During the turn of the nineteenth century, Pearl flourished as an Idaho mining town and home to more than 1,300 residents. Today, the locals and tourists attempt to find remnants of the once thriving town that exists now only as legend of a ghost town.
A large, brown historical marker midway up Freeze Out Hill invites the curious to discover the history of Pearl. Further down the road, located at the top of Freeze Out Hill on highway 16, there is a sign encouraging a short nine mile drive to locate the old mining town. Pearl is situated in a swath of land that separates the Emmett valley from the town of Horseshoe Bend; located 9 miles from the Emmett Highway and 4.5 miles from the Horseshoe Bend Highway at an elevation of 4,300’.
Like many mining towns there is an extensive history of productivity and price collapses that affected both miners and the activity of the particular mines.
Pearl remains a local secret as there is nothing left to show for her prominent days. The only thing surviving is a handful of mine openings and a few foundations of old town structures, now overgrown with native vegetation. Most drive past the area where the town once showcased three general stores, a drug store that kept two full time doctors in demand, two hotels, a restaurant, a barber shop, a black smith shop, a bakery, a post office, a livery stable, a church, a school, and an International Order of Odd Fellows hall. Today, only a few pieces of broken concrete rest quietly in the shade of the tall Lombardy Poplars. This marks the location where the Brambly Hotel used to stand.
Although some of Pearls history has been documented, most comes by way of legend. For instance, Pearl (Gilbert) Robeson – now deceased- was the first born child in the area in 1896 for which they gave the town its name. In 1892, the first interest of mining was developed and shortly after in 1894 roads began to develop from Boise and Caldwell leading to the town of Pearl. In 1908 the town began to show sign of deterioration as Pearl lived through the final collapse of the gold rush. However, many residents continued to live in the area and raised families for several years after the town went extinct. The last major mining exploration Pearl experience was in 1980 when the TRV Minerals Corp and Sunshine Mining Co tested for lucrative veins just outside of the old town.
The Pearl land is now privately owned by many. Among those who have raised their families in the area are the Cunningham’s, the Bean’s, and the Burkhart’s. The Burkhart landowners, whose father (Joe Sr.) was among the generation raised in the original town; he arrived at age four in 1912. They are the only family still maintaining close ties to their land.
The area known as Pearl now attracts enthusiast of all kinds as well as those curious to its history. It is a popular biking road, out of the mainstream of traffic. Motorcyclists and site seers enjoy the quite, dusty road to take them from the hustle and bustle of the city for an afternoon drive. And throughout the changing seasons, signs of target practicing and hunters are evident.
Pearl’s past was influential in attracting opportunity for many in the early nineteenth century. Today it serves a quiet, serene place to escape from the demands of city-life. There are those who love the land because it holds a certain historical value to their heritage, while others appreciate the simple, yet beautiful topography of the rugged landscape. And some are simply curious; hoping to uncover any lasting secret they might happen across during a short drive or an afternoon walk in search of what has become of Pearl.
- Flannigan, Jim. “Gem County’s Ghost Town.” Messenger-Index: compiled by the Gem county Chamber of Commerce. (1957).
- Riggs, Sam. “Looking Back.” Emmett Messenger (September 29, 1955).
- Riggs, Sam. “Looking Back.” Emmett Messenger (May 8, 1952).
- Unknown. “The West View District.” Caldwell Tribune (June 3, 1983).
- Unknown. “Pearl.” Emmett Messenger Vacation Issue. (Summer, 1959).
- Wells, Merls. “God Camps and Silver Cities.” Idaho Bureau of Mines and Geology
No. 22 ed.: Pamphlet. (1977).
- Woodward, Tim. “The revival of Pearl – gambling on a ghost town.” Idaho Statesman
(July 13, 1980).