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Lost Places – Chesterfield, Idaho Backcountry Adventure

Lost Places -Chesterfield, Idaho

ZUKIWORLD visits Chesterfield, Idaho

-Story and pictures by: Eric Bewley

SODA SPRINGS, ID. -Sara and I started our journey by heading west through familiar territory towards Chesterfield. During our youth, the miles and miles of mountain ridge trails, farmers’ access roads, and fire roads gave hours of entertainment. Today, we were going to visit the old ghost town, Chesterfield, and loop back with the goal of not seeing one single mile of pavement. Not much of a challenge in this area of Idaho but one that we were worthy of this day.

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Broken Dreams, The Legacy Of Chesterfield. In less than 100 years Chesterfield rose up off of the valley floor into a thriving community, and just as quickly disappeared from the face of the earth when the railroad bypassed this once flourishing town. Surrounded by fields and open range, Chesterfield, Idaho is a unique look into our past. Now an eclectic collection of abandoned buildings, the state of Idaho is turning Chesterfield into a state park, and has restored several of the buildings.

Located in the heart of southeastern Idaho, Chesterfield is surrounded by several National Forests but don’t worry, wheeled vehicles are still welcomed here. Sprawled out over a large area, several occupied homes are intertwined with the abandoned buildings of the ghost town, so respect no trespassing signs.  Several homes, the general store, which like so many small towns was also the post office and telephone office as well as a gas station (the classic pump is still standing outside the store), a restored barn, a church and school are among the buildings you can see. Our Journey began by heading over the area known as 100% just west and north of Soda Springs. Along the way we stopped at an old watering hole that had long since been used up. We continued on our way following the marked Oregon and California trail.

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About two miles outside of Chesterfield, we ran into Hatch school. This was a very intersting two-room school house. Built in 1919 the structure was in excellent shape and there was no doubt in our minds that it could be refurbished into a house or museum easily. Inside the building the painted trim as well as mouldings were still intact and in good shape.

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Hatch School and an abondoned homested.

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Background courtesy of the ISHS.

“Traversing agricultural cropland, the Oregon Trail passes along the east side of the Portneuf Valley past the community of Chesterfield. Chesterfield Historic District is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. In 1879, Chester Call and his nephew Christian Nelson established a ranch here for the grazing of horses. Chester persuaded some of his relatives to relocate from Bountiful, Utah, to the area, and by 1882 a number of families were living in the vicinity. Desiring a more organized settlement, church leaders from Utah designated a townsite, and directed the laying out of a town grid on high ground. The town called Chesterfield after an English location and in honor of Chester Call.” We finally arrived at the townsite and felt that exploring this ghost town offers you a unique opportunity. Although time and weather has taken it’s toll on Chesterfield, exploring the old General Mercantile (which someone at some point in time in history transformed into a home), gives a glimpse of life during bygone days. One can only wonder what meals were prepared and what stories told when you walk through the kitchen. You can close your eyes and hear the echoes of children’s laughter, and the tears of broken dreams.

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left to right: settler’s cabin, Holbrook mercentile, town historical marker, LDS church

You may have mixed emotions on the states efforts to restore these landmarks. Somehow, the mystique of the ghost town is lost when looking at the restored buildings, but the decay of others clearly indicates that some preservation is essential. If you are visiting southeastern Idaho, or passing through on your way to or from Yellowstone National Park, Chesterfield, Idaho is a fascinating trip back into history, from the wagon trains of the 1870’s Oregon Trail, to the early 1900’s ghost town of Chesterfield.

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recently destroyed school

Sadly, it appeared that the school house which served as the town’s visitors center had recently burnt down. I’m sure this was a major tragedy for the town. We noticed that out of the ashes there was new contruction of a building directly to the west of the school. It appears to be being built in similar fashion to the preserved church. Although no signs were posted, we sumized that a new visitor’s centor was being built for the town.

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left to right: interior of tithing office, exterior of tithing office, homested

With our eyes full and our hearts happy, we left Chesterfield and headed towards home by going over the mountain range just to the east of town on Cow Camp road. This road winds it’s way back towards Soda Springs, with a few correct turns, and shows some magnificant sites along the way such as the west side of the Teton mountain range, natural hot springs, one of the largest fresh water springs in the west, and the ever useful Blackfoot reservoir. After a full day’s travel, we returned to Soda Springs and watched the City’s geyser erupt with a magnificant back drop of another stunning Idaho sunset.

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