Growing Garden City: A History of Chinese Gardens, Gambling and Change

Hay fields, vegetable gardens and slot machines: There are several milestones that mark the timeline of tiny Garden City. This four-mile burg, surrounded by much larger cities like Boise, has had a stop-and-start history.

The early history of Garden City is hard to come by. We do know the land caught the eye of the U.S. Army in 1863; Idaho historian Susan Stacy says that’s when soldiers came to the Treasure Valley to build Fort Boise. And with the Army came hungry horses.

“There was this big island in the Boise River and it was called Government Island because the Army assigned that land, 600 or 700 acres, to growing hay for the horses the Army had with it,” Stacy said.

The channel of the Boise River was different back then, and Government Island included the area where Garden City sits today. Over time, the government had less use for horses and no longer needed a hay reserve. Stacy says in 1884, the Army started selling off Government Island.

Around this time, a man named Tom Davis came to Boise to mine gold in the Boise Basin. Stacy says he quickly branched out, buying up land, planting apple trees and vegetables, and selling them to residents. He also got in the cattle business in the 1880s. Like the Army, he needed a place to grow hay, so in 1888 Davis got interested in Government Island.

“So he started assembling that land; he started buying parcel by parcel by parcel,” said Stacy. “And by 1890, he had assembled about 650 acres, which is the majority of what we now know as Garden City.”