|Elevation||6,080 ft (1,850 m)|
|Time zone||Pacific (PST) (UTC-8)|
|• Summer (DST)||PDT (UTC-7)|
Florence is a ghost town in Idaho County, Idaho, United States. About 14 air miles (22 km) east-northeast of present-day Riggins in remote north central Idaho, it was settled as a mining camp in the winter of 1861. Then in Washington Territory, the town at an elevation of 6,080 feet (1,850 m) quickly became the seat of a new Idaho County and the rich placer gold fields in the Florence Basin attracted thousands of prospectors to the area, contributing to the establishment of the Idaho Territory in 1863. However, intensive mining depleted the richest ground and the county seat moved elsewhere in 1869. The town thrived again from 1895–1900, based more on lode mining. Then the town slowly faded away, having only ten inhabitants in 1940, and was totally abandoned sometime after 1951.
Early discoveries and prosperity
The discovery of gold around Pierce and Orofino in 1861 drew thousands of prospectors into the Clearwater River area of present-day north central Idaho, east of Lewiston. With all the best ground claimed, many newcomers began to look elsewhere. In late summer 1861, a party of men headed south toward a local divide between the Clearwater River drainage and the Salmon River watershed. At that time, much of that area was still part of the Nez Perce Indian Reservation. (A new treaty in June 1863 reset the reservation boundary.) Perhaps because of Indian protests, the party split at some point. A smaller band of five made their way into a high mountain basin about thirty miles (50 km) south of today's Grangeville. There, they found very rich placer gold along most of the nearby streams in August 1861. Despite mutual promises to keep the find quiet when they returned to Elk City for supplies, word quickly got out.
The camp went briefly under the name of Millersburg, but a miners' meeting soon settled on Florence in November 1861. That was the name the town had when the Washington territorial legislature made it the seat of Idaho County on December 20, 1861. By the time winter took hold, the camp reportedly held nearly two thousand men. Unfortunately, the winter of 1861–1862 "proved to be one of the coldest in the history of Idaho." No one knows how many men died from the cold, but one newspaper writer had "no doubt that at least one hundred men have perished from the cold." Survivors told horrific stories of near-starvation, frostbite, and widespread snow-blindness.
As was common to many of those early placer mining districts, the richest days in Florence lasted only a couple years. About five years of steady, but lesser production followed. By around 1869, Chinese miners were working most of the claims in the region, whites having leased the properties or abandoned them. Probably not coincidentally, Florence lost its designation as county seat on June 1, 1869. The period of largely Chinese production lasted until about 1880, followed by a long stretch of minimal activity.
Resurgence and decline
The first quartz lodes in the Florence area might have been developed as early as 1863. Another followed around 1872–1875. However, the location of the Florence Basin in high, extremely rugged country made transportation especially difficult. Operators had to rely on hand mills, or very small stamp mills that could be broken down into manageable components for transport. In 1895, a new road was built to connect Florence to Mount Idaho. With better transport, investors took another look at the quartz mining possibilities in the region. They found enough rich ore to justify bringing in more milling capacity, which set off another boom. Optimistic owners even assembled a dredge to re-work the old placer fields.
Early returns seemed to justify their hopes, but both the lode and placer booms were fairly short-lived. By around 1900–1905, those hopes had faded and the town had to depend upon small-scale, essentially individual operations after that. Even that had ended by around 1940, when the census recorded just ten people in Florence.
In 1951, when Sister Alfreda Elsensohn published her history of Idaho County, the handful of Florence inhabitants no longer received local mail delivery. It's not clear when the last resident moved away (or passed on). Today, only a few building foundations and an overgrown cemetery remain.
The Florence Basin is several miles west of the Gospel Hump Wilderness, which was designated a wilderness area in 1978. The basin is over 4,000 vertical feet (1,220 m) above the Salmon River, five air miles (8 km) north of its confluence with French Creek. After flowing westward across the state, the river turns north at Riggins; Florence is also twelve miles (20 km) east of the river as it nears Lucile (elev. 1,650 ft (500 m)).
- An Illustrated History of North Idaho Embracing Nez Perces, Idaho, Latah, Kootenai and Shoshone Counties, State of Idaho, Western Historical Publishing Co., CITY (1903).
- Merrill D. Beal and Merle W. Wells, History of Idaho, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc. New York (1959).
- Idaho State Historical Society (August 20, 1961). "Old Florence lures new pilgrims". Lewiston Morning Tribune. p. 7.
- "The lure of gold: the history of Florence, Idaho and the 1861 discovery of gold". U.S. Forest Service. March 2012. Retrieved November 24, 2012.
- ""Counties and County Seats," Reference Series No. 10,". Idaho State Historical Society, Boise. July 1991. Retrieved November 24, 2012.
- M. Alfreda Elsensohn, Eugene F. Hoy (ed.), Pioneer Days in Idaho County, Caxton Printers, Caldwell, Idaho (1951).
- Butler, Bonnie C. (October 6, 1955). "Florence now a musty ghost of once-booming gold center". Lewiston Morning Tribune. p. 8-LCSE.
- Moffatt, Riley. Population History of Western U.S. Cities & Towns, 1850-1990. Lanham: Scarecrow, 1996, 93.
- "1864 territorial census". Idaho State Historical Society, Reference Series, #130. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
- "1863 territorial census". Idaho State Historical Society, Reference Series, #129. Retrieved December 2, 2012.
- "News from the mining camps: the excitement in Idaho". The Citizens Call. September 7, 1898. p. 3.
- "Plane serves winter camp". Spokesman-Review. January 19, 1933. p. 1.
- "Aged counter begins task". Eugene Register-Guard. United Press. March 25, 1940. p. 1.
- Miller, Martin (September 8, 1940). "Road restrains Florence mines". Spokesman-Review. p. 23.
- Idaho State Historical Society: Reference Series #196 - Florence
- GhostTowns.com - Florence, Idaho
- Idaho Gold.net - Florence
- Idaho Public TV - Florence