150 Boise icons: Julia Davis Park

June 3, 2013 

Tom Davis left his home in Cincinnati in 1862 and traveled west. Like so many other prospectors, he hoped to strike gold. Instead, he became a settler and one of Boise's pioneers.

Davis helped lay out the city and turn thousands of acres into farms and orchards. By 1863, he owned land between Grove Street and the Boise River. He grew potatoes, onions and cabbages that he sold to miners. According to one account, he planted 7,000 apple trees along the river.

Tom married Julia McCrumb in 1871. Julia's bronze likeness stands in the park today. She was known for helping emigrants as they traveled through Boise on the Oregon Trail. That generosity may have had something to do with her death in 1907 after tending to a traveler with typhoid fever.

Tom Davis deeded 40 acres to the city in her memory. He stipulated that the city had to use the land as a public park. Davis himself died a year later in 1908.

Boise embraced its first park, which today covers nearly 90 acres along the Boise River in the heart of the city.

Diane Davis Myklegard, a great-granddaughter of Tom and Julia, organized the Julia Davis Second Century coalition to celebrate the park's centennial in 2007.

An outgrowth of that group has led efforts since to renovate and enhance the park. Julia Davis Park has a new agricultural pavilion not far from Zoo Boise. Projects in the works include a Rotary Grand Plaza and an area dedicated to cancer survivors near the pond on the east end of the park.

Julia Davis Park has always been a fascinating place. Each of its iconic features has a story.

The pond - now lined with willows, filled with murk and leisurely water fowl - was a deep and dangerous gravel pit in the 1930s. Winters were colder then. When the water in the pit froze, Boiseans skated. After a boy fell through the ice and drowned, city officials filled the pit to make it the shallow, lagoonlike body it is today.

The park's celebrated rose garden has interesting origins as well. According to city historians, Boisean H.C. Schuppel, chairman of a local men's garden club called the Cut Worms, got the idea for the garden in 1935. The club had two rules: no women and no publicity. Fortunately, things have changed. The garden received "public rose garden" accreditation in 1992. About 2,400 rose plants grow there today.

The city built the California Mission-style bandshell in 1928 (which makes it just a few years older than the Mission-style Boise Depot up the hill). Famous acts that performed at the bandshell include The Velvet Underground and the Wailers. The city dedicated the bandshell to local jazz musician Gene Harris, who was a regular.

Mike Krenning, who works for the parks department, said that in the days when the Boise City Band played at the bandshell, the stage could rotate 360 degrees.

Folk singer Pete Seeger was scheduled to perform at Boise State (then Boise Junior College) in the fall of 1968. College officials decided Seeger's left-leaning politics were too controversial, so Seeger performed at the bandshell instead.

Julia Davis Park had its own amusement park - the "Fun Spot" - complete with what seemed then a terrifying Tilt-A-Whirl and a rollercoaster with at least one stomach-churning curve.

The Boise City Mounted Police disbanded in 2005. Their steeds were residents of the stables on the park's north side.

- Tour the city's oldest park with an expert: Free Julia Davis Park docent tours take place at 4 p.m. every First Thursday through September. The next tour will be Thursday, June 6.

The one-hour tours begin at the Idaho State Historical Museum. They will focus on sites and historic markers throughout the park.

Organizers can tailor tours to the needs of people with disabilities. Call for more details, to schedule tours at other times or learn more about becoming a volunteer docent: Kathleen Barrett: 338 -9108 or kathleenbarrett@cableone.net.

- Learn more about the Julia Davis Park Second Century Coalition activities or donate online at juliadavispark.org.

700 S. Capitol Blvd.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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