Plymouth Colony

INCREDIBLE IDAHO, Summer 1976, Volume 8, Number 1
(Used With Permission of the
Idaho Division of Tourism)


by Claire Goldsmith

New Plymouth, began as a dream of William Ellsworth Smythe, newspaper man and famed historian.

While working on a newspaper in Nebraska, he witnessed the disaster of a drought in that state. While thinking about the great damage, he recalled having seen an irrigation system in New Mexico. This memory challenged him to begin an intensive study on irrigation. He wrote articles about reclaiming arid lands, and was much sought after as a speaker on this subject, throughout the United States.

In 1891, when the National Irrigation Congress was formed, because of his intense interest in and knowledge of the subject, Smythe was appointed chairman and leader of the Congress.

Between his appointment in 1891 and 1894, Smythe was perfecting his dream of a farm-village type irrigation colony. Settlers would live in town and farm nearby tracts of land which they would buy. Industry and marketing would be encouraged to make the colony self-sufficient as possible. With this dream well formulated Smythe set out for Idaho as a possible location. After careful examination of several sections of the state, he selected the present site of New Plymouth.

After his return, he invited persons interested in an irrigation project in the west, to meet with him in the Sherman House, Chicago, April 25, 1894. At this meeting he displayed his detailed map of the proposed farm-village colony, and reported on his Idaho trip with choice of location. Edward Everett Hale had suggested the name, New Plymouth, be given the colony village. Enthusiastic response came from the group. It was suggested however, that two women and five men go to Idaho and examine the proposed location for themselves.

This committee arrived in Payette, on May 8, 1894. Apparently they did a thorough job according to the May 28 report, part of winch follows – “It is the opinion of your committee that the plans of association in the farm-village and establishment of all the allied industries are especially adapted to avoid the discomfort and hardships incident to locating in a new country, and to assure profitable markets for products of the farm, that the success of the colony depends upon those plans being carried our in their entirety. The plans met with approbation of existing settlers some of whom are planning to dispose of their present holdings and join the colony.

“The condition of soil, climate, and water supply are more favorable than represented, and the location is as advantageous for a colony of people who decide to engage in fruit and diversified farming as can be found in the Pacific Northwest.”

Thirty-four members subscribed for stock and formed a temporary organization, with the power to select and purchase the village site. They were to have the village land surveyed, platted, the streets graded, shade trees planted, and form a permanent organization by incorporation of the colony company.

The company had a capital stock of fifty thousand which was divided into shares of ten dollars each. Each colonist will purchase twenty acres of irrigated land and twenty shares of stock in the Plymouth Co. The colonist will be entitled to an acre in the central area set apart for the village site, if he would build a house upon it and make his home there. All farms and orchards will be within two or three miles of the village.”

One unusual statement inserted in the deed was – “in order to safeguard the moral well-being of the town”, no liquor is to be sold in the village. With the purchase of stock the holder had a voice in the government of the village. The liquor law was in effect in New Plymouth for forty years.

The land for the town was procured and financed by B. P. Shawhan, who was then in charge of some irrigation work going on in the valley.

Smythe planned the town-site in the shape of a horseshoe open end to the north. Around the perimeter of the town he planned a double boulevard. The space between the two roads was to be planted with trees. The town site was divided down the center by a wide street to be used for business establishments. Midway southward the wide road diverged into four roads to various sections of town.

One of the four continued eastward out-of-town. Lesser roads further made all lots available. Many of the earlier settlers chose the lots that faced the boulevard.

Smythe gives 1895 as the founding dare of the colony. Probably that amount of time elapsed from the May 29, 1894 acceptance of the farm village plan with New Plymouth as the site, to the incorporation of the colony as a reality.

The only property in the village owned by the Colony Co. was the town hall [and two colony tract houses]. Colony and village business and social events took place in the small wooden building. Dances, parties, and social special celebrations provided excitement and fun to lighten the rigorous pioneer life. For many occasions the ladies “prettied up” the hall by taking down their own window curtains and hanging them at the hall windows. At night, lamps carried from the homes shed a soft glow on the party.

The settlers of the New Plymouth Colony, many from Chicago, Cleveland and eastern and central localities, were a valiant lot They faced many hardships, disappointments and even tragedies. The New Plymouth Parkview Cemetery mutely tells this story.

One thing all had to fight during the rainy season, was the mud. The town roads had been graded but little or no surfacing had been done. When it did rain, the streets were seas of mud. It was customary under these circumstances for all to wear boots. When a party was planned, the ladies wore their boots but carried their shoes to wear when they reached the hostess’s home. One old-timer said he always kept a tub of water beside the front door steps where guests could wash off their boots before entering the home.

By 1897, the Steel-Compton grocery store and Walter Burke’s blacksmith shop [on Elm Street] were among the first businesses established on New Plymouth. These two concerns were competing to see who would transact the first sale of services or commodities in the village. The blacksmith had a friend bring in a plowshare to sharpen. Walter Burke charged his friend twenty-five cents for the job and won the wager.

Since this is a story of a colony founded to reclaim and arid lands, irrigation was the most vital need. Many early settlers to the valley, before New Plymouth was in the making, lived near the rivers. Some of them had devised small irrigation systems of their own. As early as 1890, a ditch was started by a Denver company but it failed. From then on various efforts were made so secure water for irrigating the lands but financing was a terrific problem.

On January 11, 1904, fifty farmers met and formed the Farmers Co-operative Irrigation Ditch Co. Much work was done on the ditch that first year. But two catastrophes struck the next year, that almost broke the company. Ingenuity, hard work and faith of these men conquered the problems. Today, this company has miles of irrigation ditches, and hundreds of stock holders.

[The New Plymouth Colony incorporated in 1896 and the Village incorporated in 1908, at which time the population was 274. This is according to History of Idaho, Volume 1, by Hawley, published in 1920, page 786.]

Another important irrigation system was the Noble Ditch which furnishes part of the needed valley water. Additional help is the Black Canyon Dam, built-in 1937, supplying storage water for the farmers protection.

This life-giving water has produced bountiful foods needed at home, in the state and nation. Fruits, especially apples, peaches and cherries, row crops, alfalfa, field crops and pasture land abound. Dairies and livestock add mightily to the total picture.

New Plymouth has just celebrated her eightieth birthday. Smythe’s dream lingers on in its general design and the success of the colony is reflected today by its citizens who are proud of their heritage.



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