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History of Rexburg, Idaho

Deeply rooted in agriculture, Rexburg is a bustling trading center in eastern Idaho. Each summer Rexburg becomes an international city when it hosts the Idaho International Dance and Music Festival. The settlement of Rexburg began in 1879 when John Poole, an employee of the Utah Northern Railroad, reported fertile soil in the area. Mormon church leaders heard the news and in 1882, sent W.B. Preston and Thomas E. Ricks to inspect the area. Ricks became the community's founder, and the settlers chose to call the town Ricksburg, but because the German rendering of Ricks is Rex, soon changed the name to Rexburg. In 1915, however, Ricks’ name persisted in the naming of Ricks Academy, the first junior college in the Intermountain region. The school’s name was eventually changed to Ricks College and in 2001, the institution became a four-year school under the name Brigham Young University - Idaho. On June 5, 1976, tragedy struck eastern Idaho when the Teton Dam north of town broke, unleashing about 80 billion gallons of water to flood about 300 square miles of the valley. Downtown Rexburg was devastated. The only properties spared were those high up on the hillsides. Rexburg rallied and upgraded the community while rebuilding it. The Idaho International Dance and Music Festival is a mixture of ceremony, dance performance and instruction, music, art, and a meshing of local residents' and dancers' cultures. During the past few years, the festival has grown beyond Rexburg and has added performances in other Idaho cities. As many as 300 dancers from approximately 10 countries perform in a variety of venues. Throughout the two week-long event, dance teams from approximately 10 different countries hold classes for youth in the Rexburg area. The goal of the festival is to provide a cultural exchange between the community and the countries of the world. Dancers stay in local homes, and the resulting bonding has become the festival's strength over the years. The idea for the festival evolved from a European dance festival tour in 1983, when dance directors and team chaperones accompanied a folk dance team from Rexburg’s Brigham Young University – Idaho. Following that tour, the Rexburg Chamber of Commerce was looking for a way to increase tourism. Executive Director Donna Benfield began to contact dance groups, to determine if there was interest in attending a festival in Rexburg. She discovered plenty of enthusiasm — and the arduous task of dealing with foreign governments to bring in performers began. The community is known for quality educational, religious, health, and recreational opportunities. Today, Rexburg is still known for its wide streets, spacious parks and public facilities.