In the 1860s, pioneers were traveling en masse through the Boise Valley on the Oregon Trail. Others came through on their way to the Boise Basin in search of gold or to the Owyhees in search of silver. The U.S. Army saw a need to protect them.
The Army sent Major Pinckney Lugenbeel to establish a cavalry post in the area. He chose the location where Fort Boise sits today just north of Downtown.
The fort, known by various names through the years including Camp Boise and Boise Barracks, opened on July 4, 1863.
Lugenbeel hired scores of civilians to build the fort, said historian and preservationist John Bertram. At one point, 138 builders and craftsmen were working on-site - more than the 125 enlisted men stationed there.
The Army's need for labor, building materials and food helped the city of Boise prosper in its earliest days, said Bertram.
Fort Boise grew fast. By the fall of 1864, it had 19 buildings plus parade grounds. The Army stationed troops in Boise for several decades, until the eve of World War I. In 1912, the Army began relocating troops and using the fort to train horses for the cavalry.
During the war era, the character of Fort Boise began to shift from military to medical as soldiers on horseback became obsolete and the Red Cross and others began campaigning to use the site as a military rehabilitation hospital. In 1920, the U.S. Public Health Service opened a tuberculosis hospital there.
President Franklin Roosevelt transferred control of the site to the Veterans Administration (now the Department of Veterans Affairs) in 1938.
The old fort is now home to the Boise VA Medical Center; the Idaho State Veterans home is also part of the complex. Much of the original fort property became city recreation land.
Fort Boise, like the city of Boise, marks its sesquicentennial this week. The site has been a focal point for preservation groups since the beginning of the 20th century when local clubs, including the Columbian Club and others petitioned the War Department to save the fort's old structures.
The campus is on the National Register of Historic Places and still includes dozens of buildings related to military and medical history. Large, brick residences from the early 1900s line the upper drive known as Officer's Row.
A few structures date to the fort's - and the city's - first years, creating a collection of buildings unlike any other.
Fort Boise is the second fort with that name. The British Hudson's Bay Company built a fort, which was more of a trading post, in 1834 near the confluence of the Boise and Snake rivers near present-day Parma.
Hudson's Bay built the fort to compete with Fort Hall, a trading post built by American Nathaniel Wyeth near what's now Pocatello. The fur trade declined and the original Fort Boise became a supply point on the Oregon Trail until 1854 when Hudson's Bay abandoned it.
Fort and 5th streets
Anna Webb: 377-6431