Historic Sun Valley, Ketchum and Hailey
Nearby Stanley ID is ripe for exploring.
Jul 24, 2020 at 8:00 AM in Things to Do by
Noteworthy as the first destination winter resort in the United States, a visit to Sun Valley, Idaho and the surrounding area promises a classic mountain experience, one enjoyed by famous and not-so famous people for almost ninety years. Developed in 1932 by W. Averell Harriman, the chairman of the Union Pacific Railroad, in an effort to increase train travel to the great American West, the site was well chosen for its abundant snowfall and sunny weather. (Like most places in the Rocky Mountain West, if it’s not snowing, the sky usually radiates into a bright bluebird day.)
Harriman, an avid skier, had a vision, a dream that turned into a reality when he created Sun Valley, a ski resort whose founding seemed to be spot on when America–and perhaps the world–was still riding high from the 1932 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. Yes, it was high time to vigorously embrace winter sports–as well as beloved mountain recreation for all seasons–in the United States.
Originally inspired by the great resorts of the Alps, today a distinctive alpine feel still enthralls young and old in places big and small from the Austrian/Swiss-styled Sun Valley Lodge and Sun Valley Inn (constructed in 1936 and 1937 respectively) to culinary delights such as raclette and fondue found on menus in restaurants from Sun Valley to Ketchum to Hailey. Owned and operated by the ski company, fortunately the aforementioned places of lodging have retained their original charm even after having undergone extensive renovations in recent years. They are, in fact, as beautiful as ever and excellent places to go–even just for a drink–to imbue your senses with Old Sun Valley. Check out the photographs in the hallways of Sun Valley Lodge to see the who’s who of illustrious people and celebrities that have vacationed in this beloved resort including Lucille Ball, Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, Kennedy family members, Tom Hanks and many more. Gary Cooper, one of America’s leading actors, visited often, primarily to hunt and fish.
And at the same time, the vibrant spirit of the American West dominates as well. Step into The Pioneer Saloon, a beloved eatery bedecked with period collectibles and taxidermy in Ketchum for an especially authentic blast from the past. Want to see a big ‘ole ore wagon up close? Pick up a key to the Ore Wagon Museum at Ketchum City Hall and check out some of these beasts built to withstand colossal loads of ore from the nearby mines. Hate to think about the horsepower required to pull those!
Named after David Ketchum, a trapper and guide, the town of Ketchum became a smelting center for the Warm Springs mining district toward the latter part of the the 1800s. After the mining boom went bust in the 1890s, sheepherding took over and by 1920, Ketchum, also a notable stop on the Union Pacific Railroad, had become the biggest sheep shipping center in the West. And yes, you can still see sheep drives funneling down from the mountains through the valley today.
Indeed Ketchum embodies the cachet of a town steeped in authenticity even though it has emerged as a swanky mountain destination. It enjoys the benefits of its Sun Valley proximity while maintaining a uniqueness of its own.
Renowned American novelist, short story writer and journalist Ernest Hemingway was and likely forever will remain the most celebrated visitor to the area. He lived and worked in Ketchum for long periods of time beginning in the 1930s, resourced by its magnificent nature and outdoor activities, including hunting. It was here that he worked on part of the manuscript of For Whom the Bell Tolls. He retreated to Ketchum in 1960 while suffering from depression. Sadly he killed himself there in 1961 with his favorite shotgun. He and his granddaughter, Margaux, who also committed suicide, are both buried in the Ketchum Cemetery. The Community Library in Ketchum features an ongoing exhibit, Ernest Hemingway At Home in Idaho, where you can learn more about this American treasure, view photographs of his time in Sun Valley and even see one of his typewriters.
Immerse yourself in the region’s rich pioneer history at the Blaine County Historical Museum in Hailey, a more populated city in the Wood River Valley. It’s a great place to learn about the area’s mining and ranching heritage and to visit the house where poet Ezra Pound was born. Attention impassioned aficionados of political buttons: this little museum boasts one of the country’s largest collections of buttons and other memorabilia from political campaigns dating as far back as the 1820s. And they’re still adding to it today!
Cultural doings take centerstage in Hailey at The Liberty Theatre, an historic gem built in the early 1900s where silent movie once played. Built in 1938, the present-day Liberty Theatre was restored by Bruce Willis and Demi Moore 1994. This renowned couple also funded the restoration of other distinguished old properties in town.
It’s funny the things you discover in America’s small towns, especially when they are as alluring as Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley. Wishing you lots of great finds as you set out with your Discovery Map!