Idaho History: Famed Boise Children's Home holds open house Thursday



In the fall 1907, Rev. O.P. Christian of the National Children's Home Society wrote to Idaho Gov. Frank R. Gooding asking for his support in establishing a Children's Home Society in Idaho. Gooding replied: "Idaho has abundant provision for the criminal child, but has neglected that class of children that has not yet become criminal. If you will organize here such a society as they have in other states, I promise you my cooperation as the chief executive and my personal influence."

Although Gooding's reference to "that class of children that has not yet become criminal" may sound unduly pessimistic, he welcomed the Society's help and carried through with his promise of influence.

Gooding was born in England in 1859 and came to America with his parents in 1867. The family settled in Michigan. Ten years later they moved to California, where young Gooding worked as a farmer. In 1881 he came to Ketchum, then a booming mining town where galena ore, rich in silver and lead, had led to construction of a giant smelter, fueled by charcoal. Gooding worked for the next seven years cutting and hauling wood to fuel the charcoal kilns of the Philadelphia Mining & Smelting Co. In 1883 a branch line of the Oregon Short Line Railway was extended north from Shoshone into the Wood River Valley and the main line built on across southern Idaho on its way to Portland.

This development gave Idaho farmers and livestock ranchers superior access to distant markets. In 1888, Gooding went into sheep raising, the business that would bring him wealth and prominence. He became one of the state's sheep kings and in 1893 was among the founders of the Idaho Wool Growers Association. He was elected its president several times and through this association took an increasingly active interest in Republican politics. He was elected to the Idaho Senate in 1898, 1900 and 1902, and governor for the first of two terms in 1904. The town of Gooding is named for him, as is Gooding County, established in 1913. He served in the U.S. Senate from 1921 until his death in 1928.

To describe the founding and early years of the Children's Home Finding and Aid Society of Idaho one can hardly do better than to quote founder O.P. Christian, writing in 1913: "I came to Idaho in April, 1908, and Governor Gooding called a meeting of some of the prominent social workers, where the different phases of the project were discussed. In a short time an organization was effected. Mrs. Cynthia A. Mann gave to the society a block of land on Warm Springs Avenue, valued at that time at $25,000."

After her husband died, Mann opened her home to children of well-to-do parents for private classes in a variety of cultural subjects, including music, art and literature. The Children's Home Society bought a large brick house on the southwest corner of Mann's block, and admitted its first child on July 22, 1908. The more than 6,000 children that followed were fed, clothed, educated and given medical care. Adoptive and foster homes were found for most of them. Those not adopted were seen though their high school years, after which nearly all were able to find some kind of employment in business, industry, education, politics or government.

The big sandstone building at 740 Warm Springs Ave., opened its doors in 1910, almost 103 years ago. The building was designed by Tourtellotte and Hummel, architects of our state Capitol, and was built of stone from the same quarry.

My history of the Boise Children's Home, published in 1996, details the many changes in the role of the institution over time, and its metamorphosis from an orphanage into the family counseling center it is today.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email

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