McCall City Hall is locatd at 216 East Park Street, McCall, ID 83638,
McCall is a diverse, small town united to maintain a safe, clean, healthy, and attractive environment. It is a friendly, progressive community that is affordable and sustainable. The town encourages the mountain character that is unique, representing a small town feel, while highlighting the natural setting and a quality built environment.
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The history of McCall [†] is entwined in the ebb and flow of four overlapping elements: recreation, mining, forestry, and commerce. Mining had an early and direct influence on the development of the area for settlement. With the discovery of gold in the Salmon River mountains, miners hurried along the hazardous Packer John and Warren trails that followed the west side of Payette Lake two miles north of the river outlet. At that time there was no permanent settlement on the south shore of the lake, however the area near the outlet of the river had long been a communal fishing and hunting ground for Native American tribes in the summer months. The lake was a sacred and spiritual place where they could peacefully rendezvous with others.
In 1878, the only cabin was at the north end of the lake where the mail carrier could stop overnight on his travels from Meadows to Warren. However, the Chinook red and white fish were so abundant that several commercial fisheries operated above the lake at the time, sending fresh, salted, and dried fish to the mining camps and south to the Boise-Weiser areas. The Meadows-to-Warren trail connection to the promising mining areas prompted the construction of the Warren Wagon Road. At the time, officials were anticipating a future highway linking southern and northern Idaho, and in 1891 the road was completed to Warren. Providing a southwest approach from Meadows to Payette Lake and the Salmon River mining communities set the stage for the southern lakeshore to become a vital commercial, recreational, forestry and agricultural center for central Idaho. These four elements became the basis for the creation and continued development and expansion of the unique community that is McCall.
Following in the tradition of the tribal rendezvous, the lake has been a recreational destination from the beginning. Several families, the first tourist campers on record, came to the southwest shore in 1883 from Emmett and the nearby Marsh-Ireton Ranch. Fourteen people in all, they came in several covered wagons with four horse teams and saddle horses. Camp was made on the west side of the lake. They had no boats, but built a raft from which to fish.
In the following two decades, several commercial camps, hotels, private clubs, and church camps provided recreational opportunities for visitors, enhanced by scenic tours of the lake on “Jews Harp,” Jack Wyatt’s 30-foot steamboat. The Club Division (500 building sites), Ontario Club, Sylvan Beach, Pilgrim Cove, Shady Beach, Lakeview and Newcomb’s beaches all had their beginnings then, along with the construction of individual cabins along the lakeshore. The recreational aspect of McCall has since expanded into the four-season resort community of today.
The catalyst for creating the town of McCall was an emigrant family from Ohio and Missouri. Tom and Louisa McCall were nearing their 50s when they decided to strike out West for a new life. They knew farm life in all its hardships and harvests, and were looking forward to beginning again. Tom, Louisa, and their three sons, Ben, Dawson, and Ted, set off in the spring of 1889 for Long Valley with two wagons and teams plus 25 head of cattle, numerous chickens, and household supplies for their new home. Pulling in at the south end of Payette Lake in June they discovered a single resident, Sam Devers, who had squatter’s rights to 160 acres of prime shoreline property. He was eager to move on and agreed to trade his rights and cabin to Tom for a wagon, team, and harness. Other settlers soon proved up their land hugging the south shore and Tom plotted a town site of four blocks out of his original homestead.
In the early days, Tom McCall appropriated the abandoned Lardo U.S. Post Office, originally located ten miles south of the lake, and the area was briefly known as “Lardo.” W.B. Boydstun acquired the Lardo Post Office in 1903, and moved it and the name to his homestead west of the river. Honoring Tom as the father of the town, citizens changed the name to “McCall.” The Village of McCall was officially incorporated on July 19, 1911 by the Boise County Commissioners.
The 40 years following 1890 were a time of rapid growth, and the McCall family and their colleagues established a firm foundation for the town’s character. Tom bought the Warren Gold Dredging Company sawmill and established his lumber business a block west of his home on the lakeshore. This and subsequent mills supplied lumber for the burgeoning homes, hotels, and business buildings. With the arrival of the railroad in 1914 McCall was established as a commercial center for the surrounding area.
Forestry became an important influence in McCall when Tom recognized the value of the new Payette Forest Reserve created in 1905 by President Theodore Roosevelt. At the time, the headquarters were at Meadows, but Tom managed to have it moved to McCall in 1908 by providing office space in his new building and paying the $80 moving expenses for the supervisor and his family.
The Forest Service and its Smokejumper Base has maintained a prominent place throughout the history of McCall and continues to be a major contributor to daily life. The addition of an airport in 1926 not only served the smokejumper program but also provided easier access to backcountry landing strips.
Tom and Louisa also laid the foundation for the next generation of leadership. Carl and Ida Brown and their family managed to build the sawmill industry into a major contributor to the economy of the town and central Idaho. Originally from New England where his family owned an important sawmill and lumber business, and armed with a degree in business, Carl extended his reach beyond the community to serve as state senator, representing Valley County in the Idaho Legislature and later as an Idaho Democratic National Committeeman. The Boise-Cascade Company acquired the mill in 1964 and closed operations in 1977, removing the “backbone” of McCall’s economy. The lumber business ceased to exist in McCall and the sawmill burned to the ground in 1984.
In 1905, several private lumber companies started a cooperative venture to protect the forests from fire and disease. Over the next ten years this developed into a formal organization: The Southern Idaho Timber Protective Association (SITPA). Members included private timber companies, the State of Idaho, the U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In the 1930s, SITPA managed some of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps in the McCall area. Among many building projects by the CCC was the headquarters compound for SITPA on State Street in McCall. Finn craftsmen from the valley supervised the construction of these log buildings following the Finnish techniques for construction. These buildings are on the National Historic Register and currently house the Central Idaho Historical Museum.
The ebb and flow of events in McCall have all been leveling influences on the growth and development of the area. It has maintained its village charm through the good times of progress, the excitement of MGM filming “Northwest Passage,” the addition of the Shore Lodge and the Yacht Club, to an already interesting town center, the discovery of a deep water creature in the lake named “Sharlie,” and a magic that touches all who come to its forests and shores. The increasing growth rate of Boise’s Treasure Valley has also resulted in more attention to McCall for resort and vacation home development in recent years. McCall has experienced many challenges related to cyclical growth; increasing housing costs, a need for workforce housing, continually improving infrastructure, and supporting the changing demographics of its residents.
† City of McCall, 2018 McCall Area Comprehesive Plan: History, page 22, www.mccall.id.us/plans-documents-12018, accessed september, 2021.