(From the NF Accreditation Summary Report (03/2012)


Ashton is a city in Fremont County, Idaho, United States. The population was 1,129 at the 2000 census. The district is noted for seed potato production and bills itself as the world's largest seed potato growing area.

Geography and Climate:

Ashton has an elevation of 5,260 feet.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 0.6 square miles.

Ashton is 18 miles from the southwest corner of Yellowstone National Park, 24 miles from Grand Teton National Park, and 39 miles from the Grand Teton with a clear view. Ashton is surrounded by farmland but is less than five miles from the Targhee National Forest. There are four rivers within 10 miles of Ashton. They are the Henry's Fork of the Snake River, Fall River, the Teton River, and Warm River and all are outstanding trout streams. There are three notable waterfalls nearby, Upper Mesa Falls and Lower Mesa Falls both on the Henry's Fork and Cave Falls on Fall River.


In 1900, the Union Pacific Railroad, brought the railroad into the Upper Snake River Valley from Idaho Falls to St. Anthony, Idaho, 14 miles southwest of what became Ashton. The venture had considerable local support and official support from the LDS Church. Following successful construction and operation of the St. Anthony Railroad, Union Pacific, began plans for another railroad from St. Anthony to the Madison River entrance of Yellowstone National Park or to what is now known as West Yellowstone. For years, Union Pacific wanted improved rail access to Yellowstone’s geyser basins and now to Old Faithful Inn, that opened in 1904. Old Faithful Inn was only 30 miles from the Madison River entrance, nearly half the distance from the Northern Entrance at Gardiner, Montana that was served by the Northern Pacific Railroad. Union Pacific decided to build the railroad through a new town named after the Oregon Short Line Chief Engineer, William Ashton.

The founding of Ashton and the first scheduled train service to Ashton both occurred in 1906. As a result, Ashton quickly sprang to life. The Yellowstone Branch, as the new railroad was known, was very unusual in that it was built primarily for passenger service and secondarily for freight. Aesthetic stone depots, rather than standard wooden ones, were built at Rexburg, Idaho and at West Yellowstone, Montana to lure and impress tourists traveling to Yellowstone National Park and to Old Faithful Inn. In addition to regular freight and passenger service, there were two special named trains, the Yellowstone Special and the Yellowstone Express that ran to West Yellowstone in the summer tourist season. From Ashton north, the railroad was never plowed of snow, except in spring, so that Ashton became the wintertime rail terminus for the entire region.


Union Pacific then built the Teton Valley Branch railroad to Driggs and Victor from Ashton and completed in 1912. They built an engine house and other railroad facilities in Ashton to service the Teton Valley Branch and the Yellowstone Branch. These and further developments in the area soon made Ashton prosper and become one of the more important towns in Eastern Idaho.

American Dog Derby:

Ashton became the wintertime rail terminus for the region, resulting in considerable development in the higher country north and east of Ashton. Consequently, there arose a need for wintertime travel to the snowbound areas around Ashton. People began using the only wintertime transportation available at the time…dogsled. There became several accomplished mushers in the area whose livelihood became their dog teams. The many mushers, dog teams, and their abilities were fun topics of conversation and it was not long before a race was organized that, by fate, would become the world famous American Dog Derby.

Union Pacific Railroad, always advancing their interests, helped to promote the races. One early race was held in the open fields around Ashton on a figure-eight course with Ashton at the intersection. It was designed so teams would come running through town twice each lap. Interest in the American Dog Derby grew. Union Pacific brought spectators in special trains and by the early twenties, thousands of people thronged the streets of Ashton each February to see musher's and dogs come charging down Main Street on one of their laps. It may have been Ashton’s beautiful view of the Tetons, it may have been the happy cast of characters involved, but for whatever reason, by 1923, the American Dog Derby had captured the imagination of the western world

Seed Potatoes:

Ashton was first and foremost a farming community. The soil of the area is rich and the water is plentiful. Shortly after the first settlers arrived in the 1890s, several canals were developed to divert water from streams running off the Yellowstone Plateau and Teton Range. Some farmland, mostly to the east, is high enough and close enough to the Teton Range that crops can grow without irrigation due to increased rainfall. The relatively high altitude limited crops to those requiring a short growing season such as grain and alfalfa.

Seed potatoes were not tried as a crop until 1920. Yet as it turns out, the area is perfect for seed potatoes. The short growing season keeps the potatoes small, as seed potatoes need to be, but it is the long cold winters, ironically, that creates the ideal conditions for seed. The longtime enemy to potato farming is potato blight which is a form of mold that reproduces from spores in the soil and sickens the potato plant. Ashton's long cold winters cleans the soil of these mold spores with a long, deep, and killing freeze. Potato blight never spreads because the soil is clean and free of spores each spring. After realizing this, farmers organized, hired inspectors, and began selling certified seed potatoes giving buyers comfort that Ashton seed was free of molds and disease. This enabled them to demand a premium price for these potatoes grown in the clean soils around Ashton and the area quickly became the largest seed potato producing area in the world as it is still known today.