Thursday, August 22, 2013

Warm River History

One of our more frequently asked questions here at Warm River is, “Where is the place where you can feed the fish?”  I learned the answer to that question the first week we were here – two stops signs, turn left, cross the bridge and pull over.  It seems to be a tradition of the families that camp here regularly.  They take large bags of bread, cereal, dog food, etc., pile it in the back of the pickup with all the kids and grandkids, and off they go.

Last Wednesday, I finally took the stale hamburger buns out of the microwave (yes, I use the microwave for bread storage) and we went to feed the fish.  The area is clearly marked.  No fishing.  No swimming.  No wading.  No float tubes.  The fish are free from every stress in their lives, and they are huge.  We tossed chunks of bread into the water and watched the fish grab them as quickly as they hit the water.

The fish-feeding site has a large historical marker titled, “Warm River – A Place of Community on the Frontier.”  What?  Warm River was once a town?  And there I thought we were famous only for our campground.  Here’s a brief history of the once-thriving community of Warm River:

Rounding the curve, music fills the air.  A moment later, a festive string of colored lights appears.  That was the sound and sight that greeted many people coming into Warm River.  They were headed to the Rendezvous Dance Hall where the sound of laughter and the aroma of hamburgers filled the air on a Saturday night.

The Rendezvous was the creation of Fred Lewis and his wife, Bertha.  Fred incorporated the Town of Warm River in June of 1947, and Bertha became its first mayor.  Warm River’s legacy dates back to 1896 when settlers arrived from Europe establishing farms and ranches.  Years later, Warm River was the stopping point for many travelers on a slow journey on a narrow muddy road to Island Park and West Yellowstone, Montana.  In 1907 Warm River’s popularity soared when the town became one of the stops for visitors traveling along the Oregon Short Line Railroad to West Yellowstone.

During the next sixty years the town in the canyon with its community of farmers, ranchers, and lumbermen grew quietly.  In 1957 the new highway to Yellowstone was completed, bypassing Warm River.  The town faded into the shadows, leaving only memories of a time when Warm River was a place of community and friendship.

The old railroad line is long gone, but the trail it followed remains and is popular with hikers and bikers.  Several summer homes now sit on Dance Hall Drive – the last traces of the town of Warm River.

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