Top 50 Stories: 1890-Geothermal Boise

Boise's first natural hot water system helped form the city's character, influenced other cities and still operates

awebb@idahostatesman.comMay 26, 2014 

Statesman article about geothermal energy

This story was published Dec. 28, 1890.

Like Boise's Foothills and dry desert air, there is nothing more definitive of this place than natural hot water. Grow up around here, and you'll find nothing strange about catching sulfuric aromas in certain parts of town or coming across a wet, fuming patch of mud on a winter hillside.

Today, four separate geothermal networks warm much of Boise. The Boise Warm Springs Water District is the oldest hot water system in the city. It heats buildings in East Boise and along Warm Springs Avenue.

Native tribes had known for centuries about the natural hot springs seeping around Table Rock. Former Statesman editor Milton Kelly owned a hot springs east of town. Boise Water Works drilled its first hot water well near the Old Pen in December 1890. The district's wells pump water from the same site today.

Back then, national and international news dominated the front pages of the Idaho Daily Statesman. On Dec. 28, 1890, that included a gruesome murder on Long Island, record snowfall in West Virginia and Pope Leo's latest Encyclical on the just distribution of wealth.

A story on page 8 announced the Boise Water Works' discovery of hot water with the memorable headline, "Right from Hades: An Artesian Well of Hot Water."

A few weeks later, another story - "Hot, Hotter, Hottest" - detailed the "jubilance" of Boise Water Works stockholders. In the first month of 1891, the well reached a depth of 300 feet. It produced 150 gallons of 154-degree water every minute.

"The water now is hotter than that in any of the famous springs in Arkansas," the article said.

In January 1892, the Statesman published the "Record of the Year," a news and development roundup from Secretary Clark of the Board of Trade.

"The most important event of the year 1891, as well as in the history of the city, in my view, was the discovery of the flowing hot wells," wrote Clark.

The water company laid hot water pipe, spurring development on Warm Springs Avenue. The directors devised a ploy to use hot water in a high-profile, glamorous way: They opened the Natatorium hot water resort not far from the wells in 1892.

An article in the Statesman in May of that year raved about the Natatorium. The place was destined for greatness, said the paper. It was capable of evoking "expressions of admiration from the most sodden of beings."

The Nat was "mastodonic," according to the paper - yet "without a suspicion of bulkiness." The building met its demise in the 1930s (today, the site is a city pool) but Boise's geothermal system continued to be influential.

Italy, New Zealand, Iceland and other countries developed geothermal heating systems around 1904 using Boise as a model.

The local area became so well known for its geothermal heat that a 1943 Statesman quoted humorist Will Rogers: He called Warm Springs Avenue "hot water bottle boulevard."

Anna Webb: 377-6431

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service