Spaulding Ranch: An island of farmland on the Boise Bench

awebb@idahostatesman.comDecember 12, 2012 

1212 local spaulding

A developer would like to build houses on the 20-acre Spaulding Ranch, but Preservation Idaho and neighbors want to keep the old farm site from being developed.

JOE JASZEWSKI — jjaszewski@idahostatesman.com

The outbuildings at the Spaulding Ranch include a classic red barn with a double-pitched roof, a wooden silo and a New Deal-era outdoor toilet built in the spirit of sanitizing rural America. They’re all showing their age.

But the shade trees and open space off North Cole Road make it possible to imagine life at the ranch when Almon and Mary Spaulding homesteaded there in 1896. According to some accounts, Mary Spaulding was the first female doctor to practice in Boise.

Houses now surround the 20-acre ranch on all four sides. No one has lived there for years.

A developer, Northside Management, is interested in building houses on 15 acres of the site, leaving five acres, including the farmstead, intact.

The firm would work to preserve the site’s historic qualities, spokesman Scott Noriyuki said in a statement Tuesday.

But some neighbors want the site kept the way it is.

“We consider the old Spaulding farm to be one of the treasures of our West Bench area,” said Betty Brigante, president of the West Bench Neighborhood Association.

The Bench has few historic sites, she said, and none on the scale or significance of the Spaulding Ranch. The site is on the National Register of Historic Places. Its application for that designation notes its buildings as key features — the Wisconsin-style barn dates to 1910 — but also its undeveloped land.

The ranch is the last substantial piece of open farmland within Boise’s city limits, said Preservation Idaho spokesman Dan Everhart. The organization is joining neighbors against the proposed development and is hosting a public meeting Thursday to share more information about the site.

“This type of farm used to be the rule in the area. Now it’s the exception,” said Everhart.

Of Boise’s nine historic districts, Spaulding Ranch is the only one on the Bench.

Preservationists say it’s notable in other ways, too.

It’s the city’s only historic district that is a single property. Even a small historic district such as Hyde Park, covering a mere two blocks on 13th Street, contains nearly 20 separate properties.

Boise’s other historic districts — the North End and Old Boise, for instance — are residential or commercial in nature. The Spaulding Ranch’s agricultural character makes it unique.

A farmer who rented the land kept 20 head of Holstein there and grew hay until the mid-1990s.

DEVELOPMENT OF A HISTORIC SITE?

Northside Management held a neighborhood meeting Nov. 20 on the farmstead’s front lawn to share plans for a possible residential development.

Noriyuki said the firm is considering a design style similar to the North End.

“Site layout and architecture are envisioned to be period-based,” Noriyuki said.

Northside has yet to file any development applications with the city. The firm hasn’t set a timeline for when that might happen, said Noriyuki.

The developer also hasn’t said how many homes it envisions on the 15 acres.

In order to build on the Spaulding Ranch site, a developer must file an application with the Historic Preservation Commission asking to remove the historic designation from a parcel or part of a parcel, said Hal Simmons, city planning director.

If the commission approves the removal, the City Council would have to adopt a zoning change to remove the historic overlay.

If the commission denies the developer’s application, the developer could appeal to the council, and then to the courts.

Removal of historic designation is not common, said Simmons, but it is possible.

Ada County Highway District also could play a role in the property’s future, said Simmons.

Glenwood Street now dead-ends at the Spaulding property. The highway district could opt to extend Glenwood to join up with N. Cole Road, bisecting the ranch.

A LONG HISTORY

When the Spauldings first claimed the ranch, it was five times its current size, covering more than 100 acres. Parcels have been sold through the years. Ten acres became a ballfield for nearby Capital High School.

The Caron family bought the ranch in the 1940s. Katherine Caron, the first elected president of the “Women of Rotary” clubs in Boise, spent many years as the fashion buyer for the C.C. Anderson department store chain. She stayed on the ranch after her husband, Harvey, died in 1982.

In the 1990s, worried about the property’s fate, Caron campaigned successfully to get the ranch listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A national listing places no obligations on private-property owners, and it doesn’t offer much protection against development. Its primary power is providing tax benefits and helping properties qualify for grants.

It also does not require a city to create a historic district, a classification that does have some teeth.

In this case, the city created the Spaulding Ranch historic district, Boise’s seventh such district, in 1996.

In 2005, when Katherine Caron was 93, the family asked the Historic Preservation Committee to remove the designation for financial reasons. The commission denied the application.

Katherine Caron died earlier this year at the age of 100.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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