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Get to Know Idaho: The infamous Murphy parking meter

The parking meter in Murphy is the only one in Owyhee County, but parking isn't considered a "premium" in this small town.

MURPHY, IDAHO, Idaho — If you’ve ever traveled alongside State Highway 78 near Owyhee County, you’ve probably passed through the quiet town of Murphy. 

At one time, the city was considered to be the smallest county seat in the country. With only four square miles making up the whole city, you won’t find a gas station, grocery store, or even a sidewalk in Murphy. 

While Murphy doesn’t have the typical city amenities, it does have an airstrip, a museum, a post office and a courthouse. 

In front of that courthouse, you won’t find many vehicles parked outside but you will find one parking meter.

Marcy Peterson, the courthouse recorder, had had her eye on that very parking meter for 15 years. She said people rarely park in front of it since there are many other places to park. 

With all that available space, why is there metered parking in Murphy?

It’s a story that predates Nick Ihli’s appointment as the Owyhee County Clerk. As it goes, Ihli’s predecessor Kenneth Downing installed the meter in 1953.

"Supposedly he put it up so that he'd always have a place to park.” Ilhi said. 

In a town of two dozen people, you’d have to assume that parking wasn’t necessarily in high demand in Murphy at the time. 

Luckily, one man in Murphy knows the real story of why that parking meter was installed.

Eriks Garsvo said the biography of the coin box goes back to when the county seat was moved from Silver City to Murphy in 1934. To years later, the courthouse was built but the city wanted more than just a bland building

"They put the lawn in probably in the late 30s early 40s here," Garsvo said. "It probably was the only lawn in murphy for a while."

Back then, Murphy was located in the middle of open-range cattle grazing, which would make a patch of green grass a pretty good spot for a cow to get its fill.

"And then with the grazing came other things and the groundskeeper said 'I'm done with that,'" Garsvo said. "So they put in a chain-link fence and this is this fence. It's still here."

The gate served its purpose and kept cows off the grass. However, it also kept the people out. To fix that problem, they added a gate to the fence.

The idea seemed great until courthouse employees realized they couldn't get into the courthouse if someone parked in front of the gate.

And thus, the parking meter was born.

"The parking meter, I heard, came out of the Nampa dump," Garsvo said. "They went up there and they found it sitting there and brought it down and stuck it right here."

After all these years, it's probably pulled in a pretty penny or two for the county? That's not the case, according to residents.

"I think I heard one time they pulled maybe ten bucks out of it," Garsvo said. "It's become part of Owyhee County history, yeah."

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