a junction for four railroads, an elegant hotel was needed. Colonel Dewey built the Dewey Palace Hotel, which when completed in 1902, was acclaimed as one of the finest in the West.
By 1900, ten passenger trains a day were coming through Nampa. Nampa needed a larger train station. In September 1903, a new passenger station was completed. This same train station is now the Canyon County Historical Society and Museum.
Nampa continued to grow and build, but had to rebuild a large part of the downtown after a devastating fire July 3, 1909. The entire downtown block between 12th and 13th Avenues and 1st and Front Streets, was destroyed when a fire cracker exploded in a wood frame cigar store.
A successful street fair was organized in 1908, by a group of church ladies. It led to a popular local event called the Harvest Festival. Local farmers would bring their fruits and vegetables, poultry, etc., to sell in downtown Nampa. Music, games, and other activities were enjoyed by families. In 1913, a bronco bucking contest was added.
Snake River Stampede
Over the years, the Harvest Festival faded away, and in 1937, the rodeo portion of the festival, known as the Snake River Stampede, broke away and has continued to this day. It is one of the top ten rodeos in the pro rodeo circuits. Water was an essential commodity in this sagebrush desert. In 1909, the Bureau of Reclamation brought a water storage site to Canyon County farmers. The Deer Flat Reservoir would bring water to approximately 2900 farms by 1910. It continues to serve Canyon County farmers today.
Nampans were able to travel the surrounding communities by an electric interurban railroad beginning in 1909 until 1928 when the popularity of travel by car put the interurban out of business.
In 1913, the Nazarene church built an elementary school for 13 students. Later, in 1915, the school offered college classes. Eventually the school became known as the Northwest Nazarene College and is now Northwest Nazarene University .
In 1911, work began on a facility, now known as the Idaho State School , for the feeble minded and epileptic. It was opened seven years later in 1918.
In 1925, the Union Pacific built a new passenger depot on the north side of the tracks. In 1971, passenger service was discontinued by Union Pacific; however, Amtrak took over the nation’s passenger service in May of 1971, but was discontinued in Idaho in 1997 due to a lack of funding and use.
The development of the large Pacific Fruit Express ice plant led to the construction of a major refrigeration shop in 1926. The PFE Shops also built and repaired railroad cars. The Pacific Fruit Express shops refrigeration units in Nampa were closed in 1982, and by 1988, the former PFE buildings were used only for repairs on grain trains.
The Later Years
In 1942, the agricultural industry gained increased importance in Nampa with the construction of a large new sugar factory. The Amalgamated Sugar Factory is still in operation today.
Main Street America
In 1946, Nampa was named “Main Street America”. In a campaign known as “Know Your Own Strength” sponsored by Pathfinder Magazine and Nampa Chamber of Commerce, Nampa set out to prove that it had the buying power and retail base to keep sales local. In one year’s time, Nampa ’s main street retailers increased their sales 121%.
Treasure Valley got its first indoor shopping mall when Karcher Mall opened in 1965.
Businesses & Industries
Many businesses and industries have come and gone throughout the years, and Nampa has grown steadily from its initial population of 799 in 1900 as the 2020 Census lists Nampa's population as 100,200. Two of the original industries in Nampa continue to serve our community. Nampa is still an important part of the Union Pacific main line operations and will most likely continue to be significant to Nampa and the surrounding area in the future. In 2020, Nampa became the first location in Idaho to host an Amazon fulfillment center. Agriculture has been and remains a key element in the economy of Nampa and Canyon County. The dedication and perseverance of the early settlers of Nampa and Canyon County have given us a rich heritage and paved the way to a brighter tomorrow.
Canyon County Historical Society
This historical overview and images were graciously provided by the Canyon County Historical Society.