Just dropping by in Downey, Idaho

Interstate 15 in Idaho cuts through miles and miles of farmland and rolling hills with towns few and far between. The sky can be full of looming thunderheads, heralding the imminent arrival of an approaching storm. On other days the sky is a dazzling blue.There are no malls or chain grocery stores, few McDonald's or Denny's restaurants. We haven't observed any road rage, although getting stuck behind a local farmer lumbering down a local access road atop his tractor can be frustrating at times! A particular sign along the interstate has always intrigued me. The sign indicates that the little town of Downey, Idaho is just beyond sight, a few miles off the interstate. Since is isn't possible to catch a glimpse of the town as we speed north to my parent's home in Montana, one day my husband, Greg, and I turned off the main highway and headed east to investigate this little rural town with the same name as our hometown of Downey, Calif. The nearest city to Downey, Idaho with a population of 50,000 or more in Pocatello, some 38 miles away. Las Vegas, 480 miles away, is the closest city with a population of 200,000 or more. Downey, Idaho is situated in the Marsh Valley in southeastern Idaho at an elevation of 4,860 feet. Marsh Valley is about 30 miles in length and 5-20 miles in width. It is filled with small family farms and is surrounded by four mountain ranges. The formation of Marsh Valley was a cataclysmic event - one described as one of the greatest floods in earth's history. Red Rock Pass (five miles south of Downey, Idaho) was cut through Paleozoic shale and limestone and formed a narrow 2-mile gap. The Pass was at the shoreline of Pleistocene Lake Bonneville, 300 feet higher. At its largest, Lake Bonneville covered about 20,000 square miles, was 325 miles long, 135 miles wide and more than 1,000 feet deep. Lava flows in the Pocatello vicinity diverted the Bear River through Lake Thatcher into Lake Bonneville. The sudden influx caused Bonneville to overflow through Red Rock Pass, flooding Marsh Creek Valley immediately downstream with wall-to-wall water. The rapid discharge probably lasted less than a year but eroded the pass to its present level. (The Great Salt Lake is the largest remaining remnant of Lake Bonneville.) The Bonneville Flood was catastrophic and radio carbon dating of fossils indicates that the event occurred 16,800 years ago. In the water-worn caves in Red Rock Pass and around a natural hot springs, many Indian arrowheads have been found, indicating that this section of Marsh Valley was often frequented by Indians years before white man traveled west of the Rockies. The settlement of Downey, Idaho began before 1866, when a cabin was built by William Jackson and Cyrus Coffin. Downey's permanence was established when the railroad built a depot there. The town reportedly secured its name from one of the railroad directors who helped put the railroad through there. Downey's streets were built wide enough to turn a six-hitch wagon and for the twice-a-year cattle drives that went through town. In 1912, the Downey Improvement Company was organized to entice eastern Americans to come west - especially to Downey, Idaho. The following is quoted from their printed booklet: "The natural and scenic advantages of Downey are unsurpassed. Encircled by the sheltering panorama of light and shadow is beautiful beyond description. Two miles south of Downey - a thriving town with the largest grain elevator in Idaho - are located warm springs, which are used very extensively for bathing. With the advantages of irrigation, Downey should grow to a city of 5,000 people within the next three years. It is already the second largest town in the county, and expects to be the county seat of a new county to be created by the next legislature. On a dry farm one family to 160 acres can easily be supported and on irrigated land, one family to 20 acres, which will provide homes in the valley for about 15,000 people. Downey is the heart of this tract, where all the farmers will not only trade but will bring their products to be worked over and shipped." The present day growth for the whole valley has not reached the estimates that the enthusiastic Downey Improvement Company made. Downey's current population is about 680 and the Bannock County seat is Pocatello. There are no busy streets in this isolated town. The day we visited, we saw three cars parked along Main Street, one in front of the Downey Post Office and two parked in front of the grocery store, the Downey Food Center. I loved the original Coca-Cola sign on the side of the brick grocery store. The owner of the Old Downey Theater has refurbished the property which has a seating capacity of 125. Local theater groups put on plays at the theater. The owner has a license to show movies and when he does, there is no charge - they are free! City Hall is also on Main Street; office hours are Monday through Thursday, 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Fridays, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The city employs a full-time crew of two men. Further down Main Street is the Downey Public Library (operating income: $127,024). The library conducts a book fair at the elementary school every year. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as well as the non-denominational Church of Jesus Christ, offer religious services for Downey residents. There is, at this time, no local newspaper. Downey residents have the Idaho State Journal delivered to them to keep them abreast of local and world events. We drove up and down the few residential streets and found a modern brick building housing Downey Elementary School, built about 10 years ago. Approximately 111 students attend during the August-May school year. The approximate size of the classes range from 11 to 19 students. Downata Hot Springs, a few miles out of town, offers tourists swimming, water slides, and a naturally-heated (109 degrees) hot tub. There is a large campground, a bed and breakfast, and Indian teepees for overnight stays and family reunions. The hot springs offer horse shoes, volleyball, basketball and a playground. I would like to explore the hot springs the next time we head north. Pictures hold the promise of a nice way to unwind from the rush of everyday life! The County Fair arrives in August with a parade, rodeo, livestock and exhibits. In 2006, the estimated median income for Downey, Idaho was $28,900, and the median Downey house/condo value was $87,800. The average summer temperature is about 70 degrees but can reach up to 90 degrees. The greatest amount of snowfall Downey experiences is about 10 inches in November, December and January. The most common industries for males are in agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting, construction and gasoline stations. For women, the most common industries are gas stations, healthcare, food and beverage stores. The Downey government and payroll as of March 2007 consisted of two full-time employees in the Water Department (groundwater) with a monthly full-time payroll of $5,259 (yearly: $31,554 each); two part-time financial administration employees at $1,928 per month; and five part-time government administrators at $450 per month. A few of the Downey, Idaho government finances in 2002 consisted of $60,000 for water utilities, $28,000 for police protection, $17,000 for fire protection and $12,000 for parks and recreation. What a difference between the two Downeys' budgets and costs! In Downey, Idaho, about 68 percent of adults are married. Retired and elderly people are a common sight. According to research, there were no registered sex offenders living in Downey, Idaho in 2009. Because of time constraints, we were not able to spend a lot of time exploring the town and its environs, but I managed to take a few pictures that I think you might enjoy. I gotta say, I enjoyed my short visit to beautiful, peaceful, little Downey, Idaho, but wouldn't want to live there. As much as I like getting away to the country, the thought of living year-round in a little burg does not appeal to me at this time (unless I was hiding from the FBI!) because I always need to be busy. It is nice to dream about one day, just relaxing and not hurrying with a never-ending to-do list, but I would miss my Curves! Southern California (the laughing stock of the nation right now) has so much to offer. If I want to get away from it all in So Cal, I'll just head to Death Valley - in the summertime! It seems that the city of Downey, Calif. is acquiring yet another sister city in Mexico. Perhaps we should consider looking a little closer to home, to little Downey, Idaho. Only the failure of imagination and creativity could limit the exchange and relationship between the two Downeys. I am challenging the city of Downey, Calif., its schools, churches, businesses and, most importantly, its citizens, to recognize the incalculable opportunities that are possible. I would like to thank Marcy Price, director of the Downey, Idaho public library, for helping to fill in some gaps in my information. Although our own John Gately Downey had a large hand in procuring a railroad here in Southern California, my research did not find any connection between our own John G. Downey and the railroad man named Downey in Idaho. Perhaps a distant relative? For more information on Downey, Idaho, go to www.downeyidaho.com.

********** Published: August 14, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 17