History & Heritage

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 Rocky Mountains in the early 1800s, and 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.

Although not as prominent as the mining industry, a parallel economic force in the early years, starting in 1880, was sheep.  Between 1910-1920 more than one million sheep a year were raised or trailed through the Wood River Valley, making it one of the largest sheep shipping centers in the world, second only to Sydney, Australia.  The area’s sheep industry has substantially diminished in recent years, but the heritage is kept alive with the annual Trailing of the Sheep Festival each autumn, and several sheep ranching outfits continue to operate in the valley.

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 that John Hailey and his friends laid out is the quintessence of a 19th century town, with wide, tree-lined residential streets and a bustling downtown area along Main Street.  Today, Hailey proudly retains much of its historic charm and character.

The City of Hailey is committed to retain and celebrate its unique history and heritage through its many programs, events, commissions and policies.

At the Blaine County Historical Museum visitors can explore the Wood River Valley’s pioneer past, research family histories, and view vignettes of mines, schools, ranches, famous literary personalities, period fashions, and political memorabilia. Each display shows aspects of the life that early inhabitants and pioneers experienced.  The museum also holds one of the country’s largest collections of political campaign buttons & memorabilia, reportedly only second in size to the one at the Smithsonian.  Joe Fuld, born in Placerville, Idaho, in 1878, was a prominent Hailey businessman and the first president of the American Political Items Collectors Association. The display contains well over 5,000 items, some of which date back to the early 1820s.The museum is located on Main Street in Hailey.  It was established in August, 1962, to “discover, procure and maintain whatever may relate to the history of Blaine County.”