South Boise was, for a time, a community apart from the capital city

awebb@idahostatesman.comJune 23, 2013 

  • ABOUT THIS SERIES

    In this, the 150th year since Boise's founding, the Statesman is looking at the stories behind some of the special areas and neighborhoods that make Boise what it is today.

    - April 14: River Street

    - April 28: Fort Boise

    - May 12: Warm Springs

    - May 26: Depot Bench

    - June 9: Pierce Park/Collister

    - June 23: South Boise

    Have a special story or memory about the Boise neighborhood where you live or grew up? Email awebb@idahostatesman.com.

  • TOUR BOWN HOUSE

    It opens to the public for free tours the first Saturday of each month. The next tour is 1-4 p.m., July 6, 2100 E. Victory Road. Info: 377-4327, Ext. 5.

  • South Boise milestones

    1890: South Boise got its first subdivisions in the area between what's now University Drive and Boise Avenue. The developments lured investors from out of state. Many were from Colorado. Street names in the area - Denver, Longmont, Leadville and others - are remnants of their roots.

    1892: The Broadway bridge was built across the Boise River.

    1895: South Boise had enough inhabitants to support a school. Students attended Garfield School, which occupied a series of buildings on the northeast corner of Broadway and Boise Avenue (across the street from where the school is now).

    1903: The Rosedale 102 Odd Fellows Lodge, which still stands on Broadway, opened to members.

    1905: The Idaho Daily Statesman opened a South Boise Department which published a weekly section until 1910. One ad hinted at the popularity of the area: "Have you noticed how South Boise is growing?…Vacant lots in Dundee First Subdivision are still offered at low prices."

    1913: Dundee First Subdivision was north of Boise Avenue near Broadway. Resident Walter S. Bruce (who had founded the city's first YMCA branch in rooms on Main Street in 1891) led efforts to annex South Boise to the city.

    Residents' early hopes of being independent didn't pan out. Bruce and others wanted city amenities the residents couldn't afford on their own.

    MAY 1913: Boise annexed South Boise and its approximately 2,000 residents.

    The Dundee First Subdivision had numbered its streets running east to west. Since the "old" city center already had a numbered grid, street names in South Boise had to change after annexation: Main Street became Bellevue and eventually University Drive. First Street became Belmont, Second Street became Beacon. Third Street became Rossi, Fourth became Hale, Fifth became Highland, Sixth became Howe, Seventh became Warren, Eighth became Williams and Ninth became Garfield.

    1920: South Boise had a thriving commercial district near Broadway and Boise avenues. Remnants stand today on the block with the Odd Fellows Lodge. A succession of grocery stores occupied what became the present-day Coble Company building.

    1926: Boise's first municipal airport was built beside the river, now the Boise State campus. Charles Lindbergh, making a cross-country celebration after his solo cross-Atlantic flight, landed there in 1927. According to one account, Lindbergh found flying into Boise tough. He advised city leaders to cut down all the trees near the airport. They didn't, but the city did relocate the airport to its current site in the 1930s.

  • ABOUT DARIN OSWALD

    Photojournalist Darin Oswald has been with the Idaho Statesman for 14 years covering news, sports and documenting everyday life in Boise and the Treasure Valley. Born and raised in Idaho Falls, Oswald earned a journalism degree at Utah State University.

  • ABOUT ANNA WEBB

    Reporter Anna Webb grew up in South Boise.

    When she was little, Manitou Park was a pasture, Mongolian BBQ was a Food King and the Podiatry Center of Idaho was Chow Now Drive-In. Triangle Dairy left milk, and sometimes ice cream, on her front porch every week.

Native tribes camped and fished along the southern banks of the Boise River for centuries. As early as 1840, pioneers traveled across the land that became South Boise.

Today, small monuments mark the Oregon Trail along Boise Avenue, reminders that the area has always been historically significant.

To best understand the settlement south of the river, consider what Boise was like in 1890 when South Boise got its first subdivisions.

The city was booming. President Benjamin Harrison had just signed Idaho into statehood. Residents were starting to drill for geothermal water on Warm Springs. Imposing structures like the Boise City National Bank at 8th and Idaho were anchoring Downtown street corners. Ada County had its first courthouse on what's now the Capitol Mall. The territorial Capitol building stood nearby.

In this spirit of expansion, investors platted the first subdivisions in the area loosely bordered by what is now University Drive and Boise Avenue. A new bridge in 1892 connecting the city center to what would become Broadway Avenue spurred even more southside settlement.

Residents saw themselves as separate from Boise, establishing South Boise Village in 1902. Villagers intended to stay independent, but eventually realized they couldn't pay for the services like sewers, police and fire protection. South Boise leaders asked to be annexed to Boise. The city obliged in 1913.

South Boise got its first city fire station the next year - a brick building that still stands at Williams Street and Boise Avenue.

The small structure contained lodging for firefighters and horses, as well as a jail cell. The old firehouse is commercial space now, covered with modern signs, but it's possible to imagine what it must have been like when the station bells clanged and horses hauled the fire engine through the massive barn doors.

Because South Boise was outside the city's original core and its earliest character was agricultural, its history isn't as familiar as that of, say, Fort Boise, the Capitol Mall or Warm Springs Avenue.

"I talk about South Boise's as a hidden history," said historian Barbara Perry Bauer. She's working on a South Boise book with designer Fred Fritchman to dispel that.

"There's a lot more to South Boise than subdivisions built in the 1980s and 1990s," said Perry Bauer.

The "hidden history" of South Boise contains certain themes: farming, dairies, streetcars, and a free and idyllic life for the children lucky enough to grow up there.

AN EARLY FARMSTEAD EVOLVES

Pioneer Joseph Bown came to Idaho from Iowa in 1862. He was one of the first settlers to farm land near the Boise River and what's now ParkCenter Boulevard. In 1879, he and his wife, Temperance, built the family's sandstone house, originally called the "block house" because of its distinctive shape. At one time, the Bowns' farm stretched 240 acres.

They probably couldn't have imagined that more than 130 years later, legions of schoolchildren and adults would roam their house and grounds. The Bown House site, owned by Boise School District, sits on the campus of Riverside Elementary. It's the centerpiece of the Heritage Education Program. Rooms, restored to their 1880s state, enable students studying Idaho history to experience what life was like in Idaho's territorial days.

"There's not a day that I come to work that I don't learn something new about the house's history," said Juno Van Ocker, a retired teacher and volunteer docent.

After the Bowns, a succession of families occupied the house until the late 1980s. The attic stairwell is covered in messages left by past residents. One proclaims affection for "Oklahoman singing cowboy Gene Autry."

"Quite often we have people come on tours who remember writing their names on the wall. That has happened several times," said Van Ocker.

The Murphy family raised 14 children in the house in the 1930s and 1940s. Mrs. Murphy carefully recorded their names and ages on the stairwell wall. Youngest was Larry DeWayne, described as the "baby of the family." After Larry was Allen Lee, described as "next to the baby" at 5 years old.

Van Ocker met some of the Murphy siblings when they returned to tour the house many years later as senior citizens. She asked them if the house had electricity when they lived there.

"They said they thought that it did, but that they were so poor they wouldn't have been able to afford to use it anyway," recalled Van Ocker.

The most recent stairwell inscription is from 1988. It's a plea from Carol Kersting, the Bown House's last resident. She asks that someone care for the house after she's gone. Before she died, Kersting got to see the house restored.

"She left this world knowing it's in good hands," said Van Ocker.

DAIRIES, MILL PONDS AND VICTORY GARDENS

Pat Tate was born 86 years ago at St. Luke's Hospital.

"I was raised on my great-grandfather David Gekeler's farm," he said.

His family settled in South Boise in the 1880s. His great-grandparents had a farm near what became Gekeler Lane. The house and barn they built between 1880 and 1895 still stand, he said.

In the 1920s, their Tate descendents founded Triangle Dairy - named for the shape of the original lot. Pat Tate's family left the dairy business in 1986. The Lakewood subdivision grew up around the old dairy. But in a way, Tate still works on the farm. He is semi-retired from managing M&W markets, but still comes in most days. The market's offices are in what remains of the old dairy buildings on Gekeler. Black-and-white photos showing fleets of shiny white milk trucks, cows and open landscapes cover the office walls. Historians and students visit from time to time to pore through his family scrapbooks.

Pat Tate's uncle, Paul Tate, wrote a brief history of South Boise in the 1980s. His writings illustrate the free-ranging life enjoyed by young South Boiseans of his era (he died in 2001 at the age of 97).

He remembered the mill pond where the Eagle Pointe Apartments now stand at Boise Avenue and Protest. Neighbors harvested ice in the winter and stored it in sawdust in two wooden buildings nearby.

"The mill pond furnished wonderful skating, the ice being especially smooth after the harvest of ice," Paul Tate wrote. "It was the scene of a joyful crowd of people who, after skating, warmed themselves around huge bonfires."

During World War I, Paul Tate's scoutmaster encouraged his troop to grow a victory garden using water from a mill pond ditch. Their wartime garden grew near Hale and Howe streets.

'GHOST TROLLEY' RECALLS THE RAILS OF SOUTH BOISE

Today, it can be hard to understand how vital Boise's streetcar system was between 1905 and the late 1920s, when the growing popularity of the automobile meant the demise of the city's rails.

The interurban system laid tracks across the Broadway Bridge in 1905. The first line stopped at Garfield School. Before long, the line extended all the way to Richmond Street (near where Shopko is today). Conductors would reach the end of the line, flip the seats to face the other way and head back north to the city center, said historian Perry Bauer.

The rail system through South Boise expanded in 1913. The new Hillcrest Loop turned west from Broadway onto Chamberlin. The tracks continued through what's now Manitou Park, up a steep grade and onto the Bench. The loop continued into Downtown.

A streetcar barn stood on Rossi between Denver and Grant streets. Many South Boise men found work as streetcar motormen, mechanics and conductors.

A new sculpture in Ivywild Park tells the story of this era through history and art. Artist Byron Folwell has created a full-sized frame of a "ghost trolley." It sits beside the refurbished trolley shelter that sat on Richmond at the end of the Broadway line. More "ghost elements" - white metal milk cans, a briefcase and a picnic basket - sit inside the shelter. Each item relates to the history of South Boise.

Streetcars carried freight, including milk from South Boise dairies, to residents around the city, said Folwell. The metal briefcase signifies the business people who used the rail system to commute to work. The picnic basket is a nod to the South Boiseans who used to pack their lunches and ride the rails any number of places - to the geothermal Natatorium for a swim, to West Boise and Pierce Park for a paddle boat ride or even out to Lake Lowell.

Perry Bauer advised Folwell when he was doing his research for the sculpture.

"Barbara called the day trips 'looping the loop,'" said Folwell.

IDYLLIC LIFE FAR, BUT NOT TOO FAR, FROM THE CITY

Jeannene Cantrell Boyd lived in South Boise on her family acreage between 1950 and 1968, not far from the historic Bown House. Her dad wasn't a farmer. He worked for Idaho Power. But the family had close to 15 acres, which wasn't unusual at that time in South Boise.

"We had cows, pigs, chickens, sheep, horses, a hay barn, a chicken barn, a huge garden and an orchard," said Boyd.

Her grandparents lived in a house on the other side of the family orchard. When Boyd was a child, living in South Boise meant walking long distances.

"We had to walk a mile between houses to trick-or-treat," she said. "It was more walking than candy."

When she got a little older and started dating, boys drove to South Boise to pick her up.

"Wow, you live a long ways out here," they'd say.

It says something about the local landscape that when Boyd's mother got the chance to name the street they lived on, she chose "Stonetree Lane" because of the unpaved road and rural setting. The city later changed the Lane's name to Victory Road. Nearby Cantrell Road still bears her family's name. Her parents sold their land for development in the late 1970s.

Boyd's old house still stands at the corner of Victory and Law, surrounded now by houses, sidewalks and paved streets instead of orchards.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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