We are East Idaho: Iona
Published at | Updated at
IONA — Cool fall air rustling the leaves on the tree-lined streets in this community is a stark contrast to when settlers arrived in 1883.
Dense sagebrush rumored to be as tall as a man on a horse filled the area now known as Iona. The settlers were ready to leave by June 17, 1884, when those including Thomas E. Ricks filled a makeshift church created by running boards across a wagon box for seats. Then apostle Wilford Woodruff of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spoke and gave what became known as the ‘Wagon Box Prophesy.’
“He made this famous prediction that if they stayed, the desert would bloom like a rose and it has,” said Iona Mayor Dan Gubler.
Woodruff said the Snake River Valley would turn into fertile fields, and homes along with trees and flowers would stretch from one end of the valley to the other.
As settlers continued flocking to eastern Idaho, stores and homes began lining the streets of the community. In 1886 the town got its current name.
“I could never find out why it was named Iona and I’m a history buff,” Gubler said. “I was always under the impression that it was Scottish settlers because there is an Island off the coast of Scotland named Iona. It was known as the Mormon settlement on Sand Creek until John Taylor, the apostle, named it Iona after a community in Palestine.”
The settlers stuck around and today, Iona remains a small community of homes, a school and store just minutes from the hustle and bustle of Idaho Falls and Ammon.
“Iona is just a good tranquil place to live,” Gubler said. “(It’s) a great place to raise a family – it’s always been sold that way. It’s about community and so Iona just has a rich history of that.”
With Iona’s “rich” history, The Iona Historical Society operates a museum in one of Iona’s oldest standing buildings. The museum occupies the Latter-day Saint tithing yard built in 1895. The society displays donated artifacts, from irons used by pioneers to sports uniforms, depicting Iona over the last 136 years.
“The museum is a way to let the kids know how this village started and what our forefathers went through to get here,” said Dena Johnson, a volunteer at the museum. “They came a long way and they came a hard way.”
Johnson spent most of her life in Iona, moving to the community at the age of two. She recalled having large Fourth of July parades, rodeos and parties in the park where children played games.
“(A) small community is where you want to raise your kids,” Johnson said. “It was a fun place to be raised and I think you’re more connected to the whole town.”
Gubler says with growth continuing in the area, Iona hopes to keep the sense of community as families move in. He says looking back on those before will keep Iona a great place to live.
“Their sense of community is what’s really driven stuff forward,” Gubler said. “That type and sense of community still exists here and hopefully can hold onto that.