Idaho History: Boise has had many faiths

SPECIAL TO THE STATESMANJuly 7, 2013 

A Mormon mission was established in Boise on Aug. 8, 1897, when George C. Parkinson, president of the Northwest Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, conducted services at Sonna's Opera House. Like every other denomination that started to hold services in Boise, they had to use whatever space was available until they could build their own church.

On Feb. 10, 1903, the Statesman reported that the Mormons had organized a church with 40 members and was led by Elder Ezra J. Merrill. Arrangements were made to hold services in a dance hall that had been started by Mose Christensen, son of a Mormon convert from Denmark, who had moved to Boise from Salt Lake City in 1901. The talented Mose was a first-rate musician who conducted the Boise Philharmonic for two years before moving to Portland in 1908, where he helped to reorganize the Portland symphony orchestra and became its conductor.

The Statesman reported on Nov. 2, 1904 that the Mormons had bought the little white church at the southwest corner of Fourth and Jefferson streets from the First Christian Church for the sum of $3,000. The Mormons would build many churches in Boise Valley, but this was the first they owned and used.

The First Church of Christ Scientist filed articles of incorporation in Boise in April 1899. By 1905 the parishioners had built a church on State Street between 8th and 9th, close to where their church stands today.

Early Lutheran services in Boise were conducted in the G.A.R. Hall. In October 1898, Rev. G. Wohlfarth, who recently moved to Boise from Nebraska, was delivering sermons there in German. His associate pastor, Rev. E. Knappe, then followed with a sermon in English. On Nov. 18, 1905, the Statesman reported: "New Church - Rev. Charles F. Bengston of Idaho Falls is in the city to arrange for the organization here of a Swedish Lutheran church. The first meeting will be held at Trinity hall on Tuesday evening, at which the organization of the church will be effected." In July 1908, the Statesman printed architects Tourtellotte & Hummel's drawing of the new Gothic-style Swedish Lutheran church, then being built at Seventh and Fort streets. By 1915 the church was officially known as the "Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Immanuel Church," and was still conducting some services in Swedish.

At the same time, an Evangelical Lutheran Mission was meeting at the Unitarian church at 817 Franklin Street with German and English services on alternate Sundays. Boise Unitarians had first met in Sonna's Opera House in July 1899, to organize a church. Carleton F. Brown, pastor of the Unitarian Society of Helena, Mont., was the speaker. By September 1907, the Unitarians were able to hire architects Wayland & Fennell to design a building for them, the dedication of which took place on March 8, 1908.

By 1920 all of the major denominations were meeting in buildings of their own, among them the Nazarenes and Quakers at 12th and Eastman, the Seventh-day Adventists at 417 N. 13th, and the Free Methodists at 110 S. 13th.

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

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