Emmett (fka Martinsville)

Emmett, as we know it today, first began as Martinsville, a ferry across the Payette River. Ferries did not just "happen;" they were on existing trails.

Nathaniel Martin and Jonathan Smith "built a commodious hand-hewn log roadhouse in about 1864, on one side of the Basin Trail (into the Boise Basin in Boise County) as well as a large feed barn that stood across the road. It was the right time to establish such a business because hundreds of miners were hurrying to Placerville and Bannock City, later Idaho City, to seek their fortunes."2 Smith and Martin, known as Smith & Company, built one of the first ferries across the Payette River. Smith took land on the south river bank as early as February 1869 and, to the east, Martin filed on a scant 50-acre tract4 near Emmett's present-day North Washington Ave. In honor of Martin, the first village on the river was Martinsville.3

"The first ferry across the Payette River near the present town of Emmett, Idaho, was constructed in 1866. A roadhouse and post office had been established there under the name of Martinville. It was known as the Upper Ferry on Payette River and located at the crossing on the ranch of W. Martin and J. H. Smith. A toll franchise was granted by Ada County Commissioners on April 1, 1868. Martin and Smith were granted ferry rights in 1868 and 1869 by the Ada County Commissioners at their ranch on the Payette River. License $25. bond $500. Toll rates given."1

The name "Emmett" was first given to the post office on the Cahalan holdings, seven miles west of present-day Emmett, west of the former Vanderdasson School, north of Seven-Mile Slough. "In 1868 Thomas Cahalan secured an office at his place seven miles west of Martinsville, called Emmettsville, in honor of his small son, Emmett Cahalan. James M. McDonald was the postmaster . . . The Cahalan home was seven miles west of the present Emmett, on what was then known as the Government ranch, afterward owned by the Kesgard family."3 The Kesgard place was on the south bank of the Payette River, in Sections 5 and 6, Township 6 North, Range 2 West, B.M.4 Cahalan was Ada County Assessor in 1867 & 1869, (see Ada County Officials). This area was part of Ada County until Canyon County was formed in March, 1891. Postmaster James Donnell (or McDonald) is more illusive.

Aaron Bascom bought the roadhouse from Smith and Martin and later, when he opened his store, he sold it to his son-in-law William Hammersly, who in turn eventually sold it to David Murray. In 1883 James Wardwell, who had moved to Emmettsville ten years earlier, platted the townsite. It was bounded on the north by the alley north of Main Street, on the east by the street now known as Hayes, on the south by the alley south of Third street, and on the west by Boise Ave. He built a store on the corner of Main and Boise Ave with a second story that was used for social gatherings. Wardwell donated a block of the newly platted townsite to be used as a school site. The period between 1900 and 1909 was a time of growth and development . . and during this period the town was incorporated and outlying additions were taken into the city.2

April 3, 1902, The "Emmett Index" headline story read

The completion of the Enterprise marks the Beginning of the Progress of Emmett and Surrounding Country.
The railroad has come at last. The unfamiliar sight of a steam horse, snorting in over the streets, is one of great interest to our citizens. With the arrival of the railroad all realize that our bands of isolation are broken and now it is fair field and no favors. Emmett has cause for congratulations . . .complete story

When Gem County was formed in March 1915, Emmett was named the county seat.

postmaster history


1 Huntley, James L. Ferry Boats in Idaho, Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho, 1979.

2 Lyons, Ruth B. The Village that Grew. Privately printed, 1979.

3 Mills, Nellie Ireton. All Along the River/Territorial and Pioneer Days on the Payette. Privately printed for Payette Radio Limited, 1963.

4 Federal Land Records, homestead patents

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