Salmon Dam

The Salmon River Dam is seen in this 1913 Clarence E. Bisbee photo. The structure, built by the Twin Falls Salmon River Canal Co., holds water in a reservoir first named Horne Lake, after construction superintendent F.C. Horne. Houses, a dining hall, an infirmary and bunk houses can be seen in the construction camp east of the dam.

CLARENCE E. BISBEE PHOTO

The Salmon River in southern Idaho is a bit of a misnomer.

It’s not the river — also known as the River of No Return — that runs through central Idaho and the Frank Church Wilderness to the Snake River at Riggins; it’s the creek that runs from northern Nevada to the Snake River at Hagerman.

Its proper name is Salmon Falls Creek, but from its reservoir today flows Salmon River Canal Co. water to irrigate the Salmon Tract.

Both the Salmon River and Salmon Falls Creek were named for the red fish that travel from the ocean to spawn upstream, but why did the creek become a river?

It was all a marketing ploy. The name of the canal system needed to reflect an abundance of water during the Magic Valley’s early years.

Indeed, “Salmon River” sounded more impressive than “Salmon Falls Creek,” says an Idaho State Historical Society report.

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In 1908, the Twin Falls Salmon River Land and Water Co. Ltd., entered into an agreement with the state of Idaho to build a $2.5 million dam to store enough water to irrigate 180,000 acres in an ensuing reservoir. The same year, the Salmon River Canal Co. incorporated, naming the source of the irrigation water as the Salmon River.

To add to the confusion, what is now called the Salmon Reservoir was first named Horne Lake, after construction superintendent F.C. Horne.

Later, developers’ expectations were crushed when the irrigation system failed to produce a decent amount of water. Supporters from Twin Falls soon dropped out of the land and water company, leaving only the “Salmon River” supporters to carry on.

Mychel Matthews reports on rural issues and agriculture for the Times-News. The Hidden History feature runs every Thursday in the Times-News and on Magicvalley.com. If you have a question about something that may have historical significance, email Matthews at mmatthews@magicvalley.com or call her at 208-735-3233.

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