Perpetually curious, history hobbyists keep small towns alive

By Kristin Rodine

Idaho Statesman

Published: Monday, Aug. 22 2011 11:00 p.m. MDT

Wylie started her column, "Of This 'n That," in the early 1950s, first at Nampa's Idaho Free Press, then at the Kuna Herald, Idaho Statesman and Kuna Melba News.

In 1972, she became a charter member of the Canyon County Historical Society and was invited to give a talk about Melba.

"You can't just stand up in front of people and say, 'Melba was founded in 1912, blah, blah, blah,'" Wylie says. So she put together a slideshow.

The approach proved popular, and she made the rounds of Scout troops, church groups and fourth-grade Idaho history classes. The role of community historian ensnared her.

"I didn't really want to do it in the first place, and now I can't help myself," she says. "Somebody always wants to know something, and who do you call? Old Madge. So I get to rooting around."

Whatever she delves into, she tends to dig deep. "Anything that happens in Melba, Madge knows the 100-year history," Kuna Melba News Editor Scott McIntosh says.

Wylie's books and columns trace the history of the community's homesteaders, city leaders, businesses and fraternal organizations. If a house burns, a business changes hands or a resident retires or dies, she records and tells the story.

Her latest book, "Of This 'n That: 50 Years of Articles, Musings and History," is a collection of her columns and stories from the Kuna Melba News. The newspaper's initial run of 100 copies sold out during the book's debut at Melba's Fourth of July celebration.

Wylie has a wealth of research on small school districts that dotted the landscape — Melmont, Glendale, Wilson, Guffey — before consolidation and school buses phased them out.

Starting in the third grade, Wylie attended Glendale School just south of Melba. Her family moved there from the Meridian area, and she writes about riding to her new home atop "a hayrack heaped with miscellaneous household items."

Wylie relates how, in 1942, Melba High let out for the whole month of October so students could harvest potatoes and aid the war effort.

When she writes about the 1994 removal of some railroad tracks, she tells the small human stories.

"Melba Todd Hays (the daughter of Melba's founder and source of its name) told me in an interview that her mother sent her laundry to Nampa by rail. When it returned in the next day or two, if they had no stop in Melba, they just tossed the laundry out the window."

On a recent drive, Wylie described the early life of places she passed: "The woman who lived there was a good old Quaker Lady; she wore a bonnet and dress out in the field."

"Right there is where Col. Dewey cut the lava rock to make the foundation for the Dewey Palace," she said a few moments later. The palace, Nampa's showplace 1902 hotel, was razed in 1963 — much to the chagrin of preservationists.

Wylie is something of a preservationist herself. Kitty-corner to her house is the red-brick former gym for Melba schools, built in 1935 as part of the Works Progress Administration.

"They keep talking about maybe tearing it down, and I keep telling 'em, 'Over my dead body.' So they call it the Madge Wylie mausoleum."

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