Nothing can grow near Eagle Rock, they said. These were the days when the railroad was king, before the storm and strike forced the city to change its name and turn to agriculture to save the economy. There were no farmers of any size. It couldn’t be, because apart from the snake there was no reliable water.
So when Charles Tautphaus rolled over, bought a square mile south of town, and told the locals his plan, the disbelief was understandable. He was also unusual, they said. Not because of his unpronounceable name or origins – an immigrant like everyone else in Eagle Rock – but because he seemed so confident and preoccupied with his own thoughts that he paid little attention to the townspeople. And there was this vision of him, an image in his head of a lush lake, trees, orchards, and flowers. Blue and green. If you wanted this life then why are you coming here?
In 1886 the family moved in and got to work. Charles, his wife Sarah, and their five daughters, ages 4 to 16, all packed up with workhorses and equipment and dug a sea bed. This would be the focal point of the property – a six acre oasis in the desert. Now for the water itself. Tautphaus first tried digging a canal from Sand Creek, several miles away, until he realized it was not a reliable source of water. So the snake. Early next spring his crew began digging eight miles above Eagle Rock and blasting them with sledgehammers. His “Idaho Canal” had reached the lake in 1890. In order to create a drain for the lake, they drove on. The waterway turned 55 square miles of wasteland green and transformed the valley. Tautphaus, already rich, got richer. He and his family planted trees on either side of their long driveway, which led past the lake over a bridge to their stately home, next to a stable and a smaller lake with clear water for cattle, geese and ducks. Charles’ picture was complete.
Tautphaus Park, as it was called, attracted day-trippers and tourists from afar for picnicking, boating, and swimming in this desert oasis. There was even ice skating in winter.
He had conquered nature. And then, dream realized, he went to pursue other conquests: gold mining in the Yukon, freight in Nevada. There he died suddenly in 1906, in Tonopah. Three years later, Sarah sold the land to the Idaho Falls Boosters Club, which transferred it to the Bonneville County Fair Association, which set up a fair, racetrack, and grandstand near the lake. A few years later, as Reno Park, the first War Bonnet Roundups took place here. The city bought the land back in 1934, opened a zoo the next year, and named it City Park before locals petitioned to restore its original, unpronounceable name.
In 1947, after a flood of drownings, the lake was emptied by Charles Tautphaus and a picnic hut and “sunken” baseball diamond built in its place, with a brand new “children’s park” called Funland nearby. Now the only water in the park is its useful Idaho Canal, which gently slides south past its grave, old lake, funland, and zoo to homes and farms.
His image of an oasis in the desert has now disappeared. Thanks to him, the desert is too.
Research into this story was contributed by Carrie Anderson Athay, Museum of Idaho.