There are certainly a lot of sights to check out when you are in Idaho’s state capital of Boise. From unforgettable exhibits in Zoo Boise and the Aquarium of Boise to one of the biggest farmer’s markets you can imagine, the attractions of the city are truly endless. This is in no small part because of Boise’s large size as well as how long the city has been around. There are many interesting things to check out while in the Boise area that will help give you a taste of what Boise was like in the earlier days of the Gem State’s existence. Taking a trip through Old Boise has a really nice and comforting nostalgic feel that is sure to please any history buff.
Renovations in what is now the Old Boise Historic District began in the 1970s. Many people who became owners of property in the area saw how it had been all but abandoned and made plans to restore this part of town to its former glory, making it look much like it did in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As early as 1866, the area has been home to the Boise City Canal which is still running today. Many other businesses and buildings were built around this, with Grove Street (right next to the Canal) being the location of many of the more residential parts of the city since the early 1890s. For a short time during this decade, there was also a streetcar running along Main Street until the road was paved in the later part of the decade. The 1910s is when this part of downtown Boise really started to boom. The buildings started popping up everywhere, from the Statesman building and Pioneer Tent & Awnings in 1910 to the Fraternal Order of Eagles Hall in 1917. It wasn’t until the 1950s that the area started to become more dilapidated and some not-so-charming new business was established there. The renovations really kicked off in 1973 with the restoration of the Star Boarding House and started to escalate in 1974 thanks to Joan Crawley’s purchase of the building that once used to be Pioneer Tents & Awnings. From here the trend continued of new owners restoring the buildings to recreate the area as it looked in its prime during the early 1900s.
A good first stop on your trip to Old Boise is the Basque Museum and Cultural Center, which holds the title of the only Basque Museum in the entire United States. If you are into history, this little spot is an excellent option and offers a lot of fascinating information about Basques all over the world. There is a large Basque heritage in Idaho and all throughout the northwest and the museum exists to honor and them. Established in 1985 and expanded in 1993, The museum is a non-profit organization whose mission is to preserve Basque culture, even offering the only Basque language speaking preschool not located in the Basque Country. So if you are curious about Basque culture and how it relates to Idaho history, be sure to stop by this Old Boise gem.
Another great tourist attraction in Old Boise that calls back to the Old West days of the Gem State is the Idaho State Penitentiary, one of only a handful of prisons of its kind that is accessible to the public today. While not in use anymore, back in the 19th century and through the early 20th century this prison housed some of the most nefarious criminals the Old West had to offer, the kind of people that would usually be seen wearing black in old John Wayne movies. Those visiting the prison today can check out all of the places these outlaws would be kept, including cell blocks, solitary confinement, and even the gallows where many of these criminals were hung. There are many exhibits in the prison as well, shedding light on its history throughout the many years of its use. These fascinating exhibits include the J. Curtis Memorial Exhibit, which carries one of the nations largest collections of military memorabilia, the “Crafty Cons” exhibit, which has a display of many different things that imprisoned outlaws would take on as hobbies, The Women’s Ward, which features the over 200 female outlaws that have been housed in the Idaho State Penitentiary, and the brand new “Faces of the Idaho State Penitentiary” exhibit, which gives visitors insights into the lives of hundreds of diverse inmates. The Idaho State Penitentiary is truly a fun destination for anyone who has even a mild interest in the Old West.
Located not too far from the penitentiary is the old Bishop’s house. Built-in 1889 and remodeled in 1899, this house is a beautiful Victorian-era home that was originally home to a plethora of different Episcopal Bishops of Idaho and their families. In 1975 the non-profit organization Friends of the Bishop’s House was established to preserve this beautiful building, and the house is now available to rent for various events, including weddings, receptions, business retreats, holidays, conferences, reunions, and photo shoots. If you have a knack for old-fashioned architecture, search no further than this great location.
The Egyptian Theatre is truly a piece of art. It opened in 1927, and throughout the 20th century was one of the most popular theatres in Boise for concerts, plays, and films. Thanks to the Hardy Foundation’s restoration of the building, it is now a gorgeous place available to rent for many events such as film screenings and festivals, concerts, opera performances, corporate events, private parties, and even weddings! After checking out the Egyptian theatre, you may just want to hold one of these events there yourself.
There are many other beautiful and interesting sights to check out in this part of Idaho’s capital. Several museums detailing the history of the city of Boise and just taking a jaunt around you can get a feel for what life was like for those living in that time period. Go check out Old Boise for yourself and see what most interests you in this beautiful time capsule!