These men recorded their first discovery of gold near Centerville on August 2, 1862. Despite their efforts, the news spread quickly and started a gold rush for the Boise Basin. It would be years before roads were built, and nearly thirty years before Idaho would be admitted to the Union. With or without roads, the gold rush brought hundreds of men and thousands of mules to western Idaho Territory. Idaho City began as a camp for these miners, as well as families that had come to Basin hoping to start a new life and a business. Hot summers and cold winters, combined with the primitive and makeshift qualities of the town made it hard to survive during those first years, with many suffering from exposure and shortages of food. Despite these difficulties, the mines provided employment and the community grew to a population of 7,000 people, making Idaho City the largest in the Pacific Northwest in 1864.
As quickly as the mining boom grew, the city and region experienced an even more rapid decline when gold became scarce. By 1867, those who could sell their claims to unsuspecting newcomers. Idaho City’s population fell below 900 by 1870 and declined to only a few hundred by the early 1900s. The museum is best known for preserving and sharing the story of the city's early boom and bust, but also records the history of the town after the mining boom that once made it famous.