Photo: John A. Bagley House, circa 1902, located at 155 North 5th Street, Montpelier, Listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. Photographed by User:William R Sterling (own work), 2016 [cc-3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons, accessed March, 2023.
Nestled in the tops of the Rocky Mountains, Montpelier [†] enjoys the unique position of being close enough to larger cities to allow citizens urban variety and yet isolated enough to enjoy a peaceful, mountain-valley atmosphere.
Approximately twenty miles south of Montpelier, beautiful Bear Lake is a center for a variety of recreational activities. Mead's Peak, the highest peak in southeastern Idaho at a height of 10,541 feet, is located twelve miles north of Montpelier. To the north and east, a unique cut in the mountains called Joe's Gap provides an interesting hiking and picnic area. South and west, Minnetonka Cave is regularly toured throughout the summer. In close proximity but up another canyon road, Bloomington Lake is also a favorite attraction.
Geographically, Montpelier is located near the center of Bear Lake County in the extreme southeast corner of the state. The city is positioned on the east side of Bear Lake Valley at the mouth of Montpelier Canyon about two miles east of the confluence of Montpelier Creek and Bear River. It covers the greater part of an alluvial fan that spreads out from the canyon and slopes gently to the valley floor to the west, north, and south. The approximate elevation is 5,950 feet above sea level.
The climate is typical of the high valleys of the Rocky Mountain region characterized by relatively long, cold winters and short mild summers. The annual mean temperature is 42 degrees Fahrenheit with a mean minimum temperature of 27 degrees Fahrenheit and a mean maximum of 57 degrees Fahrenheit. The January mean temperature is 18 degrees Fahrenheit with a mean minimum of 6 degrees Fahrenheit and a mean maximum of 29 degrees Fahrenheit. The July mean temperature is 66 degrees Fahrenheit with a mean minimum of 45 degrees Fahrenheit and a mean maximum of 84 degrees Fahrenheit.
Although the beautiful surroundings of the Bear Lake Valley were well known to the Indian, the trapping brigades, and the earliest travelers of the Oregon Trail, it remained for the Federal Government's Homestead Act of 1862 to provide the stimulus for permanent settlement in the Bear Lake Valley and Montpelier.
Once Congress cleared the Homestead Act, May 1862, the growing numbers of the Mormon Church spread out through the mountain valleys of the Rockies and Uinta Mountains grabbing choice areas as homestead acreage.
Bear Lake Valley had long been known as a potential settlement area and the first vanguard of Mormon colonists hit the valley in September 1863. In the following spring (1864), the first sixteen families crossed over to the Montpelier area to establish a fledgling community.
Listed as those first settlers were the families of Clark Ames, Charles Atkinson, John Bunney, John Cozzens, Dr. John Ellis, Gideon Maughan, Hezekiah Moore, William Severn, William Teeples, Isaac Thorn, John Turner, and William Vaughn.
Through a church system of government, John Cozzens became the first community leader and presiding elder. Cozzens did much toward further development by constructing a needed ferry to allow others to cross over from the Paris area and by the end of that first summer, thirty-five families had settled in the Montpelier area. Joseph C. Rich first surveyed the community. Lots were numbered and drawn in a public meeting. Original lots were one acre plots. Outside the immediate townsite, larger areas of five acres were obtained in the same manner. The location was ideal. Montpelier was to become the business and transportation center for the area.
"Within the year, businesses had begun along Fourth Street. It was a choice location because of the Oregon Trail travel that was still quite heavy." Travelers on the Trail tell of the welcome availability of fresh produce, dairy products and beef. "Freighting to the other areas of the valley, to Wyoming, and to Utah points centered in Montpelier. As a result, the community had numerous smithies, livery stables, and freight storage."
Montpelier had the first bank in Southeastern Idaho. G. C. Grey established the Bank of Montpelier in 1891. It was chartered No. 1 of all Idaho banks when that step became necessary.
With the arrival of the railroad, the first dent in an all Mormon population occurred and soon two communities developed, known as "Uptown or Mormon" Montpelier and "Downtown or Gentile" Montpelier. Montpelier served as Home Terminal for the trains, engine crews, and subdivision point until October 1, 1972, when the terminal was moved to Pocatello, Idaho.
LDS (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints commonly known as Mormon) Church government dominated the scene until the coming of the railroad in 1882. A county government developed for Bear Lake in 1875. From 1875 until 1891, the town was governed by the LDS Church and secondly, by the county commissioners.
On July 13, 1891, a single village board appointed by the county commissioners united the two communities into one healthy growing city. The first village board members were James Hornes, Dr. C. A. Hoover, John F. O'Conner, J. H. Kinnersly and F. A. Miles.
By March 1893, the city was incorporated and the first election for city officials occurred on April 11 with the following results: Mayor—Edward Burgoyne; City Clerk—Charles H. Toomer; Council Members—Joseph C. Rich, George Hillier, Charles Hager, George Robertson, Charles Hammond and Peter Mayer.
Like most western communities, the town name was changed numerous times. First known by the Oregon Trail travelers as Clover Creek, it later became Belmont and finally was given the name of Montpelier by Mormon leader, Brigham Young, after his birthplace in Vermont. Largely due to the railroad, Montpelier grew to be the largest city in the Bear Lake Valley by 1900. It remains so today.
† Adapted from: Montpelier Comprehensive Plan, Montpelier Planning and Zoning Commission, 2002, updated 2008, montpelier.id.gov, accessed March, 2023.
Nearby Towns: Paris City •