IDAHO HISTORY: Nathan Falk was a much-loved pioneer businessman

SPECIAL TO THE STATESMANAugust 25, 2013 

When Nathan Falk died unexpectedly on July 22, 1903, at 55 years of age, there was an outpouring of affection and sense of loss like that accorded few pioneers in the history of Idaho. The Idaho Statesman editorialized, “In the untimely death of Nathan Falk this city and the State of Idaho sustain a loss so great that it seems almost irreparable. He was one of the foremost business men of the state and occupied a very large place in the commercial and social affairs of the capital city. His interests here were very large, but still larger was the influence that he exerted upon the development of the city and its trade interests, upon its business methods and upon its character as a municipality.

“No city can afford to lose such a man, and the Statesman voices a universal sentiment in saying there are few if any others whose death would create such a void. Yesterday was a day of mourning throughout the entire city, for all our people honored the dead merchant and all feel a sense of personal loss in his taking off.”

Roman Catholic Bishop Alphonse Glorieux said, “I feel that I have lost a dear friend and counselor and I sympathize most deeply with his family in their bereavement.” Fellow businessman and former Mayor Peter Sonna said, “I have known Nathan Falk for 36 years, and in my opinion his death is a serious loss to the community. I became acquainted with him in 1867 when I moved here from Idaho City, and during all the years that have elapsed I have had many business dealings with him. I have always found him to be a man of fine honor in his business relations. His word was as good as his bond; whatever he said he would do he has always fulfilled.

“He was wonderfully well-liked for a man who had the extensive business dealings he had. Everyone seemed to love him. He was universally respected and esteemed, and I take a great deal of pleasure in telling what I can of his character to honor his memory. I can only repeat that in the death of Mr. Falk Boise has suffered an almost irreparable loss. It was a great loss to the town, to the community, and to this part of Idaho.”

Nathan Falk was born July 12, 1848, in Egenhausen, Bavaria, not far from Munich. He came to the United States in 1862, and after a short time in New York City headed west by ship to San Francisco by way of the Isthmus of Panama. After a short time there, he went to Portland and then on to Boise City, less than a year old, in the spring of 1864. His first job, at only 16 years of age, was as a bookkeeper for the firm of H. Hessberg & Co. After two years with them, he went into business for himself with his older brother David, under the name D. Falk & Brother. Their ad in the Idaho Tri-weekly Statesman for Oct. 28, 1868, says they had a large fire-proof warehouse, and that they would accept goods for sale on commission. They gave as references several Western companies, including “Fargo & Co., San Francisco.” The 1870 Census tells us that Nathan, at only 22 years of age, was a retail merchant with assets of $3,000. By February 1875, D. Falk & Brother were advertising a “General Assortment of Groceries.”

When an Occidental Club was organized in January 1876, by “the young men of Boise,” Nathan Falk was elected president — an early indication of his personal charm and the esteem he engendered in his associates, both in business and in social affairs. In 1878, Nathan married Rosa Steinmeier, 19. The 1880 Census lists their first child, daughter Bella, age 7 months. Nathan and Rosa then had daughter Anne and sons Harry, Leo J. and Ralph.

In March 1881, David Falk retired from the local business, and Sigmund, a third brother, returned to Boise from Portland to join Nathan in the family store. The Statesman commented that, “He has a host of friends and acquaintances who are glad to welcome him back to Boise City.”

Next week we’ll share more Falk family history.

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

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