Pioneer Joseph Bown came to Idaho from Iowa in 1862, drawn by the promise of finding gold. In addition to that quest, he began farming near the Boise River and what's now ParkCenter Boulevard.
In 1865, when the city of Boise was just a couple of years old, Bown went back to Iowa and returned with his wife, Temperance, and their five young children. He built the family's sandstone house, originally called the "block house" because of its distinctive shape, in 1879.
Statesman reader Juno Van Ocker, a retired teacher from the Boise School District, nominated the historic house as her favorite Boise icon. Van Ocker is a volunteer docent at the site. She shared some of its history.
The Bowns built the house, made of two colors of sandstone from local quarries, on the highest piece of land in the area. Their fellow Boiseans considered the house and its surrounding 240-acre farm large and luxurious.
The Boise School District owns the Bown House today, thanks to voters' approval of a 1987 bond. The district initially considered demolishing or moving the house to another site. Instead, the Idaho Historic Preservation Council convinced the district to keep it and find an educational use for it.
Local groups and individuals, including Preservation Idaho, helped raise money to restore the house and grounds.
Today, the Bown House is part of the campus of Riverside School. It's home to the Heritage Education Program that lets students experience what life was like in the 1880s. The Assistance League of Boise, the school district and community donations support the program.
Visitors' favorite features include places where inhabitants over the years have written poems and their names, said Van Ocker. A large family lived in the house during the 1930s and '40s, she said. All the children left their signatures on the walls. Two of those children, now senior citizens, have visited and shared their stories, Van Ocker said.
The upper-story floors are the original floors that Joseph Bown installed in 1879. Being covered for decades by linoleum and carpeting preserved them. Van Ocker gives kudos to the students at Les Bois Junior High who donated their time after school and on weekends to scrape off the old covering.
Want to get closer to Boise history? The house is open to the public for free tours on the first Saturday of each month, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. The next tour: April 6.
- 2100 E. Victory Road
Anna Webb: 377-6431