Walk through the halls of the Sun Valley Resort and evidence of the past 85 years of history is plain to see: groundbreaking innovations in the development of skiing as a recreational activity, Hollywood celebrities past and present, Ernest Hemingway. That’s the narrative of Sun Valley as a ski resort, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
In the newly published “Images of America: Sun Valley, Ketchum, and the Wood River Valley,” historian John W. Lundin dives into the backstory of Blaine County. He looks at the railroad, the agriculture, the mining—in short, the economic infrastructure that made Sun Valley possible.
“Hemingway and the stars, that’s been done. Everybody knows that. The economic role of the railroad really fascinated me,” Lundin said. “The Wood River Valley of today is the result of a very specific 130 years of economic history.”
The book comes as part of Arcadia Publishing’s ongoing popular “Images of America” series, which presents historical vignettes of various communities around the country primarily through the medium of historic photos.
Lundin’s book includes about 120 pictures, which span more than a century of history from the early days of settlers and mining on through to Hemingway and the revolutionization of the ski industry.
Most of these images he accessed through the extensive archives at The Community Library’s Center for Regional History—home to some 14,000 historical photographs. Needless to say, it took a great deal of time, consideration and careful curation to whittle that boon down to just the 120 Lundin selected to best represent 130 years of local history.
“Lots of time was spent selecting pictures. It was fun. I love looking through all these things. I got some from the Union Pacific Museum and I used some old family pictures as well, but most of the pictures came from The Community Library,” Lundin explained. “It’s a treasure trove of pictures there. Just an absolute treasure trove.”
The historian has kept a residence in the valley since the 1980s and has been visiting on ski trips since the ’60s, but his familial connection stretches much further back. His great-grandfather settled in Bellevue in 1881, attracted by the silver-rich hills. In the coming decades, Lundin’s family spread throughout the area as miners, blacksmiths, farmers, hotel owners; one relative was even Blaine County sheriff for a time.
When approached to write a history of the Wood River Valley, Lundin was initially reluctant.
“It’s been done too much,” he said. At least, there have been many books chronicling the history of the Sun Valley Resort.
“There was this big gap in the history. One message I try to bring out in this book is that Sun Valley was located here only because of the specific economic development that took place before,” Lundin said.
The “Images of America” book is actually a bit of a precursor to a much larger historical volume—described by the author as a “tome”—due to come out in November via History Press, a division of Arcadia Publishing.
“The big tome was actually supposed to be published first, but coronavirus reshuffled everything,” he said. “Still, we’re looking forward to November. That book will be a major history of skiing in Sun Valley and how this resort changed everything.
“First, though, is the ‘Images of America’ book, which sets the scene and explains how all that was possible in the first place.”
From a certain point of view, the two books can be considered companion pieces. The November publication will take an in-depth look at all of the innovations that emerged after the railroad set the scene.
“Images of America: Sun Valley, Ketchum, and the Wood River Valley” is available now from Chapter One, Iconoclast, Ketchum Kitchens, the gift shop at Sun Valley Lodge and the Regional History Museum in Forest Service Park.
As a show of gratitude for all the help the library gave to Lundin during his research, he is donating 100 percent of his personal profits from the book to the Center for Regional History.