Walk into Boise’s Moore-Cunningham House, and step back in time. You immediately sense the atmosphere of a more elegant era of ladies in long dresses and gentlemen in tall hats.
Built in 1892 by banker C.W. Moore at 1109 Warm Springs Ave., it was the first house in the United States known to have geothermal heat.
Moore and his wife, Catherine, were one of Boise’s founding families. Moore co-founded the First National Bank of Idaho, the first bank in Idaho. It continues as part of U.S. Bank today.
The house has remained in the Moore-Cunningham family for 125 years.
Now you can own (or dream of owning) this unique piece of Boise history. The 8,806-square-foot house (including basement and other storage areas) that sits on a 1.5-acre estate is for sale.
All you need it just $2.4 million and a dedication to preserving its grandeur. The house is in a historic district and on the National Registry of Historic Homes.
A house like this is one of kind in Idaho, says Paige Shafer, the real estate agent who has the listing on the property for Ralston Group Properties.
“Something like this never comes on the market — never,” Shafer says. “I don’t know of another house in the state that is at this level and has been in the same family for 125 years.”
The home’s owner is C. W. Moore’s great-great-granddaughter Laura Bettis, who lives full time on the McCall ranch she runs with her husband.
“It’s not the most practical second home,” Bettis says with a wry laugh. “With the turn my life has taken, it just doesn’t make sense to keep it.”
Bettis grew up in the Moore-Cunningham house. Her family moved in about the time she started elementary school at nearby Roosevelt, she says. Her mother, Carol MacGregor, renovated the home and returned it to its glory as a historic gem.
A historian and author, MacGregor lovingly worked to restore much of the beauty and original quality to the interior from 1976 to 1980. She cataloged the furniture — much of which is still in the house — and organized the papers that chronicle the family’s history and its impact on the area. (Those now are in the Boise State University Archive. MacGregor started a textile collection with the family’s clothing at the Idaho Historical Museum.)
Bettis remembers helping to remove paint in the kitchen and peeling back layers and layers of “fashionable” paint colors — gray, mint green, light blue, Pepto-Bismol pink — to get down to the original wood. It was like the history of paint, she says.
It’s hard to let the house go, Bettis says, but no one from the family lives there. MacGregor lived there up until four years ago and now splits her time between a smaller home in Boise and her ranch in Cascade.
Bettis says that growing up with her family’s and the city’s history all around her instilled an appreciation for the work it takes to care for the past.
“I loved living there,” Bettis says. “I remember having birthday parties there, and choosing the wallpaper in my room that is still there. And knowing that I was using the same rooms as the other Laura that I was named for was so cool.”
Bettis is named for her great-great aunt Laura Moore Cunningham, a dedicated community servant who ran the Children’s Home Society for over 30 years and volunteered for the American Red Cross and Boise Junior College. Laura Moore Cunningham was the daughter of C.W. and Catherine Moore. Bettis’ father, Harry, is Moore Cunningham’s grand nephew.
Today the foundation established in Moore Cunningham’s name after her death in 1963 gives about $2.5 million in scholarships to Idaho students who go on to higher education in any form. It also provides about $2.5 million in grant opportunities to nonprofit groups throughout Idaho annually.
The house includes a swimming pool; landscaped garden; groomed lawns; a small forest of trees, including a more than 100-year-old dogwood; sitting areas; a carriage house; and stables.
Queen Anne architecture was quite the thing from 1880 to 1900. And the Moore-Cunningham house is one of the best examples of it in the region, says historian Arthur Hart.
“It’s one of the houses in the state that’s most worth preserving,” Hart says.
It has all the best hallmarks of style: a large tower from where you can overlook the property and take in a view that stretches all the way to the North End and the Boise Foothills. There is a second-story porch, third-story observation deck and a spacious wrap-around veranda ornamented by Tuscan-style columns.
The house was built before air conditioning. Its thick brick walls helped insulate and kept it cool, while transom windows helped circulate the air. (Today, the home is cooled by swamp coolers.)
The museum-like interior is filled with rich oak paneling, a carved wood staircase, arched doorways, a formal dining room and a large drawing room. Upstairs over two stories are seven bedrooms and three full bathrooms and four half-bathrooms throughout the house, plus two more in the pool and carriage house.
In the early 1900s, the family added a sunroom, laundry room and bathroom on the southeast side. Another remodel in the 1950s added an elevator and a first-floor half-bath because Laura Moore Cunningham could no longer manage the stairs.
Who will be the right buyer for this stately home?
“People who appreciate what this house is,” Shafer says. “They’re not coming into reinvent it or modernize it, but to honor it.”
For Bettis the experience of putting the home that bears her family’s history on the market has reminded her that material things are not what are important — “it’s what you do,” Bettis says.
“The Laura Moore Cunningham Foundation is really our family’s legacy,” she says. “That and the bank. Over time, they’ve both done so much to change this community and help people.”
She understands that the house represents a part of Boise’s history that is connected to the family. She’s ready to pass that on.
“I hope someone falls in love with it and enjoys it for another generation,” Bettis says.