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125-year-old Rexburg home still stands

Many of the buildings erected when Rexburg, Idaho, was established in 1883 are now gone. However, a piece of Rexburg history, only a minute from campus, still stands.

The Old Nelson home, built around 1890, is one of Rexburg’s oldest buildings.

It is the last house of its kind, according to its owners — Ms. Nelson and another woman who have lived in Rexburg most of their lives. Both declined to give their first names.

“It’s the only house left on its original 2.5-acre lot,” said Brenda Millward, the homeowner’s niece and Rexburg local.

Nelson, one of the current homeowners, said the home has a long history.

“When Rexburg was settled, they made the city into 10-acre blocks and cut those blocks into quarters so they could live on it, have cows, and raise a garden,” Nelson said. “This is the only original one left.”

When Thomas E. Ricks and William B. Preston prepared to establish Rexburg 132 years ago, they brought along surveyor Andrew Anderson, the current homeowner’s great uncle, and asked him to divide the city, according to Rexburg, Idaho: The First One Hundred Years.

Nelson said each 10-acre block had four homes, which allotted 2.5 acres to each family so they could raise crops on their own land.

Even today, the Nelsons use the land as their great uncle designed it to be used. They use every bit of their 2.5 acres in maintaining one of Rexburg’s largest gardens.

Most students will recognize the Nelson garden for its 100-year-old apple trees, its art garden and the seemingly endless rows of vegetables and flowers and thriving vegetation, which differ from that of modern apartment buildings and businesses that
surround it.

The Nelsons said the property has changed ownership only three times in the last 125 years. The current homeowners grow some of their own food on their land, just as every owner of the property has done for more than a century.

Emren Fogle, a sophomore studying communication, said she loves seeing the Nelsons’ garden.

“I love driving by their house,” she said. “I see their garden, and I just think how much love and time they must have to tend it.”

Greg Carron, a freshman studying psychology, said an establishment so long-standing as the Nelson home is a unique sight nowadays, especially since it stands less than one half mile away from new and polished NorthPoint apartment complex.

“Indeed, most everything else in Rexburg has changed since 1890,”  Nelson said.

From 2000 to 2010, Madison county grew by 48 percent, according to the U.S. Census.

The city of Rexburg has kept up with the growth of the college and has met the growing needs of a swelling student population.

The growth of Rexburg has mirrored the growth of BYU-Idaho, something that Louis Clements, Board of Director of Upper Valley Historical Society, said is not a coincidence.

Clements said most radical changes to Rexburg came when Ricks College became a four-year school and took on the name BYU-I.

As for the Nelson home, the homeowners said they have received hundreds of offers for the property from both apartment developers  and businesses.

“We had a whole bunch right before it turned from Ricks to BYU-I, and three so far this year,” Nelson said.

Nelson said they have no intentions of selling their property despite offers they have received.

Rexburg citizens have had mixed reactions to the growth, especially to the development of apartment complexes, which the Nelsons said have changed the face of Rexburg.

“The businessmen welcomed the change because they felt there would be an increase of business – which there has been,” Clements said. “The community is divided a little bit from the point of view of those that have invested in the change and those who wanted Rexburg to stay the same as it always has.”

Nelson said that despite the city’s efforts to keep up with change and maintain local tradition, Rexburg is still losing out.

“People don’t know each other like they used to,” Nelson said. “And it’s because of all the apartment buildings.”

Nelson said the increase of apartment buildings has driven out and replaced local Rexburg citizens. She said such constant change has disrupted Rexburg’s sense of community.

“Nowadays, you don’t know your neighbors,” Nelson said. “People move in, and people move out, and you don’t even know who they are.”

Clements said not all locals dislike  the changes.

“The majority of people support the university and are aware that there’s got to be expansion,” he said. “In other words, most people understand that with growth comes new housing.”

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