Friday, August 7, 2009

Grace, Idaho — A town that time forgot!

I've done a fair amount of traveling around the west in the past 3 decades and one peculiar town that stands out in my mind is Grace, Idaho.
Located in S.E. Idaho, north of Preston, southwest of Soda Springs and about 150 miles north of Salt Lake City, this town has changed LESS in the past 40 years than any other Mountain West town I've ever come across.
I had grandparents who had a big farm on the northeast side of Grace, just across the Bear River bridge and straight north of the "Grace" (Alexander) Dam.
My parents used to take the family up there about once a month, so I went there a lot in my early years. It was a second home.
I also worked two summers in Grace for an uncle, changing sprinkler pipe and other farm duties.
Those who live there would probably not even notice the lack of change, but as an outsider, I have.
Here's proof how Grace has changed little:

--Listed population of Grace is about 975 residents now. If I recall right, it had 400 or so people 40 years ago. That's just over double, but far less percentage change than the majority of the towns out there.

--The city has gained no new shopping complexes in that 40 years. The city's Main Street is virtually the same size as 40 years ago and less in some respects. No Wal-Mart will likely ever locate here.

--No roads have been widened here. (There is a 4 lane road going in 4 miles north of town, between Lava Hot Springs and Soda Springs, but that's it.)

--There are still no traffic signals in town.

--Traffic still seems as sparse as it did 30-40 years ago.

--The town's airport, north of Grace, is virtually abandoned.

--There are relatively few new homes in Grace, compared to most other towns in the west.

So, for good or bad, Grace remains a quiet, off the beaten track kind of town.
It is the kind of place where you want to stand and spend ½ hour or so in every visit, just pondering the open farm fields, the absolute quiet — few airplanes fly over, little traffic noise — and just soak it all in.
I'm not sure I could live there, it may be TOO quiet. But it is a complete contrast to the populous Wasatch Front to the south.

-ALSO, the top photograph above is a view looking north from the Rigby Farm in north Grace toward the end of the Wasatch Mountains. That view is essentially unchanged in more than 50 years -- no houses or extra development is there. Surely there are few places as unchanged as this.

AND,  to conclude, here are few Grace facts/fallacies:

--The mountains east of Grace are NOT the Bear River Mountains. These are the Wasatch Mountains, traceable directly to Utah. They are not a side range, like the Wellsville Mountains, either. These Wasatch Mountains dead end at Soda Point, north of Grace.

--Grace was settled by non-Mormons in 1865 and after Brigham Young sent church members to settle there in the 1870s, tensions grew. The Bear River became a boundary of sorts then. If you were Mormon, you were supposed to live on the east side of the Bear River; and non-Mormons the west side. In those days, the Grace valley was called the "Gentile Valley." It was not renamed Gem Valley until the early 20th Century, when religious tensions finally eased.

--Where's Soda Spring? I mean, the Soda water springs? There's a Hooper Springs, north of town, but no Soda. Is it the geyser in town? No. Soda Springs, a springs, is now located under Alexander reservoir, which backs up the Bear River. Also, "Soda Springs" was not that water source's original name either. "Beer Springs" was what trappers first called it. Mormon settlers obviously changed the name later.

-Photos above are (top to bottom) : 1. The unchanged in 50-plus years view looking north of the Rigby Farm; 2. North entrance sign to Grace (and my mother, Norma);3. The north end of the Wasatch Mountains (also sometimes called "Soda Point); 4. The Last Chance Canal Arch/flume in N.E. Grace, along the Bear River.)

1 comment:

  1. Having been born and raised in Grace, I can attest that this is true. I moved away when I was 21 and my family moved away shortly after that, but I can tell you that in the 21 years I lived there I can't recall a single new home construction that wasn't a log cabin up in the mountains. Mainstreet stayed virtually the same from the time I was old enough to remember until I moved out. There just isn't the population or traffic through Grace to support any new businesses. I remember back when there were two grocery stores, but last time I was there it was down to one. The High School has definitely expanded. I was in Junior High when they built that building. They basically just encased the modular buildings that made the Junior High in bricks and added a gym and another classroom or two. I remember feeling so cool that we finally had lockers.

    There definitely is and always will be a feeling of nostalgia when I travel through Grace. Now I'm in my 40s and I've been away from Grace nearly as long as I lived there, but it will always be home for me. I love taking my kids back there and showing them the old stomping grounds. I hope it will always be a town that time forgets about. I hope it never changes.