Rexburg, Idaho is best known as a college town of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Many young adults come and go on a frequent basis. Similar to any other place, there are people who do not belong to the Church, but in Rexburg, a large majority does.
Rexburg started with the pioneers of The Church of Jesus Christ who were trying to settle and expand.
According to the Church’s newsroom, “In 1855, Brigham Young, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sent a small party of men to the Upper Snake River Valley in Idaho to see about its suitability for settlement. Returning after spending a summer there, they reported to President Young that it had frosted every night.
“Their experience gave credence to one Native American’s assessment of the Rexburg area: ‘It is nine months winter and three months late fall.’ But President Young just said, “That’s all right, perfectly all right. When we need that country it will be all right and we will settle it.”
After Brigham Young had sent a group of people to check the state of Idaho, William B. Preston’s curiosity led him to gather a group of men to travel with him. According to Church records, the original men were: Thomas E. Ricks, Sr.; Thomas E. Ricks Jr.; Brigham Ricks; Heber Ricks; Willard Ricks; Fred Smith; James M. Cook; Francis C. Gunnell; Daniel Walters; Lorenzo Thorp and Leonard Jones.
Church leaders did not send anyone to Idaho — Every move was subject to the choice of the individual. In honor of Thomas E. Ricks, the community decided to name the city after him — Rexburg.
“Rex” is a simplified spelling of “Ricks,” while “Burg” indicates a city or town. “Rexburg” means “Ricks’ city.”
Once Idaho became a state in 1890, Rexburg became the second-largest city in the state, according to city records.
In June 1888, the Church board of education recommend the Rexburg community to build a place to receive education.
By November 1888, Rexburg had opened an elementary school named Bannock Stake Academy. The school “served 59 students ranging in ages from 5-20,” according to BYU-Idaho.
After 35 years, Bannock Stake Academy became known as Ricks College, a two-year junior college.
“In the 1920s and 1930s, the Church began to close, or hand over, its academies to state governments because of better established public education and economic strains on the Church,” says Rexburg.org. “Ricks College was offered as a gift from the Church to the state of Idaho at the 1931 legislative session but was rejected. Bills handing over Ricks College to the state of Idaho were presented at three more legislative sessions, (1933, 1935, 1937), but all were rejected. After almost a decade of facing closure, the Church decided to keep Ricks College open.”
On June 5, 1976, Rexburg and two other close towns suffered from major flooding after the Teton Dam broke, leaving towns with millions of dollars’ worth of property damage. During the flooding, Ricks College became the refuge of many Rexburg residents.
Rexburg’s population in the 1920s was about 3,569. It grew steadily, boasting a population of 35,300 in 2021. In the early 2000s, The Church of Jesus Christ changed Ricks College into BYU-Idaho, a private four-year university. Little by little, Rexburg became what it is today.
It all started with 11 curious men.