150 Boise icons: Bishops' House

June 6, 2013 

boise, idaho, old penitentiary, Bishop's House

Did you know? During the 1899 remodel of the house, Bishop James Funsten decamped to a mission at the Fort Hall Indian Reservation.

JOE JASZEWSKI — jjaszewski@idahostatesman.com Buy Photo

The Bishops' House - a Queen Anne-style structure that sits among its sandstone companions at the Old Pen complex - represents the power of community and preservation.

The house was in danger of being torn down in 1975. A group called The Friends of the Bishops' House raised money to move it from the corner of Idaho and 2nd streets to Old Penitentiary Road and restore it.

Their efforts paid off with an Orchid Award from Preservation Idaho in 1977. Today, the house is available to rent for special events.

The grand house began its life in a more modest form, built in 1889 as a rectory for Episcopal clergy.

Ten years later, the newly appointed Episcopal Bishop James Funsten hired architect James Tourtellotte to remodel the house. Tourtellotte transformed it into the Queen Anne mansion we know today. He added a parlor, living room, study, maid's room and guest rooms. According to the Statesman at the time, no trace of the original building remained after Tourtellotte's upgrades.

Boisean Rick Poplack, a member of the Bishops' House board, has researched the house's history in preparation for an open house in September.

Poplack found documents revealing that the 1899 remodel cost more than $7,000 - almost three and a half times what Funsten paid for the original house and land a decade earlier.

A series of bishops lived in the house until 1972. Its move in the mid-70s turned up more curiosities, in addition to the claim that someone once saw a ghost on the house's staircase.

Ron Thurber, a retired preservation architect in Boise, said preservationists found masses of ham radio antenna wire in the attic. Apparently one of the resident bishops - it's unclear which one - had been a ham radio operator when he lived there. He left the wire but not the radio.

Another curious fact: When crews moved the house from Downtown, the stone mason numbered the sandstone blocks so that builders could replace them in the correct order. The plan went awry.

Visitors, said Poplack, can see some of the stones in place, numbered "willy-nilly" on the house's southwest corner.

2420 Old Penitentiary Road

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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