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My Idaho: Swan Falls Dam's rich history

Posted at 7:06 PM, May 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-31 10:01:11-04

IDAHO — One of the oldest hydroelectric dams on Idaho's Snake River is still powering the homes of thousands of Idahoans.

The Swan Falls Dam was built when President William McKinley was in office. Now, more than 100 years later, it still provides power to thousands.

Swan Falls Dam sits about 20 miles south of Kuna. The hydroelectric dam once provided power for the bustling mining town of Silver City.

"Actually, the power from Swan Falls Dam, after it went to the mines, one of the earlier contracts was Caldwell for all the municipal lighting," explained Ty Corn, an archaeologist with Idaho Power. "Also, electric streetcars that were a thing back then."

Back in the early 1900s, there was a bit of a rivalry between Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla. Their battle helped the Western U.S. land one of the first AC plants: the Swan Falls Dam.

"It also has an interesting part in the whole war of currents battle between AC and DC with Edison on one side and Tesla on the other, meaning Tesla's alternating current known as AC was cheaper to generate over long distances than Edison's direct DC," Corn said.

Idahoans are fortunate that the Snake River is known as a working river because of the number of dams and the power they create on it, which according to Corn, is a pretty cool thing.

"Basically, you have fields that are coming next to each other, which when they do, it induces current and that's what creates electricity. It's pretty amazing."

And hopefully sometime later this year, the museum inside the dam will be open to the public.