The Idaho Tri-weekly Statesman was only a few months old in November 1864, when it took up the subject of sidewalks. "The people want sidewalks in front of their premises, and they will build them, and because there is a right way and a wrong to do everything, we venture to make a suggestion or two:
"There has as yet been no system or grade observed by anyone in laying sidewalks along Main Street, and the consequence is that there is no distance of fifty feet with the same grade. In front of the adobes built one year ago may be a platform raised but a few inches above the level of the street, and the next building to it barricades the way with a sidewalk from one to three feet high. No two are alike in grade or width.
"To walk up or down Main Street on either side requires the greatest care to avoid breaking neck or limb on the sidewalks It is true we have no city government to control matters of this kind, but even without control it is not creditable to our good taste to disfigure so beautiful a town as ours naturally is with break-neck sidewalks."
Ten years later, even with a city government, albeit one that took no responsibility for public works, the situation had not changed much: "Really the sidewalks ought to be uniform and on a regular grade with the street without steps of any kind. The practice of sweeping into Main Street, throwing out rubbish, leaving old wagons and carts, and piling up boxes on the sidewalks ought to be dispensed with. Board and brick sidewalks are of very little account; they soon wear out, warp up, and are neither profitable nor fit to be put down. They should all be torn up and replaced with two-inch narrow plank or cut stone. It will always pay for a place of business to have a good sidewalk in front."
When Territorial Secretary E.J. Curtis had a new sidewalk put down in front of his office in December 1874, the paper commented: "If Mr. Brumback will lay a sidewalk in front of his office, this end of Main Street will be much improved." However, by the following May the Statesman seemed to despair of the whole subject. "This city might boast of having the worst sidewalks of any city in what is called the civilized part of the globe." In December 1875, the paper continued to hammer away: "The most wretched sidewalks on earth are to be found in this lovely little town, and if some places are not repaired before next week, when the city will be full of strangers, (Christmas shoppers) some one will get badly hurt traveling around at night."
The Statesman was able to report improvements in Main Street sidewalks over the next few years, and made a point of praising the enlightened merchants responsible. On one such occasion the paper said "We notice that pedestrian look very cheerful when they step upon this new walk."
Hardware dealer Peter Sonna replaced the wooden sidewalk in front of his store at Ninth and Main in June, 1886. In fact, Sonna replaced it with Boise's first concrete sidewalk in 1888. The Statesman found it both "useful and ornamental." In the summer of 1889, "The new cement pavement in front of Ridenbaugh's drug store will be extended so as to include the sidewalk in front of Epstein & Logan's. This cement pavement is a great improvement over that made of stone and should replace it everywhere. Portland cement sidewalks vastly excel the existing stone ones that have worn to become 'a succession of depressions and ridges.'"
The era of concrete sidewalks had arrived, but there were still very few Downtown and none in residential neighborhoods.
Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.