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History of Caldwell, Idaho

Caldwell, 25 miles west of the state’s capital city, has one of the most historically intact neighborhoods in Idaho and in recent years, the Steunenberg Residential Historic District has been established to protect the area. A walking tour brochure for visitors is available through the City of Caldwell and the Chamber of Commerce. The diverse neighborhood includes more than 330 residential properties and is adjacent to Albertson College of Idaho, a prestigious liberal arts college with three of its buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The district extends northwesterly from the college campus for nine blocks and includes 16 homes, two churches, the Carnegie Library and the Steunenberg Assassination Site. The Historic District is named after Frank Steunenberg, Idaho’s governor from 1897 through 1900, who was murdered after leaving his home office in Caldwell. In 1905, Harry Orchard fixed a bomb to a gate at the Steunenberg residence at the southeast corner of Dearborn and 16th streets. When Steunenberg opened the gate, the bomb exploded and killed him. Orchard, a member of the Western Federation of Miners, confessed and went to prison. As governor, Steunenberg had suppressed violent labor agitation in 1899 in the silver fields near Coeur d’Alene. After Orchard went to prison, the state accused the labor union leaders of ordering the murder out of revenge. What followed has been called “the trial of the century” with prominent attorney’s William Borah and James Hawley prosecuting and the famous Clarence Darrow defending the miners, including Big Bill Haywood and others, who were acquitted by the jury. Borah was one of Idaho’s most famous United States Senators and Hawley served one term as governor. Caldwell’s historic train depot is undergoing renovation that is expected to be completed in time for its 100th anniversary in 2006. Friends of the Depot was organized and recently, the area surrounding the depot was improved with a plaza and fountain. The depot is at the center of Caldwell’s heritage. The railroad was established here in 1883 by Robert Strahorn, an advance man for the Oregon Short Line Railroad traveling the west in search of new town site locations. He chose the desert southwest of Boise, apparently deciding that the steep grade into Boise was not practical, and the City of Caldwell was born. The historic depot became a reality in 1906, when Union Pacific Railroad’s superintendent announced his intention to build a “large and ornate” depot building. In 1889, citizens of Caldwell petitioned the railroad for a new depot with a waiting room. Caldwell had become a major shipping point for the sheep and wool industries and its citizens wanted a depot commensurate with its importance. Freight service continued until the mid 1980s when the depot was completely closed. In 1989, the city procured a 99-year lease with Union Pacific so the depot could be utilized for community events. Today, Caldwell is well known for its fertile farm lands called Sunnyslope where tree fruits and wine grapes grow best. For decades, Sunnyslope was known only for its tree fruits but in the 1970s, wineries began to emerge and have become popular locations for wedding and concerts during the summer months.