The Powell Community
Town Incorporated: 1909
City Incorporated: 1964
Population 2010: 6314
The history of the Powell area begins before the arrival of the
white man in a time when the area was home to the Crow, Blackfeet
and Shoshone Indians, noted by the many Indian names of landmarks,
rivers, streets, and towns. Frontiersman John Colter made the first
recorded entry into the valley in the early 1800’s returning
to a trading post on the Yellowstone from Indian winter camps. In
the late 1870’s the first reported herd of cattle was moved
into the Powell Valley from Oregon. In 1888, the U.S. Senate had
the USGS study the feasibility of irrigating arid lands by using
dams, canals, and hydraulic works. The area around Powell became
part of this development with the authorization of the Shoshone Project
and Buffalo Bill Dam on the Shoshone River in 1904 - one of the first
three projects authorized in the U.S. by the Bureau of Reclamation.
Work began on the dam and canal projects, with Camp Colter being
set up near the present townsite to serve as headquarters and tent
camp for the several hundred men working on the Shoshone and Garland
Canal projects. Excavation work began on Buffalo Bill Dam in September
of 1907, and water from the Garland Canal became available for settlers
in June of 1908. With the coming of settlers, determination was a
large part of the makeup of these homesteaders who settled the Powell
Valley, homesteading began and agriculture became the driving economic
force with the availability of water for the land. They transformed
a portion of the valley that was mostly sagebrush flats into irrigated
farm ground. With the completion of the project, the camp became
the logical site for a town. However, because the name Colter had
already been used for a railroad siding, a search began to name the
new town. The name Powell came from Major John Wesley Powell, early
day explorer, conservationist, and head of the Reclamation/Geodetic
Service at the time of consideration of the Shoshone Project. Major
Powell never explored the Powell flats given his name. The first
town lots for Powell were put on the auction block in May of 1909
and the town grew. The first action to incorporate the town came
in 1909 and it was incorporated into Big Horn County in 1910. In
1911, Powell became part of the newly organized Park County. Since
that time, more land has been irrigated for farming, cattle ranching
followed, and an oil industry boomed and declined in Elk Basin. Agricultural
products from the Shoshone Irrigation Project are widely distributed,
and include beans, barley, sugar beets, corn, alfalfa, and other
forage and seed crops grown under irrigation in this originally dry
area. Powell became a business community of approximately 6,000 serving
a large agricultural area. From zero dollars valuation to millions
of dollars, Powell has grown into a community of progress, with a
future ahead of it, and a past rich in achievement.
The City of Powell is a community located in the northwest corner
of Wyoming, 75 miles east of Yellowstone National Park and 98 miles
south of Billings, Montana. Lying between the Big Horn Mountains
on the east and the Absaroka Range on the west, clear blue skies,
clean air, a temperate climate, and loads of sunshine make the Powell
Valley a wonderfully refreshing place to live.
Powell is recognized as a progressive community and was designated
an All America City in 1994. A small town atmosphere, quality of
life, old-fashioned values, a can-do spirit, and friendly people
are a way of life in the Powell community.
Powell has a diverse commercial, industrial, educational, historical museum and agricultural/
ranching based economy with dedicated, hard-working people with strong
work ethics. Superior educational opportunities abound with excellent
schools and an outstanding two-year college. Excellent health care
facilities, recreational opportunities, retirement living, cultural
events, shopping, fine dining, and modern community and public services
all provide for a high quality of life for our residents.
Powell has a Mayor/Council – City Administrator form of government.
The legislative body of Powell consists of a Mayor elected at large,
with six council members, two elected from each of the three City
wards. The Mayor appoints (with Council concurrence) the City Administrator,
City Attorney, Municipal Judge, and members of boards and commissions.
The City consists of ten departments under the direction of the
City Administrator - Police, Administration & City Clerk, Finance,
Engineering/Building, Electrical, Information Technology, Water/Wastewater, Parks, Sanitation/Public
Health, and Streets.
Powell Valley has a high desert climate, located in a nearly snow-free
valley between two mountain ranges with mild winters and warm, dry
summers. Snow on the ground is a rare treat and rain is scarce. Annual
precipitation (total rain and snow) averages just 5.83 inches a year.
Powell winters run about 25 degrees warmer than Chicago winters.
Summer temperature ranges run anywhere from the 80’s to 100’s.
With the exception of irrigated farm ground, the valley is covered
with sagebrush and desert like vegetation.