IDAHO HISTORY: Public entertainment halls competed in early Boise

SPECIAL TO THE STATESMANJuly 28, 2013 

The Idaho Tri-weekly Statesman was only a few weeks old on Aug. 11, 1864, when it pointed out one of the young town's crying needs: "WANTED - A hall of some kind suitable for the use of public assemblies. Someone will growl at us today because we publish the fact that there is not in Boise City, a public room large enough to accommodate a country (sic) caucus. But a few days since a company of performers were compelled to leave town because they could get no building that was large enough to hold an audience. Today a company of talented performers are obliged to fit up at their own expense a bar room in which to present a beautiful play. Stores and shops are going up on all sides, but every one seems to forget that public buildings are also necessary. A theater the size of the Forrest at Idaho City would prove a paying investment immediately. Will not someone who has capital to spare supply the want, and at the same time turn an honest dollar?"

The one who first supplied that want was John F. Slocum, a native of Rhode Island who had come to Boise with his wife and small children in 1864. He opened a small wood working shop at the corner of Sixth and Main where he made and sold furniture. The public hall he built across the street from the shop had no competition until the Good Templar lodge built a much larger hall in 1870.

The Independent Order of Good Templars was a temperance organization founded near Utica, N.Y., in 1832, dedicated to helping its members totally abstain from alcoholic beverages. It could be considered an ancestor of today's Alcoholics Anonymous. A convention held in Boise's Masonic Hall in February 1868 formed a grand lodge of Templars for Idaho Territory. The Statesman reported regularly on progress being made on the construction of Good Templar Hall. On Feb. 8, 1870, the building was "nearly enclosed and will be ready for the 22nd of February ball." On the day of the ball "Good Templars Hall will be thrown open for the reception of the public tonight, on the occasion of the grand ball which has been advertised for several weeks. The hall is the largest in the Territory, the floor is nice and smooth, and all necessary arrangements are completed to render the ball the finest ever given in the country."

The formal dedication of the hall took place on April 13, 1870, with Jonas W. Brown in charge of the ceremonies. In contrast to the consistently favorable notice the Statesman gave to the Templars and their hall, John Slocum and his hall got nothing but bad notices. In April 1871, the paper complained that the managers of Slocum Hall had "gouged" the Chapman Troupe of players $25 for the rent of "a bare barn of a place." and thought it "a piece of petty meanness."

A few days later the attack continued: "Couldn't stand the imposition - The McCarty troupe, being unable to stand the exorbitant charges for the use of Slocum Hall, played for the last time in that hall last night. They will hereafter appear in Templar Hall, which is being fitted up in much more comfortable style, and at a reasonable rent. The managers of Templar Hall deserve credit for their effort to stand off imposition." Two days later, "Slocum says his old rat-trap, which is sometimes embellished with the title of 'Slocum's Hall,' is worth $3,000 gold coin. We call the attention of the county assessor to the fact."

In the same issue, Editor James Reynolds wrote "The little-souled extortionist who has been in the habit of renting his hall at exorbitant prices for public amusements, and then charging the public twenty-five cents a head for the privilege of sitting on his wooden chairs, the refuse stock from his shoddy shop across the street, wouldn't take a cent less for his pound of flesh - twenty five dollars - from Lon McCarty last Tuesday morning, though the gross receipts were less than the actual expenses the night before. Two hours after, when he found Templar Hall was being fitted up, he begged McCarty to go back for ten dollars a night, and finally for nothing. But it was no use, he had overdone the thing."

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

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