Utopian communities were common in 19th Century America. The still new country attracted people who envisioned a perfect society.
One such community was New Plymouth, Idaho. William E. Smythe founded the New Plymouth Society of Chicago with aim of building a planned community in Idaho’s Payette River Valley. Unlike some utopian community, this one wasn’t based on religious or moral principles but rather on planning and irrigation.
On April 17, 1885 the Idaho Daily Statesman carried a story that quoted Smythe. “Each colonist will purchase 20 acres of irrigated land and 20 shares of stock in the Plymouth company,” Smythe said. “He will also be entitled to an acre in the central area set apart for the village site if he will build a house upon it and make his home there.”
The town itself was platted out in a horseshoe shape with the open end of the horseshoe facing north toward the Payette River (Google Earth image below). Shareholders’ farms and orchards would all be within two or three miles of town.
The paper quoted Smythe, “There is to be nothing communistic about this New Plymouth. There is to be very little co-operation even, in the technical sense. The only property which is to be owned in common is the town hall, which is to be modeled after the Idaho building at the World’s Fair.” The fair had been held in Chicago in 1893. The community would have a library and an electric lighting plant.
The town was incorporated in February, 1896. It started out with a couple hundred residents, each with at least $1,000 in cash to their name, as was required by the colony. Today it’s population is about 1,500.
The shape of the town is about the only clue left about its origins. Citizens call it the “World’s Biggest Horseshoe.”
Planned communities today in Idaho tend to come in a couple of forms. The first type, not unlike New Plymouth, is built with an eye on planned amenities. Hidden Springs and Avimor near Boise and Eagle, respectively, are examples. The other type of planned community that we hear about involves a belief that some form of political or natural disaster is due. These are the survivalists who are looking for someplace to ride out the storm. The redoubt movement is an example.