After learning the year-round population of tiny Warren, located in the western foothills of the Salmon River Mountains, I was shocked. “Twelve?!” I couldn’t believe even that many people lived here.
Warren is the most remote town that we visited in Idaho, stationed at the end of a dirt road 45 miles out of McCall. It’s a moderately popular summer getaway which empties out almost entirely once snow sets in. Understandable, since the only road into town closes for winter. After that, it’s either snowmobile or airplane.
As with many of central Idaho’s tiny towns, Warren had its heyday back in the 1860s with the discovery of gold. Prospectors moved in from every corner of the country — Californians, Missourians, Secessionists from the South — but they were all out-numbered by the Chinese. Over 1200 workers from China flocked to Warren, establishing their own saloons, restaurants and barbershops. One prominent member of the Chinese community, Ah Sam, even became an honorary mayor of Warren.
The Forest Ranger station in McCall had equipped us with a pamphlet titled the “Warren Historic Walking Tour”, which describes the ancient buildings which are still standing, and relates some of the more colorful stories of the town’s past. As we walked past the Green House, for example, we read the following about the overly conciliatory judge who resided there:
Andy Kavanaugh assumed the office in 1895 and was distinguished by never rendering a verdict. Kavanaugh threw all his cases out of court on the basis of “hearsay evidence” because “it made a lot smoother living in the community.”
Perhaps my favorite of Warren’s buildings was the old schoolhouse, noteworthy for its backwards “N” — particularly embarrassing, since this was where children were taught to write. In the 1930s, townspeople rejected a proposal that the “N” be corrected, huffing that “this is the way it’s always been!”
At the schoolhouse, I pointed out an odd bit of playground equipment to my mom. It looked like a medieval torture device, but sent her into a fit of nostalgic ecstasy. “Giant Stride”, she squealed, running toward it like the schoolgirl she actually was the last time she had seen one. Apparently, these deathtraps were all the rage in the playgrounds of 1950s-era Indiana. It’s like a tetherball set, but taller, and with six ropes instead of one, and they’re metal chains instead of rope, and instead of a soft ball on the end of each, there are heavy, metal stirrups. Of course, it’s incredibly fun — I swung around on it for awhile, cursing the dumb kid who must have wrapped a chain around his throat and forced the nationwide ban on this awesomely dangerous toy.
We finished off our day in Warren at its bustling saloon. Literally everyone in town must have been there. A very cool place, quirky like only the bars of very small towns can be. They had old Chinese artifacts on display, and a book compiling the editions of the defunct Warren Times.
Warren was a far more entertaining day trip than I had anticipated. The beautiful Warren Wagon road which leads there from McCall is almost worth the drive itself, but the town has a lot to recommend a visit. Just make sure and pick up the Walking Tour brochure in McCall, first.
Location on our Idaho Map