The History of Eagle
The City of Eagle has a dynamic community unlike any other city in Idaho. Well planned and finely honed appreciation of the small town artistics and its rural roots. The present-day City of Eagle has increased in size since its sleepy village of 350 residents in 1970 to the present busy community of about 20,000. The City of Eagle is located near the Boise River, it has much more to offer to newcomers!
The history of Eagle’s early age came into motion when gold was discovered in the Boise Basin in 1862, this was in addition to other Idaho mountain locations farther north. Several explorers chose to look for their fortune mining; however, a select few understood the importance of mining towns having agricultural products which were fast becoming the component of Boise and its river valley to the west and the community focused their efforts on those needs.
Truman C. Catlin was one of the prescient settlers who swiftly realized that his real way to earn money was in farming. Catlin was an Illinois native and utilized a preemption claim to obtain 160 acres on Eagle Island during the last half of 1863. Catlin originally named the island after his native state. After some persuasion, he was convinced to rename the island to pay tribute to a large number of bald eagles whose home was the island as well.
Catlin and his neighbor, Polete Mace also constructed the first irrigation ditch in the area in 1864. This initial attempt to irrigate routed enough water from the Boise River to irrigate 700 acres of the island and started off a forty year attempt to bring water and crops to every level of higher elevations by local settlers. The natural results of these attempts were the nine major canals which were constructed by 1903 and irrigated what is today’s Eagle.
Although Catlin and Mace made efforts to bring agricultural and water to Eagle the true settlement history goes to Nova Scotian a surveyor who goes by the name Thomas Hugh Aikens. We are unsure of his exact timing of coming to the area but we can confirm that his first water rights to the Boise River including property rights on Eagle Island was in the mid 1877s. In 1883, six years after his arrival, Aikens married a daughter of a founder of Boise whose home and stage station east of Eagle’s present downtown and he moved to the homestead with his wife on the island. The wife's name was Mary Conway and she was the daughter of Henry B. Conway.
Aikens then began to buy property on the north bank of the Boise River in the early 1890s. This property was directly across the channel from the Eagle Island property he owned. His property on the north bank made him the proud owner of frontage on the south side of Valley road, which is now known as State Street. This was the main road between Boise and the smaller towns to the west. After the purchase of the land, Aikens moved his family across to the new land. He then began a long campaign to have a bridge built by the county going across the Boise River that would link both his properties. The one to dispute this request was the settlement of Star, six miles west of Eagle Island.
Star questioned the bridge by asking the question why is there a need for a bridge in a largely empty town, the county commissioners decided to take it to the voters and ask them. After a little act of theatre by Aikens, he gained some benefits. Due to this Aikens hired a fancy touring carriage to bring residents from the Old Soldiers Home to the polls and as a bonus offering them a picnic. This emerged a victorious effort for Eagle to get the bridge vote.
The mere likelihood of a bridge demonstrated a boost to the fledgling community. In 1900, William Goodall a carpenter and some other local fathers constructed Enterprise School. The school was built to keep children from having to travel the three miles to the closest school. Next in 1902 came a grocery store and Odd Fellows Hall which was constructed by retired teamster John Carpenter.
Development efforts were partnered up in 1904 as Aikens and Carpenter joined forces. Carpenter agreed to sell off fifteen acres as part of Aiken’s new township of Eagle. Shortly after this a small class in a newly structured high school took the township name to a vote. One of the names suggested was Eagle by Aiken’s daughter, Clara and so the township was officially named Eagle.
Since the construction of the Eagle Island Bridge, there was nothing that affected the future of Eagle until the interurban trolley came to Eagle in 1907. The trolley was set up on Valley Road and used by commuters, freight movers, and day tourists. By 1915, the trolley connected Eagle to all the close by cities and towns in the valley. This was known as the Boise Valley Loop.
In 1906, L.B. Harris a young pharmacist opened the Eagle Drug Store. Then in 1916, the drug store moved locations to a new commercial block at this time of the relocation the drug store expanded to include a soda fountain which lead to attracting the trolley passengers. Harris’s initial drug store (Eagle Drug Store) then changed into a general store of regional fame by Orville Jackson.
Early in the trolley era Eagle also acquired a bank and hotel. The bank operated for the first three years from the Eagle Drug Store and then in 1910 moved to a bank building which was built on the northwest corner of Valley Road and 1st Street. Tomas Aikens didn’t want to be outdone and so he built a two story, sixteen room residence hotel across the street from the bank. The bank and the hotel are the center of Eagle’s downtown still today. The bank being Da Vinci’s restaurant and the hotel being commercial office space.
Also in the 1910s brought Eagle as the host of a food processing center. Customer meat cutting was brought into Eagle by the Boise Valley packing Company in 1913. This company also introduced the Eagle Brand label. Although there was much flooding and fire disasters it remained viable for 76 years. The Boise Valley Cooperative Creamery of Meridian began a branch of its cheese factory in Eagle at the same time the packing house started operation and through the teens, O. F. Short ran a prune packing house near his cobblestone home.
The trolley system started to take a decline due to the automobile, however, this did not affect the developing community financially. The State of Idaho then opened the Eagle Island Prison Farm in 1930. The Prison housed 40 prisoners and expanded continually throughout the decade. In 1937, Idaho Department of Fish and Game started an Eagle Island Fish Hatchery next to the prison farm.
The growth continued to happen after World War II, even though the 1960s were onlookers to a prior unique spurt of institutional and infrastructure growth. For example the founding of the Eagle Public Library in 1963.
In the 1970 citizens voiced concerns for the incorporation and in 1971 the county commissioners approved Eagle as a new city.
Until 1973 the little metropolis didn’t receive any property tax revenue which lead to a bumpy start. In 1974, the Eagle Library Board turned over the deed and the City spent $1,500 to remodel the building to put a small city hall office at the front of the library.
From these self-effacing beginnings, the City of Eagle today has emerged. The Eagle Historical Museum, which is currently located in the initial public library building opened in 2001. Eagle’s continued growth and development show not only the visions of its future but what it has gone through in the past to make the possibilities for those to come.