In September 1891, Statesman readers learned that the U.S. Post Office Department was planning to start free mail delivery in Boise City. Before that could happen, however, properties had to be given numbered street addresses - something they had never had before.
The Statesman reported on Oct. 10, 1891, "The city marshal was upon the streets yesterday ascertaining the proper designation of lots preparatory to affixing numbers to buildings at the city's expense, and thus pave the way for free delivery of mail to citizens."
On Nov. 19 it was announced that free delivery and pickup of mail would start on Jan. 1, 1892. Business owners in the Downtown area would get their mail delivered twice daily. Because New Year's Day was on a Friday, delivery began on Jan. 2. The momentous occasion was cheered by the Statesman with the headline, "HAIL TO THE CARRIER." Ross Miner and Porter D. Williams, who delivered the mail that day, were Boise's first mail carriers.
In February, it was announced that the post office would be moved in April, from Bannock Street to a room in Peter Sonna's new brick building on Main Street, just west of his hardware store and opera house. The office was to be outfitted with all new boxes and fixtures.
Before the move took place, however, the old post office was robbed by two masked men with revolvers who held up Postmaster E.R. Leonard at 8:30 p.m. on April 4, 1892. A week later, both men were arrested - C.M. Taylor in Boise and Frank Hinton in Pocatello. The Statesman was sure they would both be convicted of the crime, but, curiously, the paper never mentioned the case again. We do know, from the excellent prisoner records compiled by staff and volunteers at the Idaho Historical Society, that neither man ever served time in the old Idaho Penitentiary.
The new post office opened for business on April 28, 1892. With downtown merchants getting mail delivery twice a day, people in the rest of the city wondered why they, too, couldn't get theirs delivered at least once a day. On Jan. 6, 1893, the Statesman explained why the carrier system had not been extended in Boise: "The government census taken in this city in 1890 proved to be a thorn in the side of Idaho's capital in many instances. The census gave the population of the city at 2400, and it was so recorded at Washington, D.C.
"Some time ago Postmaster Leonard applied to the post office department for an extension of the carrier system in order that those living in Boise's suburbs might enjoy the same privileges as are extended in the heart of the city. Mr. Leonard received word from the department that as Boise had a population of but 2400 in 1890, and that, allowing for a fair increase, the population could not be more than 2600 now, the city enjoyed all the mail facilities it was entitled to. The postmaster immediately appealed to the Board of Trade and yesterday Mr. Clark, until recently secretary of the board, forwarded to Mr. Leonard a statement showing that the city's population was 5960."
Boise had grown at an unprecedented rate after statehood on July 3, 1890. The postal department cannot be blamed for being skeptical of the city's Board of Trade claims because local businessmen were the most rabid supporters of their towns.
Every town in the West hoped to grow into a city. That is why so many called themselves "City" when they were mere crossroads with a building or two and a few people. Boise City called itself that from the beginning. Other examples include Idaho City, Silver City and Baker City in Oregon.
Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email email@example.com.