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Our History

Heise History by Afton H. Smith

Before the white men knew the Upper Snake River Valley north of the river, Indians used this territory for hunting and fishing, and the hot spring for bathing to relieve their aches and pains.  Wild animals also found the hot springs an aid to healing wounds.  A trapper watched a deer come daily down the hill to bathe a gash in its side in the hot soothing water.  The man saw logically what animals knew instinctively.

Richard Camor Heise came from Germany as an immigrant.  In the German language, a final "e" is always silent so it would have been pronounced Heis.  After coming to the United States he fought in the Civil War and several Indian skirmishes.  He came to Idaho about 1890, the year Idaho became a state.  He traveled through the area as a salesman.  He was told about the hot springs that would help his severe rheumatism by the Indians around Fort Hall, and also by residents of Poplar, especially, Tom Cameron, at Eagle Rock, now known as Idaho Falls.  He tried the hot mineral springs and soaking in them did bring relief.  He decided to homestead the area and develop the hot springs patterned after the spas he'd known in Europe.  He came as a widower with three daughters, Bertha, (later) Bertha Gavin, Blanche (Kremer) and Kate (Huntington).
The first structure he built was a small wooden building over the pool along the riverside where most of the hot springs bubbled out just above the river bank.  When we went by on our way to school, there were still several spots about two feet in diameter where the water bubbled up and we could warm our cold feet by holding them in the little puddle a few moments--but only if we were wearing overshoes! 

The hot water traveling underground, but near the surface, always melted the snow earlier in the spring and beautiful buttercups blossomed there ahead of any of the surrounding area. 
Later Mr. Heise piped the water from that collection pool to the public pools he built. By 1900 he had built a store, a post office, large log hotel with a parlor, dining room, kitchen, large dance hall, and rooms for people to stay long enough to affect a cure for their aches and pains, as well as rooms for working personnel. 
He constructed two enclosed pools, one quite small very hot water and one with water at medium temp. There was also one outside pool large enough and cool enough water for swimming. There were also dressing rooms near each unit. 
Elof Nelson, who by this time, had constructed a ferry boat to cross the snake river just one mile below Heise. He had also built a side hill ditch to bring part of the water from Hawley Creek to his hillside home, garden, orchard. He often played cards with Mr. Heise. One day Mr. Heise told Mr. Nelson he needed some good clean water for the hotel and also some to mix with the mineral so that he could provide various temp. for his customer. He asked Elof if he thought he could get it to Heise. Elof answered that he could, and he said he would have it there by Saturday night. He built a pipeline from his reservoir high up on the hill, and the pressure was great enough to force the water to Heise, and he did have it there by Saturday night. So Heise became a complete health and recreation center.     
When enough homesteaders moved into the area and children needed a schoolhouse, Mr. Heise donated some of his land for the building. It was a very small framed building, painted white, about 1/4 mile above the resort in a grove of cotton trees. It is still there at the edge of the golf course, but it doesn't look like a schoolhouse now. Rooms have been added and it is being used as a cabin. 
Our family M. Eugene Holt, Louisa Holt, 3 daughter and two sons moved to Idaho on March 5th, 1919 when dad bought the land and fairy boat from Elof Nelson. My first look at Heise Hot Springs was later that same spring when mother and I walked that mile and a 1/4 to see my two sisters in the "last day of school" program. We walked along a twisted dirt road, forever it seemed to me and I asked my mother, "how do you know its the right road?", since there were no signs anywhere.  Even though I could not read I knew my parents read street signs to tell where to go when we lived in Salt Lake City. Mother answered me, "I know it's the right road because its the only road." I started to school that Fall and I did find out it was the only road. 
We always walked along the porch of the hotel on our way to school and Mr. Heise was always out there in his big armed chair, and he would always talk to us as we passed by. Even as shy as I was, I came to feel he was a friend and could talk to him. 
Two years later his health was not good and often he was not on the porch. He died from "dropsy" on Halloween day Oct 31, 1921. Out of respect for him, there was never a party of any kind for Halloween a the Heise school. 
But for Christmas, there was always a Christmas party with a Christmas program by the school children held in the dance hall, and refreshments brought by all the families. Everyone on that side of the river came. Mrs. Burtha Gavin, the daughter of Mr. Heise. had a lovely piano and would always play our songs on the program for the practices as well as that night. Mrs. Gavin always had Tom Walch, her jack of all trades hired man to put up a big pine tree that reached the high ceiling in the dancehall and her maids would trim it, of course with Mrs. Gavin's help. Her heart was a big as the tree for there was always a small wrapped present for every child there big or little. Santa Clause with jingling bells also brought in candy with an orange or an apple for everyone. 
After Mr. Heise's death, Mrs. Gavin took over the management of Heise Hot Springs. At that time several wealthy retired people lived at the hotel year round. A few I remember were Jerry Dineen, his brother, Jack, and his two unmarried sons, a retired postmistress from Canada Gertrude Gallagher, Mrs. Sweeny, a night watchman from Jackson Lake, but who stayed at Heise for the winter usually any unmarried forest ranger one named Thorton Greenwood Taylor, who married our prettiest teacher Harriet Small the next spring when school was out. There were others who stayed at the hotel for benefits of the hot mineral water. 
The resort was a very popular place for swimming in the summer, especially on weekends. But the two ferries were not always able to operate because of mush ice and ice jams in the river during the winter, flooded roads, and dangerous driftwood during the spring runoff.  Mrs. Gavin worked very hard, talking to the County Commissioners, writing letters, and newspaper articles for many years to try to get a bridge built across the river.
Sometime in the late 1920s, a silent movie was filmed at Heise, using the river, the hills, the ferries, and even local residents as "extras".  The Movie crew, the stars, etc. stayed at Heise, but some stayed in local homes.  The trick cameraman stayed at our home and told us how he could use 2 or 3 ox teams and wagons and make them look like a complete wagon train.  The film was called " All Faces West" and was depicting the settlement of Utah and Idaho.  Unfortunately, by the time Hollywood finished up their part, talking pictures were the thing and "All Faces West" was never shown. Later the C.C.C. Camps were started to help the unemployed young men during the Big Depression.  A camp was established just above Heise.  The crew improved the roads to Heise, up Kelly Canyon, etc., and built an entirely new road along the river to Thornton and Rexburg.
Some of the boys in the C.C.C. camp had never seen a ferry as small as ours and they had a hard time trying to keep the loads on the trucks down to the weight our ferry could carry.  In fact, one truck was loaded too heavily and the water started to come over the edge and fill up the boats underneath the platform.  My brother was operating the ferry that day and yelled at the C.C.C. driver, "hurry, help me get this ferry across and the minute I get the chains tied, and the gate dropped to the platform, get that truck off of here."  They did get across the river and the truck got off just in time before the two boats completely filled with water.  Later drivers didn't make that same mistake.
So the improved roads and increased traffic helped Mrs. Gavin in her efforts for the bridge to be built. Finally, when a new bridge was built across the river at Lorenzo, the old one was taken down, each piece marked, hauled up the river, and rebuilt in the exact location where our ferry was operated after the Gros Ventre Flood changed all the river banks.  The bridge construction was begun the fall of 1937 ( the year I was married) and was finished in May of 1938.  Mrs, Gavin did not live to see the bridge completed, she died two months before but at its dedication on August 5, 1938, it was named the Bertha Gavin Bridge in honor of the untiring efforts toward its building.
Both Mr. Heise and Mrs. Gavin are buried on the hillside above the resort.