By Matt Miller, senior science writer, The Nature Conservancy
The water’s glassy surface reflects purple hills as the sun rises over the Silver Creek Valley in south-central Idaho. The haunting cries of sandhill cranes mingle with the loud honking of Canada geese.
Soon, though, it will be ducks that fill the air with their whistling wings: mallards and pintails and cinnamon teal and widgeon. A trout occasionally slashes the surface for insects; mule deer noisily splash along the creek’s edges.
It’s a scene that thousands of visitors from all 50 states and 14 countries enjoyed this year at The Nature Conservancy’s Silver Creek Preserve. And it’s a scene people have enjoyed here for many decades. In fact, Silver Creek began drawing visitors in the 1930’s, when celebrities who hunted and fished along the creek gave the area a boost of publicity.
One of those early visitors was Ernest Hemingway.
The Conservancy’s ownership of Ernest Hemingway’s last home—located in Ketchum, Idaho, about 25 miles from the preserve—has generated international media attention over the last several years. The Hemingway mystique retains a powerful hold on many people, and more tourists to Ketchum request information for the Hemingway House than any other site in town.
However, many Conservancy members have questions about our relationship with the house—how we came to own it, why we continue to do so, and how it ties into our mission.
The Conservancy has owned the house since 1986, and we recently recommitted to its upkeep and the cataloging of its historical and cultural artifacts. But the story of the Hemingway House—and the Conservancy’s connection to it—really begins with the natural beauty of the Silver Creek Valley.
In the 1930’s, Sun Valley Resort, located adjacent to Ketchum, offered complimentary stays to celebrities like Hemingway as part of a successful marketing effort. While Sun Valley Resort’s ski slopes today draw celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, the skiing was undeveloped in the author’s time.
Instead, it was hunting and fishing at Silver Creek (on a property known as Sun Valley Ranch) that attracted Hemingway, Gary Cooper and others to the resort. Hemingway became associated with the valley and spent many vacations there over the years.
Contrary to popular belief, Hemingway was not much a fly fisherman, preferring instead to catch trophy fish in the ocean. He enjoyed Silver Creek instead for its duck hunting in the autumn; photos of him resting on Silver Creek bridges—shotgun in hand—became common features in Life and other magazines.
Hemingway and his wife Mary purchased their home in Ketchum in the late 1950’s after they were faced with a forced departure from his beloved Cuba. Hemingway, a compulsive collector of paper from manuscripts to grocery lists, wanted a place where his documents would be protected from humidity and fire.
The home was virtually indestructible: It had a faux wood exterior that was actually cinder blocks, and the arid southern Idaho climate offered low humidity. Hemingway lived off and on in the home for two years until taking his life there in 1961. Mary Hemingway continued living in the home until 1986, when she passed away.