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Madison County, Idaho


Madison County administrative offices are located at 134 East Main, Rexburg, ID 83440; phone: 208-359-6200.

TOWNS

Madison County [†] is one of the smallest counties in the State of Idaho at 472 square miles. It is located in the southeastern part of the state surrounding by Jefferson County on the west, Bonneville County on the south, Teton County on the east, and Fremont County on the north.

The County is home to two incorporated cities, Rexburg and Sugar City, and several historic townsites. The majority (72%) of the land within the County is privately owned. Federal, State, County, and Local governmental agencies own the remainder.

Madison County is a predominantly rural area, located in a wide valley, home to the Teton and Snake Rivers. Given this lovely setting, it is no wonder that the early settlers of the area decided to make this valley their home. Settled by Mormon pioneers, Madison County has a unique history of development.

Perhaps the most significant American settlement in the west is that of the Mormons. A sizable part of the West bears the impress of the Mormon culture. Hundreds of settlements, extending from northern Mexico, through the Intermountain Region and north into Canada, were founded in the 19th century under the guidance of Brigham Young.

We can learn much from a short review of these settlement patterns about Madison County and why it's towns were laid out as they were. In 1847, the first settlers from the East arrived in the Salt Lake Valley. By 1852, more than 20,000 were living in the Great Basin; 100,000 by 1877.

During the latter half of the 19th century, more than 360 of these planned settlements were established in Utah, Idaho, Arizona, Nevada, and California.

It has been noted that the wellspring of Mormon civic design lies deep within the Mormon's doctrine that identifies a New Jerusalem referred to as Zion that would be located in the Western hemisphere. This city is described as being a four square city. Salt Lake City was laid out in this way.

Perhaps equally important has been the Mormon agrarian ethic. The family farm was the mainstay of society. Synthesizing the urban view of Zion with an agrarian way of life, Mormon farmers were expected to live in town and commute to their fields of work.

The rationale behind this was the social advantages that village living entails: schools and other public facilities can be more easily provided and more intensively used. Perhaps more importantly is that Mormons had faith in the rules of order of their religions founder.

Some suggest that if non-Mormon society preferred a dispersed settlement pattern, Zion would be a nucleated community. This important feature of the City of Zion, evident in nearly all Mormon communities, including the historic townsites of Madison County, is a simple but powerful concept: an opposition between group and individual values, visually defining the Mormon western landscape.

Joseph Smith, who was only 28 years old at the time, had devised a master plan for the City of Zion in 1833 that ultimately was used as the template for hundreds of Mormon towns, including Salt Lake City and Rexburg.

The model city was intended to accommodate a population of 15,000 to 20,000 people. Once this number had been reached, a new city would be laid out in much the same fashion. The population was further divided into wards in which all within the assigned area would attend the same church. The City of Zion concept was never fully implemented in its pure form, but it served as the model for several hundred Mormon communities including that of Rexburg and the other towns of Madison County. Joseph Smith was far ahead of his time in establishing an optimum city size, provision for public buildings and churches, zoning against undesirable uses, wide streets, density limits, and aesthetic controls.

The other towns in Madison County have followed similar patterns of growth, albeit on a smaller scale in comparison to Rexburg. Closely developed homes on original townsites were developed as a individual communities, with additional public amenities as needed by the residents.

These towns' current visual continuity originates in the fact that the community's initial identity was that of a planned community.

Madison County Comprehensive Plan, 2008, www.co.madison.id.us, accessed October, 2020.

HISTORIC SITES