Wallace W. Elliotts History of Idaho Territory, published in San Francisco in 1884, was the first history of the Territory to reach Idaho readers. In its coverage of Boise County, this item appears: First theaters. Theatrical amusements, social entertainments, concerts, lectures, and other like exhibitions and performances were not wanting from early in the summer of 1863, to contribute their full share of innocent amusement, instruction, and recreation.
Early in 1864, Simon G. Rosenbaum erected a large and commodious theater building, just north of Bear Run, on Bannock Bar, which he called the Jenny Lind Theater. It was handsomely painted and frescoed by a Doctor Elliott, and about the first of July, 1864, Mr. Rosenbaum arrived at Idaho City from San Francisco, with a theatrical troupe, which continued to give almost nightly theatrical exhibitions until early in November.
We learn that the Jenny Lind Theater had competition from the beginning in the Idaho World on Nov. 5, 1864: The Forrest Theater, under the management of Messrs. Henry & McGinley, has been well attended during the past two weeks. Frank Husseys Variety Troupe has appeared nightly in new acts, burlesques, and fun-provoking squibs, which appear to draw better houses as they become better known the audience increasing nightly. The songs and dances of Julia Morgan and Lottie French, the jokes and songs of Billy Sheppard, Frank Hussey and Joe Mabbott, and the gymnastics feats of Master Frank, are certainly attractive and worth the money. At the benefit of Julia Morgan on Tuesday night, the appearance of Sarah and Bobby McGinley in several beautiful dances excited very favorable comment.
When Florence Bell made her first appearance at the Forrest Theater later that month, the paper praised her performance: While she remains here the Theater will continue to be a favorites resort for ladies and gentlemen. She certainly deserves a liberal patronage from lovers of the drama.
Idaho City in the early 1860s had more than 6,000 people, and was well able to support two theaters. Placerville had more than 3,000, and Pioneerville and Centerville more than 2,000 each. Troupes of entertainers moved from one Boise Basin mining town to another as the demand dictated.
The Idaho World reported in May, 1867 that the Robinson Troupe, of more than a dozen performers, then playing at the Jenny Lind Theater, continues to please the public and when not interrupted by political assemblages, still draw good houses. Their fund of Thespian resources appears inexhaustible. The list of actors who came to Idaho City in the 1860s and 70s is like a Whos Who of the American theater of the period. Not all were big names, but many of them were well-known in the West, and a few had national reputations.
In June, 1870, the World noted: Professor C.B. Plummer, the celebrated dramatic reader, an inimitable delineator of comic character, is in town. He comes well recommended by the press wherever he has been. Last night he held forth at the Courthouse, and will give another entertainment on Friday evening, after which he will visit other Basin camps.
Next week well explore further the theatrical history of Idaho City and other Basin towns, now celebrating the 150th anniversary of the gold discovery that created them in the first place.
Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email email@example.com.