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The History of Downtown and East Boise

Posted by Hughes Group Blog Team on Tuesday, November 13th, 2018 at 12:27pm.


The history of the downtown Boise area and the eastern Boise area are almost parallel to each other, so it is best to share the histories of both in the same article.

The city of Boise itself was named long before the establishment of Fort Boise by the federal government. The fort itself was abandoned in the 1850’s, but massacres along the Oregon Trail prompted a new one to be built. The new location of the fort was selected because it was near the intersection of the Oregon Trail and a major road connecting what is now Idaho City to the Silver City mining areas. The town of Lewiston used to be the capital of Idaho, but once the state of Montana was created, Boise became the new capital of Idaho after a controversial decision in 1866.

The downtown area has been the cultural center of Boise since it grew in the late 1860’s. Because of this, there are many aspects of downtown Boise that bring the history to life. One of these places is known as the Basque Block, which gives visitors a chance to learn about Boise’s Basque heritage. The community is one of the largest in the United States, with nearly 10,000 people. Since there are so many people in this community, there is a large Basque festival that is held once every five years (the next one being held in 2020). Other historic landmarks include the Boise Depot, Main Street, the Egyptian Theatre, and, of course, the Idaho State Capitol Building.

Boise's East End was established near Fort Boise and many fur trappers frequently visited there before 1863. On July 7, 1863, 8 men met at a point along Boise River. They met at Tom Davis and William Ritchley’s ranch. Here, they designed a town-site that lay between the new fort and the Boise River. The plat they started with (which is now known as the downtown area) entailed 10 blocks on either side of Main Street. Tents as well as board and batten buildings could soon be seen and housed about 725 people.

Other homes were constructed within the new townsite by families whose names are now recognized as street names. One of these homes, The O'Farrell cabin, is now situated on Fort Street by Lincoln School. Another home named The Coston cabin was originally located to the east of the town; the Pierce’s cabin currently stands next to the Idaho State Historical Museum at the park known as Julia Davis. Although it was not originally considered as Boise's East End, Fort Boise, being located at the easternmost point of the initial townsite, along with scattered homes east of downtown were the beginnings of what would later be known as the East End.

The abundance Flat ground, along with fertile soil and nearby water made the Warm Springs Avenue area attractive to both homesteaders and even ranchers alike. In 1869, a man named George Whitfield Russell brought large amounts of lumber, mainly pine, over Mount Bogus to build his family home at 1035 Warm Springs Avenue which remains there today. Closer to downtown, early settlers of the East-End provided some valuable help to miners and military personnel. One example is in 1864 where a man named Jesus Urquide set up a base camp in rear of his home for his packing company. The camp (Urquide's Village) included tens of pack animals and upwards of thirty small cabins. Urquide prepped for the military and ran people and supplies into Idaho's most secluded mining areas (his cabins were still erect until 1972, and his house was demolished in 1981).

Travelers that ventured to Idaho City, and the areas beyond it, would more than likely ride on a dusty road past many of the homesteads east of the town (the road is now paved and has been renamed Warm Springs Ave.). At times when the Boise-Idaho City road were impassible, this dusty path became invaluable. It also carried visitors to the hot springs at Kelly, a Native gathering place which is now a resort.

Many residences and other businesses have had a long history in eastern Boise. In fact, some of the first public buildings were erected in the East End. Some of these buildings are the Quartermaster building for Fort Boise, the United States Assay Office, and Idaho’s old State Penitentiary. All of these were erected out of locally sourced sandstone, some of which was from our well-loved Table Rock.

By 1885, development of Boise's East End continued south to Front Street and east towards First Street. After First Street was the rural homesites of many men including Thomas Davis, who was later known to have donated some of his ranch to the city for a park now named after his wife—known today as Julia Davis Park. Soon after, Boise City's population was no more than 4000.

In 1890, a man named C. W. Moore and a conglomerate of other Boise businessmen came together in a quest to excavate and develop hot water near the Penitentiary. On the 24th of December, the bunch had struck ninety-two-degree Fahrenheit water eighty feet below the surface. By May of the following year, the bunch had drilled two wells and were finding water at 180 degrees Fahrenheit, which could be used for a number of practical uses.

Soon, geothermal water became the driving force behind other momentous events. In 1891, for instance, the Boise Rapid Transit Company arrived on the scene thanks to Moore's neighbor and contemporary, George Whitfield Russell. This trolley system included 2.5 miles of track, that ran from Fourteenth Street to Warm Springs Avenue and Main Street. It was also made up of 2 twenty-four horsepower cars, a trolley barn located by the Penitentiary, and a power house at Idaho and Fourteenth Streets that generated hydroelectric-power from the Boise River.

Because of the geothermal water, quick transit, and recreational and social gatherings, these parts of Boise rapidly became populated and are still growing to this day. Because of this, there are many residential areas in these parts of town, and it’s a great place to visit and explore more of its history. There are also future plans to expand both of these areas, but in the meantime, they are still considered the oldest section of Boise. Visit to learn more!


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