Today, we’re going to look at how Caldwell got its start. Mountain Home, Hailey, Shoshone, and Weiser got their start the same way.
Robert E. Strahorn and his wife Carrie Adell Green Strahorn—often called “Dell”—went everywhere together. Everywhere. The book Dell Strahorn wrote about their adventures is called (take a breath before you read this) Fifteen Thousand Miles by Stage: a Woman's Unique Experience During Thirty Years of Path Finding and Pioneering From the Missouri to the Pacific and From Alaska to Mexico. It was published in 1911. Because of its popularity—it’s still in print today—Mrs. Strahorn is the best known of the two. Mr. Strahorn’s book, published in 1881 had a somewhat shorter title, The Resources and Attractions of Idaho Territory, for the Homeseeker, Capitalist and Tourist. It was popular at the time with Easterners dreaming of the West.
Writing about the West was Robert Strahorn’s job. The owner of Union Pacific Railroad at the time, 1877, hired him to write books and newspaper articles about how wonderful the West was in order to attract settlers and increase the fortune of said owner. His name was Jay Gould, and photos of him grace reference pages about Robber Barons not infrequently.
His boss’s alleged villainy aside, Strahorn was eager to take the publicity job, with one condition. He knew that it would require months of travelling that turned into years, so he insisted on taking his wife along. It was a good move for everyone concerned. She provided much enticing writing herself and was heavily involved with her husband in selecting sites where the Idaho and Oregon Land Development Company, closely affiliated with the Union Pacific, could purchase cheap land for the purpose of erecting railroad stations, which would in turn be the impetus for a town.
The aforementioned townsites came first. The railroad would come later.
Robert Strahorn roughly plotted out the route for the Oregon Shortline Railroad from Granger, Wyoming to Portland, Oregon, and he convinced the railroad to put in a spur to Hailey. That, 50-some years later, would give Averell Harriman the idea to create Sun Valley when he was the head of Union Pacific.
The Strahorns spent about 11 years in Idaho, buying land, laying out townsites, and sending reams of enthusiastic propaganda back East.
There is probably no town more indebted to the Strahorns than Caldwell, even if it is only for the name. The nascent berg was called Bugtown, at first, but Robert Strahorn named it after a business partner and U.S. Senator from Kansas, Alexander Caldwell.
The couple built the first home in Caldwell on Filmore Street between 7th Street and Kimball Avenue. They called it The Sunnyside Ranch, a bit of hyperbole for a 600 square foot house. Carrie Strahorn set out to civilize the new town by helping to start up its first church, a nondenominational gathering place headed by a Presbyterian minister by the name of Judson Boone. She also supported Boone when he decided to start a church-affiliated college in the bustling little town. The College of Idaho, founded in 1891, the state’s oldest private college, was the result.
Carrie Adell Green Strahorn passed away in 1925. Robert Strahorn donated funds in her name for the construction of the Strahorn Memorial Library on the campus of the College of Idaho. Today it is called Strahorn Hall and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
The founding of a few Idaho towns was just a sliver in the lives of the remarkable Strahorns. Robert would continue to plot the course of railroads, and invest in mining and newspaper ventures long after the death of his wife. He lived to be 92, dying in San Francisco in 1944. He made and lost fortunes over the years. Upon his death his riches were just a memory.