From pre-historic times until well into the 20th century, the Wood River Valley was visited in the warm weather months by native Americans. Fur trappers roamed the intermountain Rockies in the early 1800s. The first mining claim was filed in the Gold Belt west of Hailey in the summer of 1865. The mining Boom continued until the mid-1890s when many of the veins played out and the bottom fell out of the silver market.
The town's founder, John Hailey, was an early pioneer in the Northwest who took part in the Boise Basin Gold Rush in 1862. The town John Hailey and his friends laid out is the quintessence of a 19th century town. In the residential part the wide tree-lined streets provide an open inviting avenue. The town of Hailey invites you to explore its bustling downtown and pleasant neighborhoods.
The best place to start an exploration of Hailey is the Blaine County Historical Museum. The extensive collections and interesting exhibits will no doubt lead you to further adventures in History. Be sure to include the following in your itinerary of Hailey history; the Hailey Cultural Center (the Birthplace of poet Ezra Pound), the Emmanuel Episcopal Church built in 1885, and the historic old Blaine County Courthouse. Visitors are encouraged to explore their own quest through Hailey Old Town to recreate the 19th Century town. The Historic Hailey Walking Tour is a great resource for a vivid visit to Hailey yesteryears.
Although not as prominent as the mining industry, a parallel economic force in the early years, starting in 1880, was the feeding and shipping of sheep. By 1900, more than 2 million sheep had been raised or trailed through the Wood River Valley. Between 1910 and 1920, more than one million head of sheep a year were trailed through the area, making the Wood River Valley one of the largest sheep shipping centers in the world, second only to Sydney, Austraila.
The area's sheep industry has substantially diminished in recent years, but continuing signs of this once important sheep migration route can still be found in the Annual Trailing of the Sheep Festival and during the migration of sheep throughout the Wood River Valley in the Spring and Fall. Several sheep ranching outfits still continue to operate in the Wood River Valley.