Top 50 Stories: 1887 — Boise gets a train

Until then, the city hadn't tapped into the lifeblood feeding development across the Western U.S.

business@idahostatesman.comJune 3, 2014 

  • COMPLETION OF THE RAILROAD

    The Idaho Statesman printed the story below on Sept. 6, 1887

    The long hoped for railroad has reached Boise city. The novelty of seeing a train of cars on the opposite side of Boise river was enjoyed by the people of our city on Saturday last as the construction train moved slowly up near the depot, with the track-layers a little in advance laying down the ties and rails. The sight of the train was a surprise, and a good many people drove over and many others walked to see the first railroad train that came in.

    Mr. Kingsley Jr. was on hand with his photograph instruments, and we presume he will be able to give us a picture of the first train that arrived. On Sunday the road from town to the depot was lined with people nearly all day. The distance is about a mile, and the more fortunate rode in carriages, others in lumber wagons, and others on horseback, while hundreds of men, women and children walked over. It is safe to say that one thousand people visited the railroad on Sunday. The building of a railroad, even at this late day, is no small matter. It requires brains, money and energy.

    The greatest of these is money. Boise is probably the best town, and contains as many wealthy people as any town between the Missouri and Columbia rivers, but the wealth of her citizens is not centered in a few individuals, but in many, and there is only a limited amount of lending money: hence the building of a railroad when only a quarter of a million or even one hundred and fifty thousand dollars is required, has to find its source and support amount eastern capitalists.

In the 19th century, getting a railroad could make the difference between prosperity and stagnation for the West's new small towns. When the Union Pacific-owned Oregon Short Line bypassed the Mountain Home stage stop and post office east of Boise for a route closer to the Snake River, the post office moved 7 miles south.

By the 1880s, Boiseans eagerly wanted a rail connection. But, as historian J. Anthony Lukas wrote in his book "Big Trouble," the Union Pacific's locating engineer opposed dropping 600 feet from higher ground east of Boise to go through the heart of town. When the Short Line was completed in 1884, connecting Omaha to Portland, the tracks were south of Boise, passing through Kuna, Nampa and Caldwell. Boiseans had to take a stagecoach to reach Kuna.

Disappointed city leaders launched a campaign for a spur connection. They got one in 1887.

But the spur line still missed Downtown Boise by more than a mile. "Passengers and freight had to travel down a steep hill and cross the Boise River to reach the business district," Thornton Waite wrote in an article for the Union Pacific Historical Society.

Yet another campaign was launched, and it too succeeded. Boise got a line from a junction west of town to the central business district in 1893. The tracks ran between Front and Myrtle streets. Five passenger trains a day departed Boise in 1908.

As time passed, the Union Pacific needed to upgrade its lines. It built a new main line on the Bench in the 1920s. The red-tiled Boise Depot with its prominent bell tower opened in 1925. Morrison Knudsen Co. refurbished it in 1993. Amtrak ran its last passenger train through the depot in 1997. The depot and its gardens are now maintained by the Boise Parks & Recreation Department and used for weddings and other events.

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