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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
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Friday — April 23, 2004


The old Sunbeam dam and mill on the upper Salmon River were short-lived, but left a stamp on the landscape that lasts to this day. The U.S. Forest Service is proposing to issue a permit at one of the nearby historic buildings for operations of a resort to resume after a two-year hiatus. Photo courtesy the Ketchum Community Library

Sunbeam Village
may live again

Upper Salmon River site
is part of long, storied history

To get involved:

"Before the permit is issued, we want to offer the public an opportunity to provide us with any concerns or suggestions they may have regarding this operation," said SNRA Resort Administrator.

Comments will be most helpful if received by May 14.

For more information, contact Fluetsch at (208) 727-5000. Comments should be addressed to: Sawtooth National Recreation Area, HC 64 Box 8291, Ketchum, ID 83340, Attn: Dave Fluetsch. Comments may also be submitted via e-mail to: dfluetsch@fs.fed.us.

Express Staff Writer

Sunbeam Village, a historic cabin and trading post near the banks of the upper Salmon River, has a long and colorful history. This summer, for the first time in two years, the eclectic store and nearby cabins may open for business.

"The place has, at times, been very busy with a lot of visitor traffic," said Sawtooth National Recreation Area Resort Administrator Dave Fluetsch. "Back in the mid-90s, there was a restaurant, the (White Otter Adventures) raft business, RV camping, a gasoline station. It was a pretty busy place. It’s been a successful business in the past."

Its setting is pastoral. Nestled above Highway 75 near the confluence of the Yankee Fork and Salmon rivers, the old store and cabins are surrounded by lodgepole pine trees and sweeping sagebrush ridges.

The resort is also part of a historic site made famous by mining and the construction and subsequent demolition of the Salmon River’s only dam. It is near the center of a historic mining belt that includes the ghost towns of Custer and Bonanza, which are several miles up the Yankee Fork.

Last week, the U.S. Forest Service announced it is proposing to reissue a permit that will enable new owners to operate the Sunbeam Resort, which is located on publicly owned land.

Sunbeam Resort’s current owner is no longer providing services to the public, as is required under the terms of the current permit, said Sawtooth National Recreation Area Resort Administrator Dave Fluetsch.

Under the SNRA’s proposal, a new owner would be authorized to provide cabin rentals, a restaurant, store and recreation vehicle and tent sites. Several of the facility’s amenities would also need to be upgraded.

"The proposed authorization would allow a new owner to resume normal operations at Sunbeam, renovate the main lodge building and renovate or replace several existing cabins in future years," Fluetsch said.

The White Otter Adventures rafting company also bases its operations from the historic property. Fluetsch said the prospective buyers of the resort propose to maintain a working relationship with the rafting company and plan to continue a long-standing lease.

"However, the business relationship is between the raft guide and the owner of the business," he said.

The precise history of the resort property is difficult to ascertain, but an old cabin was built at the site in 1881 by a miner named Ebnezer E. Cunningham. Cunningham, who called the Sunbeam area Junction Bar, was renowned for attempting to placer mine gold by circling an adjacent mountain with a ditch, according to a history titled "Land of the Yankee Fork."

The first store opened in Cunningham’s old home around 1920, and the Forest Service has authorized Sunbeam Resort’s operations since at least 1941.

The present store was built in 1959, Fluetsch said.

According to a Challis National Forest history of the Yankee Fork region, miners from Montana discovered the area in 1866 or 1867. They arrived at a large tributary of the upper Salmon River, where they camped and prospected for a few weeks, but they left without finding any promising placers.

Before returning to Montana, the party dubbed the nearby creek the Yankee Fork of the Salmon River, because everyone in the party was a Yank.

Following discovery of promising placers in the area in 1870, the Yankee Fork Mining District was formed, and the region began to grow. In the late-1870s, the boomtowns of Custer and Bonanza took root along the shores of the Yankee Fork.

In 1910, the Sunbeam Consolidated Gold Mines Co. completed a dam and power plant on the main Salmon River, just upriver from the confluence with the Yankee Fork. The company used 300 tons of cement to build the dam, which measured 95 feet at its crest and was 35 feet high. The turbines drove a generator that produced enough electricity to run the nearby mill and to supply lighting for the Sunbeam mine.

The Sunbeam mill and mine operated almost a year on electricity, but the low cost of electric power could not compensate for the low value of the ore excavated there. In April 1911, the Sunbeam property was sold at a sheriff’s auction, and the mine and mill were closed.

Caretakers lived near the dam for a number of years, but after the death of Lou Cruthers, the last caretaker, the dam’s fish ladders fell into disrepair. The dam was partially blown up in 1933 or 1934 to allow salmon to continue to their historic spawning beds farther up the Salmon River.

With such a long history, and as a popular stop-off for anglers and boaters, Sunbeam is held in high regard in Salmon River country.

"I talked with a number of people who have fond memories of Sunbeam," he said.


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