A tiny item that appeared in the Idaho Statesman in September 1890, just weeks after Idaho became the 43rd state in the union, was probably overlooked by most readers, yet its news would profoundly impact the future growth of the city and the Valley:
W.E. Pierce of Richfield, Kan., arrived here yesterday with a carload of stock and household effects. His wife will arrive today and they will settle here. Pierce, like many others who came to Boise that year, was looking for business opportunities in the fast-growing capital city of Idaho. Judge Samuel H. Hayes, writing in the 1909 New Years edition of the Statesman, described what Boise was like when Pierce arrived:
In 1890 there was nothing to the town north of State Street, and Resseguie, Brumback, and other additions were nothing but farms. It was about this time that W.E. Pierce, John M. Haines, and L.H. Cox came to town. One of the first things they did was rent a room in the second floor of the Davis building for a real estate office. Such a thing as a real estate office was unheard of in Boise at that time, and I very well remember that the average citizen believed the firm would shut up shop within 90 days the average increase in the firms business since 1890 has been 10 per cent per annum in value, for the average lot, not just for downtown.
Hays had other observations about his city in 1909: Boise has never been a town that depended upon outside capital. It has usually done things for itself. There are proportionately fewer mortgages on Boise City real estate held by people living outside the state than in any other city of the West. All that Boise needs is to keep awake and keep hustling. Walter E. Pierce certainly agreed, and his record proves it.
Probably nobody did more to promote Boise and attract businesses and settlers alike than Pierce. In July 1893, the Statesman noted that his company had just received a large supply of an illustrated pamphlet promoting the citys climate, beauty and opportunities. These attractive booklets were distributed free to all who asked for them. In 1894 the company commissioned a lithographic artists imaginary aerial view of the city. In April 1895, the paper noted, W.E. Pierce & Co. who have just received 5,000 neatly printed plats of this city, yesterday distributed a large number of them. Many of the plats are being sent away, serving as a medium of advertising Boise. The enterprising firm deserves no little credit for the trouble and expense they have been to in this connection.
Pierce had become so popular in Boise by the summer of 1895 that he was elected to a two-year term as mayor.
Although Pierce announced his intention to build an elegant house at the corner of 10th and Franklin Streets that year, construction did not get under way until December 1896. The Statesman described architect John E. Tourtellottes plans: The structure is of Gothic style of architecture, modernized considerably, and will cost from $4,000 to $5,000. There will be eight spacious rooms and a very select den where Mayor Pierce will entertain his gentlemen friends.
Young attorney William E. Borah, who, like Pierce, had come to Boise in 1890, married Mamie, daughter of Gov. William J. McConnell, in 1895 in the parlor of the Cyrus Jacobs house on Grove Street. Jacobs and McConnell had been friends for many years. Borah would acquire the only house he ever owned in Idaho when he bought Walter E. Pierces new house at 10th and Franklin. The Pierce-Borah house was moved to a site west of Garden City in the 1950s because of the expansion of Boise High School athletic fields, where it still stands, although hidden from view by a grove of trees. The 1874 Cyrus Jacobs house, where Borah and Mamie McConnell were married, is still in its original Grove Street location, an important part of the Basque Museum and Cultural Center.
Walter E. Pierces further contributions to the growth of the city and the Valley will be described next week.
Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email him at email@example.com.