Fruitland Idaho

By Ron Marlow

Fruitland's history began with John Hall's homestead of 160 acres in 1897. Half was sold to Anthony and Amelia Zeller and soon the crossroads were dubbed "Zeller's Crossing."

B. F. Tussing went into the apple business one fourth mile south of the present townsite in 1890. He gained a reputation for his fine "Tussing Apples" and is credited for coining the phrase "school boys size apples." From his packing shed, shipments were made all over the eastern United States. Tussing named the village streets after US states and named the new village "Fruitland."

In 1906 the Payette Valley Railroad ship apples from John Bower's packing house. Later years saw packing sheds of seven other shippers. The railroad suggested the townsite be located at Buckingham Station, two miles east of the present townsite. There was already a blacksmith shop, owned by P. E. Silkett and operated by his brother-in-law M. A. Smith. Johnson-Chapin had a grocery store. Nearby was the Pleasant View School (District 18) which had opened in school 1903 with school Mrs. Bert Stillwell as teacher. The Bivins's school district had five schools which all opened in 1904. Maude Stegill, Lena Wilson and Maude Henry work teachers.

Through the influence of Mr. Zeller and Frank Moss, businesses and schools moved closer to the Snake and Payette Rivers. The first Fruitland School opened in 1908 in a vacant building with Floy Hurrt as teacher in lower grades and Sylvia Higby as higher grades teacher. In September of 1909 a new elementary school was ready for use.

The Brethren Church was built first, followed by a Methodist Church.

A mile north of the center of present-day Fruitland is Gayway Junction. It has one of the busiest intersections in Idaho - U.S. Highway 95 and U.S. Highway 30. The area was annexed into Fruitland in 1950.

During the 1930s depression, hundreds of migrant workers set up their cardboard and scrap lumber shacks on an end of Peterson's Orchards. They were looking for work on area farms and orchards. It was called "Hooverville" after US President Herbert Hoover. He had promised in the elections "that prosperity was just around the corner." Thousands of people lost their homes and jobs with the stock market crash of October 1929. Banks failed and people's savings were lost. The midwest dust storms added to the westward migration.

Warren Dorothy bought a small chunk of land and built the Gayway Dance Hall at the junction. Famous country and western bands played there in the 1930s and 1940s. In 1953 George Vaughn renovated the building - turning it into a large bowling alley. A controversy developed later over the building's color - it was pink. When it faded, the owner painted it a brighter pink much to the dismay of community members. A big windstorm damaged structure in August of 1976. In 1981 it was vacated and in 1990 torn down. A mini-mall now stands in it's place.

Just one-half mile west of Gayway Junction, on the bluff overlooking the Snake River, stood an ominous looking gray castle. With its three towers, it commanded a view for miles in any direction. Each tower was two stories high with a window in each of the five sides. A fourth tower was never completed. One bedroom was downstairs, as was the kitchen. A stairway led to the three upstairs bedrooms. Back steps led to the two underground cellars. The entire structure was made of concrete blocks plastered on the inside with cement. The blocks were manufactured on the building site. The only wood used was in the window frames. This structure was the dream and work of M. B. Sherman.

Sherman was a highly educated man from Iowa. He came west with his bride Ella in 1892 and purchase land on the east bank of the Snake River. After clearing the land of sagebrush, he built a small house. Canals and irrigation ditches had to be dug before planting an orchard. His first crop was prunes, but lack of demand and low prices forced a change in crops. He tried black raspberries. The demand wasn't great until he devised a dryer to dry them like raisins. Shipments were made to out-of-state consumers.

In 1900, Mrs. Sherman and infant child died. His sister came from Iowa to care for his children and home for two years. In 1902, Sherman married a Payette widow, Eva Josephine Phillips. This was also the year his dream of building a castle was realized. David H. Snowberger was hired to cast cement blocks assisted by H. J. Tharp. Water was hauled up the bluff from the Snake River in barrels until a pump was put in place. A well was dug nearby more than a hundred feet deep. During the digging, a workman was killed. Electricity was never installed in the structure. The first tower was completed and the family moved in while construction continued on the rest of the building.

In 1910 a daughter was born in the castle.

The berry business was good so additional land was purchased in Emmett and Kimberly. The following year of 1911 saw a severe frost which devastated the entire berry crop. Money was in short supply, so the berry business came to an end.

The Sherman family enjoy the castle for almost 40 years. Sherman's health failed with the recurrence of asthma, so the family moved to California.

The castle was abandoned in 1949 and the new owners razed the building. The stones were salvaged and became part of a building in Fruitland. A restaurant called "the Lighthouse" was built near the spot. It burned to the ground and was never rebuilt.

Sherman died in 1960.

There's a bare spot on the bluff overlooking the Snake River Bridge where the castle once stood. Old-timers gaze skyward and remember.

Note: Information about the "castle" came from Barbara J. Webb's book " Tumbledown Dream Castle of the Snake River."

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© Independent Enterprise, Payette Idaho
First Printed in The Independent-Enterprise Newspaper, Payette, Idaho, Wednesday, November 14, 2001

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