Idaho Falls is a city in and the county seat of Bonneville County, Idaho, United States, and is the largest city in Eastern Idaho. As of the 2010 census, the population of Idaho Falls was 56,813, with a metro population of 136,108.
Idaho Falls is the principal city of the Idaho Falls, Idaho Metropolitan Statistical Area and the Idaho Falls-Blackfoot, Idaho Combined Statistical Area. It is the state's largest city outside the Boise metropolitan area and the third-largest metro area behind Boise City-Nampa and Coeur d'Alene, which is connected to the larger Spokane, Washington.
The city serves as a hub to all of eastern Idaho and much of western Wyoming. Due to its relative economic vitality, high quality of life, and proximity to world-class outdoor recreation, it is often featured in various publications' lists of "best places to live." The area is served by the Idaho Falls Regional Airport and is home to the Idaho Falls Chukars minor league baseball team.
Montana Trail origins
What became Idaho Falls was the site of Taylor’s Crossing on the Montana Trail, a timber frame bridge built across the Snake River. The 1865 bridge was built by Matt Taylor, a Montana Trail freighter, who built a toll bridge across a narrow black basaltic gorge of the river that succeeded a ferry seven miles upstream by a few years. Taylor’s bridge served the new tide of westward migration and travel in the region that followed the military suppression of Shoshone resistance at the Bear River Massacre near Preston, Idaho in 1863. The bridge improved travel for settlers moving north and west and for miners, freighters, and others seeking riches in the gold fields of Idaho and Montana, especially, the boom towns of Bannack and Virginia City in western Montana.
Mail service postmarks indicate by 1866 the emerging town had become known as Eagle Rock. The name was derived from an isolated basalt island in the Snake River, seven miles upstream at in the Snake River that was the nesting site for approximately twenty eagles. Previous to Taylor's bridge, in 1864, Harry Rickets built and operated a ferry at this location and so this area of crossing at the Snake River was already known as Eagle Rock to those that did business or that traveled on the Montana Trail. A private bank (the fourth in Idaho), a small hotel, a livery stable, and an eating house also sprang up at the bridge in 1865 along with the post office and stage station.
There had been a few cattle and sheep ranchers in the area for years. In 1874 water rights were established on nearby Willow Creek and the first grain harvested but settlement was sparse consisting of only a couple of families and small irrigation ditches. The first child of European descent born at Eagle Rock was delivered in 1874.
The winds of change blew in the form of the Utah and Northern Railway that came north from Utah through Eagle Rock to cross the Snake River at the same narrow gorge as the wooden bridge. The U&NR was building its road to the large new copper mines at Butte, Montana with the backing of robber baron Jay Gould as Union Pacific Railroad had purchased the U&NR only a few years prior. Grading crews reached Eagle Rock in late 1878 and by early 1879 a wild camp-town with dozens of tents and shanties moved to Eagle Rock with the usual collection of saloons, dancehalls, and gambling holes. The railroad company had 16 locomotives and 300 train cars working between Logan, Utah and the once quiet stage stop. A new iron railroad bridge was fabricated in Athens, Pennsylvania at a cost of $30,000 and shipped, by rail, to the site and erected in April and May 1879. The bridge was long and in two spans with an island in the center. The camp-town moved on but Eagle Rock, the little town at the wooden bridge, now had regular train service and was the site for several of the railroad’s buildings, shops, and facilities expanding and completely transforming the town.
Settlers began homesteading the Upper Snake River Valley as soon as the railroad came through. The first of the new settlers carved out homesteads to the north at Egin (near present day Parker) and at Pooles Island (near present day Menan). Large scale settlement ensued and in a decade there appeared roads, bridges, dams and irrigation canals that brought most of the Upper Snake River Valley under cultivation. In 1887, following the construction of the Oregon Short Line, most of the railroad facilities were removed to Pocatello where the new line branched off the U&NR but Eagle Rock was fast becoming the commercial center of an agricultural empire.
In 1891 the town voted to change its name to Idaho Falls, in reference to the rapids that existed below the bridge. Some years later, the construction of a retaining wall for a hydroelectric power plant enhanced the rapids into falls. In 1969 the largest irrigation canal in the world, the Great Feeder, began diverting water from the Snake River and aided in converting tens of thousands of acres of desert into green farmland in the vicinity of Idaho Falls. The area grew sugar beets, potatoes, peas, grains, and alfalfa and became one of the most productive regions of the United States.
In 1949, the Atomic Energy Commission opened the National Reactor Testing Station in the desert west of the city, and on Dec. 20, 1951, a nuclear reactor produced useful electricity for the first time in history. There have been more than 50 unique nuclear reactors built at the facility for testing. All but three are shut down now.
On January 3, 1961, the site was the scene of the only fatal nuclear reactor incident in U.S. history. A main nuclear control rod was removed from the SL-1 reactor, causing the reactor to become prompt-critical resulting in a power excursion. Three people died in the reactor room, and when rescue workers arrived to recover the bodies, they emitted 500 R/hr. The force of the explosion was so severe that one body had to be removed from the ceiling, where it was pinned by a control rod ejected from the reactor. The three men were buried in lead coffins and that entire section of the site was buried.
The Idaho National Laboratory (INL), as it is now known, remains a major economic engine for the city of Idaho Falls, employing more than 8,000 people and functioning as an internationally renowned research center. INL operates and manages the world famous Advanced Test Reactor (ATR).