150 Boise icons: The Oregon Trail

awebb@idahostatesman.comMay 7, 2013 

For lots of communities in the U.S. the idea of the Oregon Trail is just that - an idea, an abstraction that lives in textbooks and movies.

But for Boiseans, the Oregon Trail is a tangible thing. It's often no more than a few blocks away from where you're standing. It often corresponds to a road you walk or drive every day.

Over a 20-year period beginning around 1840, around 300,000 emigrants traveled the trail on their way to Oregon. The route enters Boise east of town, past trail ruts preserved at the Oregon Trail Reserve on East Lake Forest Drive, near the Bown House on ParkCenter Boulevard and on through South Boise.

It crosses the Oregon Trail Memorial Bridge on Capitol Boulevard, the spot where ferries carried passengers across the river. It heads into Downtown Boise and the North End. It passes close to the Idaho State Capitol and the O'Farrell Cabin (Boise's first house) at 5th and Fort before heading west, out of town along Hill Road.

Twenty-one obelisks help mark the route, thanks to an effort that began in the 1990s in South Boise Village, the neighborhood south of Boise Avenue.

Glen Corbeil was part of a local effort to beautify Boise Avenue, which follows the Oregon Trail route. Corbeil applied for neighborhood and federal grants. Public artist Mark Baltes joined Corbeil and added more markers in the North End.

Each marker includes an interpretive plaque about a different aspect of local history.

The Idaho Statesman lauded the effort in a 2004 editorial:

"It has taken 10 years, but the obelisks are here to stay. Boise owes a debt of gratitude to Corbeil, Baltes and other local residents who built them. Their work has improved neighborhoods, fostered appreciation for history and enriched our city."

Here is a sampling of marker locations and themes. Find a full list on the Boise Arts & History blog:

• Protest Avenue and Boise Avenue: Farming in Boise.

• Rossi Avenue and Boise Avenue: Black pioneers.

• Euclid Avenue and Boise Avenue: Table Rock.

• McAuley Park at Harrison Boulevard and Hays Street: Emigrant Trails to Goodales Cutoff.

• Dewey Park at 15th Street and Hill Road: Slaughterhouse Gulch.

• 36th Street at Catalpa and Hill Road: Geothermal in Boise.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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