Boise history tours: A walk in the city's original footprint

The city was born 150 years ago; come take a tour of those original 10 blocks

awebb@idahostatesman.comJuly 5, 2013 


    The approximately one-hour tour will cover the city's original 1863 blocks. Tours will take place at 9 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. today and Saturday.

    Tours will leave from the Sesqui-Shop, 1008 Main St. Check in 15 minutes early. The tours are first-come, first-served. Call 433-5676.

    Tours will include an Arts and History Department brochure with details about some of the historic buildings in the area.

  • What are the city's oldest buildings?

    John O'Farrell, the first permanent non-native settler in Boise, built a small cabin in June of 1863. The cabin now sits at 450 W. Fort St., across the street from its original site. O'Farrell built it near the principal entrance to Fort Boise.

    The O'Farrell Cabin is the oldest of three existing 1863 cabins. The Coston and Pierce cabins, both built by early Boise pioneers, now sit next to the Idaho State Historical Museum in Boise. (Mayor Thomas Logan's adobe house sits nearby. Its original owner built it in 1865).

    The Coston cabin was built east of town. The Pierce and Logan homes were inside Boise's original plat.

    The commander's quarters at Fort Boise, now an administration building for the VA Medical Center, dates to 1863, as does the surgeon's quarters, sometimes known as the quartermaster's house.

    The Cyrus Jacobs Uberuaga House was built in 1864.

    The Jacobs Uberuaga House and the Fort Boise buildings are notable for being in their original locations.


    The public birthday party for Boise is free from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday in Julia Davis Park. The day will feature music and entertainment at the Gene Harris Bandshell and at four other locations in the park - three "Sesqui-Scenes" and the Global Lounge Stage. See the full schedule at

  • Key dates in Boise history

    1840s: Pioneers traverse the Boise area on the Oregon Trail.

    1862: Idaho City founded amid the gold rush.

    1863: President Abraham Lincoln makes Idaho a territory. Fort Boise founded by Maj. Pinkney Lugenbeel. Pioneers plat Boise's first 10 blocks.

    1864: Territorial Legislature makes Boise the capital, kicking off disputes that would not be settled until 1865. The territorial government establishes Ada County.

    1866: The territorial government incorporates Boise as a city.

    1890: Idaho becomes 43rd state.

It seems only right to kick off Boise's big 150th birthday party weekend with an exploration of the city's original plat - the blocks that pioneers sketched out in 1863, and the reason everyone is celebrating.

That very map, drawn on paper that's since turned a dark amber, with block numbers written in black ink, was part of a recent exhibit at the city's Sesqui-Shop on Main Street.

Now, the city's Department of Arts and History is offering walking tours of that plat.

City Historian Brandi Burns shared some Boise history.

Who drew the original plat?

A group of pioneers, including Tom Davis, who would eventually donate some of his riverside farmland to become Julia Davis Park in memory of his late wife; Henry C. Riggs, who served in Idaho's Territorial Legislature; and William Ritchie, who had homesteaded with Davis.

Their names appear on parcels of the 1863 map, along with that of Maj. Pinckney Lugenbeel, who chose the location for Fort Boise. Riggs did the actual drawing - putting pen to paper to map out 10 blocks. A tiny label (near where the Idanha sits today) bears his signature and the date.

Why did the founders place the original 10 blocks where they did?

It was a good location - close to Fort Boise but far enough from the river that there wasn't a big risk of flooding. Main Street was the Oregon Trail route.

Who owned the land ?

The pioneers platted the city on unclaimed federal/ territorial sagebrush land that was between the northern boundary of Tom Davis' claim along the river and the land claimed for Fort Boise.

Why did the plat makers choose the name Garrison for what is now 6th Street?

There are a couple of stories about that. One is that it was to honor Fort Boise. The other is that it was the road people took to the fort, though the streets don't line up perfectly. (There's still a Garrison Road in the Fort Boise complex, but it now lines up with 1st Street).

What's the oldest structure standing in the original plat?

The original buildings were simple wooden structures, so not much remains. The Cyrus Jacobs house, now known as the Cyrus Jacobs Uberuaga House on the Basque Block, was just on the edge of the original plat near what's now 6th and Grove. Jacobs built it of brick in 1864. It's one of the oldest structures in the city.

Jacobs was a well-to-do merchant - the ultimate entrepreneur - who also served a term as Boise's mayor. He operated a variety of businesses, including a flour mill, a soap factory, a meatpacking house and a distillery - the source of Jacobs' Best Rye Whiskey.

How long did the city stay within the boundaries of the original plat?

Just four years. The territorial government incorporated the city in 1866; the city drew a new plat in 1867. It grew to 140 blocks.

The 1867 map is bordered by 1st and 16th streets, Fort Street to the north and Front Street to the south.

The map shows that planners reserved "Capitol Square" for territorial government structures. The territory built its Capitol building in 1885.

What was the next area of expansion beyond the 1867 plat?

A subdivision called Arnold's addition was the city's first suburb, in 1878. Its outline: 9th, Fort, 13th and Resseguie.

Anna Webb: 377-6431

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