Monday, February 23, 2009

A Fine Day Out #1 - Council, ID

(Pic Caption: An old fire truck for the Council Rural Fire Department, an all-volunteer force. )

Hey, we’re starting yet another series here on Robert Frost’s Banjo. In the better months of the years, Eberle & I love to go on weekend jaunts, & we thought it would be fun to combine these jaunts with photos & stories for the blog. The Fine Day Out series won’t necessarily be appearing at fixed intervals, but it should be appearing often over the next several months.

Of course, to say that the weather in our area right now falls under the aegis of “better weather” is just plain wrong. The winter has been hanging on longer than usual (tho one thing I’ve learned in 11 winters in Indian Valley—there is no “usual” winter here); the mud is often as prominent in the landscape as the snow by late February, & sometimes there’s much more newly bare ground than snow by this time of year. Not in 2009, however. A combination of big snowstorms in late December thru early January & consistently cold weather since has left us with several inches still on the ground except on the steepest south & east-facing slopes.

With this lingering winter, Eberle & I were both suffering a bit of cabin fever yesterday, & we decided we needed a bit of a jaunt, even if just a short one. So with camera in hand, we headed up U.S. Highway 95 to Council, the next town up the road, & the county seat of Adams County, Idaho. At a population of just over 800, Council is the “big town” in Adams County. It was founded in 1873 by the Moser family. The Moser raised cows & hogs, & sold meat & butter to the miners working in the nearby Seven Devils Mountain range. The town got its name because local Native American tribes—the Nez Perce, the Umatillas & the Shoshone—used the area as a meeting place.

(Pic caption: The histori
c Adams County Courthouse—this building is on the National Register of Historic Places, & a group of tireless volunteers are working to restore the building for use as a community center. The group has received grant money from HUD & from the Idaho Department of Commerce, & things are looking quite hopeful for this old building. The building once contained both the courthouse & the jail, as well as all the County offices. Eberle & I have been involved in a couple of performances in the old courtroom, one of which was a screening of Nell Shipman’s Back to God’s Country, with the two of us playing our score live. This was very well-attended & received.)

Council is not an affluent town; it’s a place that has depended on various resource-base
d industries for an economy, & these industries have all pretty much “gone bust.” When the town was founded, its economy was based on the Seven Devils mining operations, but this industry died out many years ago. There was also the Pacific & Northern rail line (you can read more about the PIN line here), but that also has ceased operations; & the timber industry has seen a marked drop-off over the last 20-30 years. Council was especially hard-hit when Boise-Cascade closed its mill there in the 90s.

(Pic caption: Sadly, a lot of businesses have closed on the main street. Buckshot Mary’s was a marvelous curiosity shop, but the store went out of business a few years back & has yet to find anyone to purchase the property.)

Eberle & I hope you enjoy this short tour of Council; we had a blast wandering around town (especially before the rather raw wind came up) & taking pictures. As the weather improves, our Fine Days Out will of course venture much further afield.

The Ace Saloon—one of the few businesses open on a Sunday afternoon. The Ace is a popular watering hole, & also a karaoke hotspot. The building also houses the Branding Iron steakhouse, & has apartments upstairs.

Another building for sale. Two good businesses tried their hand at making a go of it in this fine old building—a combination café/used bookstore (with quite a nice selection—also a piano & a guitar available for use) & a pizza restaurant that served pretty good pies with interesting ingredients. Even our Bay Area friends spoke highly of the pizzas here. Neither business could make a go of it in the long run, however, & this building also has been on the market for some time.

The wonderful old Zenith sign at Sam’s TV & Electric. Sam's is a going concern, & has been a mainstay for years.

The vet’s office. Of course large animal vets are in demand in any ranching town (tho a lot of ranchers do a good bit of the veterinary work themselves). In our case, the vet is also the mayor of Council; in fact, he performed the marriage ceremony for Eberle & me right in our garden one fine September day.

The People’s Theater was the town movie house, but its doors have been closed for a number of years; at this point, it appears that the building can’t be salvaged—a shame, because the People’s Theater dates back to the silent movie era. The daughter of the local newspaper editor used to play piano for the silents when they played there.

A local outbuilding, in better repair than many, & more decorated than most.

An alleyway running behind the defunct pizza place, past
Buckshot Mary’s, & finally into the parking lot of the local supermarket.


  1. I love that People's Theater, and its brooding presence. A shame it can't be salvaged.

  2. Hi Jacqueline-- (After finally getting the pix to go where I wanted them!) Yes, it is a shame. One investor looked into it, & Eberle was a little involved in that process. Sadly, it does appear that the theater is beyond repair. For one thing, the roof is in truly scary shape.

  3. What a wonderful jaunt. Thanks for sharing. It's so nice to discover your blog. This town looks so much like some Oklahoma towns I've visited. How strange the similarities across America.

  4. "The Fine Day Out" is a very fine idea! I thoroughly enjoy seeing other bloggies' neck of the woods.

  5. Jen: Thanks-- I also enjoy your blog a good deal. I think rural towns throughout the west have that rough & ready & transitory look.

    Willow: Thanks for taking a little spin thru Council!

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  7. Oops! I screwed up a crucial word.

    A fellow blogger (Winifred @ World's Greatest Procrastinator) recommended Stephen Fry's America - a fantastic program in which Fry (of Jeeves and Wooster fame) travels the United States, visiting unusual landmarks and out of the way places. We happened to see one last week and I was able to say "Hey! That's where so and so lives" repeatedly from Montana down to Texas. One place was a virtual ghost-town and an old guy with a weather-beaten face and cowboy hat was coughing his way through an interview. It was great!
    Your tours remind me of some of the unique spots that Fry is visiting. If you have a t.v. (I say that because some people actually live withOUT one *kidding*) you should check it out.
    I love YOUR tours.


  8. Thanks for the tour of Council. It is so sad to see these old businesses closed. It is so hard for me to go back to my small town home in Georgia for a visit because so much is boarded up. It's a pity the new businesses can't or won't refurbish the old stores & reopen in them.

  9. Kat: Actually, we ditched our satellite & now go strictly with NetFlix & a fairly hefty collection of VHS I taped from Turner Classics. It does sound like the sort of show Eberle & I would like, tho-- glad you enjoyed seeing Council.

    Cheryl: It is hard to see small towns in this state. Council, ID is a lot like the "big town" near where I grew up, Bellow Falls, VT (tho things may have improved there since I was last in VT over 20 years ago). We do have some folks working hard to get economic development, but there are really big hurdles.

  10. Oh, I must add that it WAS indeed sad to witness the towns that have fallen behind the times in the wake of "prosperity" elsewhere. It's very hard (as an outsider) to imagine that the wealthy United States has such destitute areas.


  11. Hi Kat:

    One thing about the US since the 80s-- the divide between haves & have nots has really grown. One of the places this is painfully apparent is in the rual west.

  12. You and Eberle are brave souls. When there's snow on the ground, my idea of a fine day out is to look out the window once in a while, to see if the dreaded stuff is gone yet. That's why I moved to the west coast!

    That said, I did enjoy my tour of Council. Thank you.

  13. Thanks Sandra-- we may have been out in the wintery weather but it sounds like nothing compared to your day in Mexico.

  14. That is onme of the most fascinating rambles I have come across. Teally absorbing. Thanks.


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