The Brick Identity
The Struggle to Preserve Main Street’s Remaining Relics
PHOTOGRAPHY courtesy The Community Library and the Ketchum Sun Valley Historical Society Heritage & Ski Museum
This turn-of-the-century picture shows the Lewis & Lemon General Store, one of the first two brick buildings built in Ketchum in the mid-1880s. The building later housed a post office, Griffith Grocery, the Golden Rule Market and Iconoclast Books. It was purchased in August, 2009, by restauranteurs Meg and Erik Vorm, who plan to preserve the building’s history.
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The Old West is vanishing in Ketchum, but Megan and Eric Vorm are doing what they can to preserve what remains. The Ketchum couple recently purchased a hundred-and-twenty-five-year-old building on the west side of Main Street, one of just three historic buildings that collectively comprise the last vestiges of the town’s original architectural identity.
The Vorms bought the old Lewis & Lemon General Store (later Griffith Grocery, the Golden Rule Market and Iconoclast Books) in August and are planning to open a restaurant, the Cornerstone Bar and Grill, in December, 2009. Despite the inevitable costs and sacrifices, they plan to protect the historic integrity and ensure that the frontier-era building is not razed to make way for a larger, modern-day structure.
“Everybody who lives here knows innately how special Ketchum is, and everybody who’s born here figures it out as soon as they go somewhere else,” Megan Vorm said. “This building really deserves to be a community gathering place. It’s Ketchum. It’s one of the oldest buildings in town, and everyone deserves to come celebrate that.”
Like the old mining town itself, Ketchum’s efforts to preserve its original buildings have gone boom and bust. And though a handful of historic buildings are still scattered throughout town, three brick buildings in particular tell its early stories.
Ketchum’s early settlers, the pioneers who designed the orientation of its streets and stacked its first bricks, wrote the opening lines of the town’s history.
Albert Griffith was a Montana mining engineer who, in the summer of 1879, trailed rumors of Idaho’s mining riches to the sagebrush-swept hills of the Wood River Valley. He met a trapper and miner named David Ketchum, and the two built a cabin near the banks of Trail Creek. With the onset of a bitter winter, they left, but Griffith returned the following spring with banker Isaac Ives Lewis, of Butte City, Montana. On their journey, the party was anxious to establish mining claims on the valley floor, but struggled over Trail Creek Pass. On the morning of May 3, 1880, they abandoned their wagons, loaded supplies onto four horses and descended into the present-day resort town.
In his 1891 autobiography, Lewis reflected on the day: “At about 11 o’clock, we pitched our tent, the first tent on the present site of the town of Ketchum.”
This might be considered the first settlement of Ketchum, but history has its contradictions. According to Lewis’ unpublished autobiography (on file at the Regional History Department of The Community Library), a separate party of men arrived just a day before, but had not raised a single tent. Rather, they marked a kind of town plat and placed stakes in spring’s receding snow to establish where a main street should be built. This early group conferred among themselves and christened the place Leadville. >>>
Albert Griffith and David Ketchum mine near the confluence of Trail Creek and the Big Wood River.
Isaac Ives Lewis pitches the first tent on the future Ketchum town site in April. Within months, settlers “flocked in by the hundreds.”
The Idaho Statesman reports that the Wood River Valley has drawn “men from every corner of the globe” and that “gamblers and desperados crowd the sidewalks and throng the saloons.”
Lewis erects his first building in Ketchum, a wooden drug store on Lot #2, Block 20, later site of the Bald Mountain Lodge. The lot is empty today.
Lewis’ three brick buildings dominate Main Street.