Idaho history: Boise's Presbyterians built their first church in 1881

IDAHO HISTORY

SPECIAL TO THE STATESMANJune 9, 2013 

The churches erected by each of Boise's major religious denominations have been the subject of our recent columns, beginning with Baptist minister Hiram Hamilton's letter to the Idaho Tri-weekly Statesman in September 1865, noting that "a good house of worship is much needed in this city. For more than a year past worship has been maintained in places inconvenient and uncomfortable."

Hamilton had organized a Baptist church in Idaho City in September 1864, and it was he who got Boise's very first church built in 1865 - one the Baptists shared with other protestant denominations until they could build one of their own. The Episcopalians were next with St. Michael's, built in 1866, and the Catholics with St. Patrick's, built in 1870. The Methodists were not able to build their first church until 1876.

On July 24, 1881, Boise's Presbyterians, who had been meeting in rented or borrowed space for a decade, dedicated their own first church at the northeast corner of 10th and Main. The Idaho Statesman commented, "The Presbyterians of Boise City are to be congratulated on the dedication of their beautiful church building, which is not only neat and attractive, but is also entirely out of debt, the entire expense of the building, with its furniture, having been fully met."

Peter Sonna, who owned the rest of the Main Street block to the east, bought the church in December 1892, and the Presbyterians announced that their new church would be built at the corner of 9th and State. That building was dedicated on May 6, 1894. The Idanha Hotel was built on the site of the earlier Presbyterian Church in 1900.

The women members of Boise's early churches were active fundraisers, and the variety of events they produced is noteworthy. In November 1881, a concert for the benefit of the Presbyterian Church drew a large crowd, described by the paper as "well-pleased" with the music. On Nov. 14, 1888, the ladies of the Presbyterian Church served their annual Thanksgiving supper, and on the same evening held "an Apron Fair," and were "ready to serve the public with silhouette drawings."

In July 1893, Rev. J.H. Barton who had been pastor of Boise's First Presbyterian Church for eight years preached his farewell sermon and announced that he had accepted a call from the Presbyterian Church in Caldwell. The Statesman reported: "He will commence his labors as pastor there on the first Sunday in August. He will devote some of his time to the Presbyterian college at Caldwell." The College of Idaho had been founded by the Wood River Presbytery in 1891, with the Rev. William Judson Boone as its first president. Rev. Barton taught courses at the college in religion and Greek, in addition to his work for the Presbyterian Church. The tireless Rev. Boone drove his horse and buggy to small communities throughout Boise Valley where he preached Sunday sermons, and officiated at weddings, baptisms and funerals.

In the spring of 1895 work began on the Second Presbyterian Church in South Boise, estimated to cost about $1400. When it was dedicated on Sept. 15, 1895, the Statesman described it as "a commodious, nice appearing structure." The author of this column remembers that building well, because in 1950, as a faculty member at the College of Idaho he spoke there on the occasion of what was known as "Christian College Sunday." We hoped loyal Presbyterians would send their high school graduates to the C of I, and many of them did.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email histnart@mindspring.com.

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