Still Standing

The following article was written by John O’Connell who is a journal writer for a Soda Springs, Idaho news paper. This article shares information about the home my great grandfather and grandmother lived and raised their children including my grandfather Dallas Popa who served in World War 2 in the U.S. Navy on the USS South Dakota in the Pacific.

Home is where everything begins and ends and 1614 Oregon Trail Road stands today and is symbolic of why we are in the real estate business. Its simply about family.

Alexander was a town with a single mission.

It’s brief heyday spanned the early 1900s , when the Alexander Dam was under construction. Once the dam was completed, forming the Alexander Reservoir, the town was disassembled and forgotten. 

Today, the only trace of a once wild town with a couple hundred residents is a single two-story building. It’s red roof is in disrepair. Flowering shrubs engulf it’s porch. The white paint on the wooden buildings facade is peeling, and the boards are deteriorating.

Norman Tolman, historian with the Caribou Historic Society, estimates the building, referred to by local history buffs as the Alexander Town Site, was built in the 1880’s when the railroad came. It’s located along U.S. Highway 30 near Soda Springs along railroad tracks and was once a railroad motel. Some say it served for awhile as a house of ill repute, although Tolman has found no evidence to support those claims.

Until about three years ago, the home was inhabited by a single man, (my Uncle Floyd Popa), who is now deceased. Tolman waited much of his life to tour the inside of the Alexander Town Site and got his opportunity a few years ago, when the owner allowed him to look around. Now that the home is vacant, Tolman has access to the key and has shown it to others multiple times in an effort to garner support to preserve it for posterity. It houses six small bedrooms upstairs.

“It’s just like it was 100 years ago.” Tolman said, adding the last occupant built a small, “add on” with some modern conveniences but left the majority of the home as it was originally. “It is deteriorating. It does need some trim done and a roof on to save it. 

He proposed to have it moved to Chesterfield, a nearby ghost town that has been restored, but the foundation that runs Chesterfield was reluctant to pay $35,00.00 moving fee to save a building that wasn’t an original part of the historic tourist destination.

“I think it’s something that ought to be preserved some place, and right where it is, that’s the best place,” Tolman said. “If it’s not worth that much to the county or somebody, I just feel bad.”

In his Soda Springs home, Tolman maintains one of the most complete historical archives available on Caribou County. He has 24 file cabinets filled with historic documents and old negatives. Included in his records is a hand written account of the Alexander Town Site written in the 1940s by a former owner.

She wrote about an afternoon spent sitting on the porch of the building when a man fled the saloon that was located across the street and fell dead in front of her. The man who shot him ran off and was believed to have spent that night in an area cave before riding the rails away.

Tony Varilone , secretary of the Caribou Historic Society, has an old photograph taken from a bluff showing Alexander when it had multiple streets, bunkhouses and several single-story buildings and shops. He believes Alexander was a company town.

“I have no idea what happened to the buildings. Typical of the times, when they were done with a project like that, they would salvage the wood and either move the buildings somewhere else or tear them apart and use it for something else,”Varilone said.

The Alexander Town Site is among several historic places along a new extension of the Oregon Trail Bear Lake Scenic Byway.

Varilone said the house was identified among a list of sites to be included in a corridor management plan for the extension as a potential place for a pull-off with signs explaining the historic significance. The extension runs from Soda Springs, through Bancroft and Lava Hot Springs and ends in McCammon. Once the byway leaves Soda Springs, Varilone said it no longer follows the path of the Oregon Trail, although it does pass some historic sites. 

“Part of the Scenic Byway Program is to give people an experience off the main traveled highways, and also to celebrate our history,” Varilone said.

“It’s also an economic development initiative with tourism.”

Destiny Egly, who headed efforts to create the Oregon Trail Bear Lake Scenic Byway Extension, considers the home to be a concrete reminder of the lifestyles our ancestors led and the luxuries we have today.

“”It’s in pretty good shape for how old it is,” Egley said. “Since I’ve been working on this (extension), I’ve really enjoyed learning a lot of history and how things were back in the old days.”