By Chelsea Chambers
Photos submitted by the Meridian Historical Society and the Zamzow Family
Meridian is considered one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, and I’m sure anyone crossing the intersection at Fairview and Eagle would agree. Little more than ten years ago, Meridian didn’t even have a movie theater and now there are two, along with a huge list of incredible restaurants, boutiques, shopping centers, and more. With the addition of the Village, Meridian is now one of the most popular places in Idaho for shopping, dining, and recreation.
But Meridian wasn’t always the buzzing urban area that it is now. With very humble roots, Meridian used to be a place for homesteaders—those traveling West in search of land. And Meridian had plenty of land to spare.
On August 18, 1893, Meridian was established as a village and was approved in 1903. “The earliest settlers were referred to as the “Five Milers,” says Lila Hill of the Meridian Historical Society. “Early homesteaders were required to have water available in order to receive their land patents and Five Mile Creek had been named earlier. [In fact], Meridian owes its [progress] to the long and frustrating development of the irrigation systems in the Boise Valley. Remember, we live in a desert area. No water, no crops, no livestock, etc.”
So, the homesteaders dug, built, and created a system to irrigate the dry desert land, upon which grew the foundation of what became a thriving dairy community and a very successful crop of orchards. Many of the local residents spent their days in packing sheds, loading fruit to be shipped until the Creamery was built in 1929 by the Ada County Dairymen’s Association. “That provided some economic stability during the depression,” remarks Lila.
“The 1900s brought in a large influx of settlers from Nebraska and another school was built to hold the rise in students.” In 1913, the first high school was built (now Cole Valley High) and students could complete their education up through 12th grade for the first time. “Settlers to the area have always appeared in “bunches” causing the schools to constantly need more facilities, which continues with today’s growth.”
Over 100 years have passed, and the growing trend of Meridian has stayed constant. People come in droves, pushing at the seams of the city, forcing local government to remain diligent at expanding. Many Meridianites agree that there is still an issue with overcrowding in the public-school system, even with the addition of so many more schools over the years. But more and more people continue to relocate to Meridian, so the city continues to adapt—adding more educational facilities, widening the roads, etc.
The Mill was established in the early 1900s and was originally a flour mill, but was purchased in the 1950s by the Zamzows, a widely recognized name across Idaho. It was then turned into a feed manufacturing plant for animals. “Up until that point, [our family] had literally been hand-making feed, and the mill increased our capacity tremendously. It was a game changer for the Zamzow feed business,” says Callie Zamzow, great granddaughter of August and CamelitaZamzow.
If walls could talk, the stories from the Old Feed Mill would be endless. I asked Callie to share one of her favorite stories about the old mill.
“Oh boy... there are so many stories from our family mill through the ages, including the very beginning of our family's existence here in Idaho. My great-grandfather, August Zamzow, was traveling with his older brother on the train (moving to California to find opportunity) when he was 17 years old. The train made a stop in Meridian, so my Grandpa hopped off and ran into town to buy he and his brother a sandwich. Apparently, he took a little too long because when he got back to the train, it was already moving... he threw the sandwich to his brother who was still on the train and wound up staying in Meridian. We believe the missed train incident happened right in front of the mill (it was newly built at the time). Additionally, we have reason to believe my Great-Grandpa might have been flirting with my future Great-Grandmother, Carmalita (aka "Gramma Z") as she worked at the bakery where he bought the sandwiches.”
The Mill is still being actively used today and now boasts a beautiful mural on the south-facing side of the building. The mural, painted by Sector Seventeen, celebrates and honors Meridian’s agricultural roots.
In 1990, Meridian’s population was less than 10,000. Now, not even thirty years later, the population has surpassed 100,000 and is still growing…fast. And as the economic well-being of Meridian booms, the growth has caused an unfortunate backlash that challenges its agriculture past. Farmland is being sold to developers at a staggering rate. What was once used for crops and livestock is now being transformed into shopping centers and subdivisions. As the farmers are being pushed out, Meridian has to decide how to balance the needs of the community and its members.
The U.S. Census rated Meridian one of the top ten fastest growing cities in the entire nation. That’s a lofty weight to put on what was once a humble dairy and farming community. But the city is adapting and is constantly finding balance in the growth. Local officials are always interested in hearing input from the members of the community and are seeking ways to open the lines of communication between citizen and government.
If you would like to participate in the discussion about the City of Meridian’s new comprehensive plan, visit www.meridiancompplan.com to learn more and to have your voice heard. There is also a survey that can be found on the city’s webpage at meridiancity.org.
It’s important to stay active and involved in local decisions, especially in an area that is growing so incredibly fast. As the population pushes at the seams of the city, it’s imperative that we always remember our roots—through art, education, and communication, we can continue to grow together, throughout the Treasure Valley and our beautiful Gem State.