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Remembering Mary Hallock Foote: New interpretive center will honor visionary Idaho pioneers

Mary Ann Arnold, left, and Janet Worthington, two local history fans, decided the Foote family homesite near Lucky Peak Reservoir wasn’t getting its due. The two are leading the effort to rehab the old homesite and have already produced, with the Army Corps of Engineers, an interpretive sign in Discovery Park looking across the Boise River to the hillside where the Foote house was located.
Mary Ann Arnold, left, and Janet Worthington, two local history fans, decided the Foote family homesite near Lucky Peak Reservoir wasn’t getting its due. The two are leading the effort to rehab the old homesite and have already produced, with the Army Corps of Engineers, an interpretive sign in Discovery Park looking across the Boise River to the hillside where the Foote house was located. doswald@idahostatesman.com

Foote Park, located east of Boise on a remote bluff above the Boise River, was once home to Arthur Foote and Mary Hallock Foote, pioneer irrigation engineer and writer/artist/social commentator, respectively. Remnants of their lava rock home, known as Canyon House, remain at the site, but there’s very little else — certainly nothing to note the Footes’ importance to the Treasure Valley.

That’s all about to change.

Construction will begin in the fall on a small pavilion at the site, an interpretive center that will include educational materials and maps. The open-air structure will be built of stone to echo the Footes’ 1885 house.

The project began in 2013 thanks to the efforts of two friends, Mary Ann Arnold, a retired project controls engineer with Morrison Knudsen, and Janet Worthington, a retired history professor. After visiting the site, they decided it needed an upgrade. They contacted the Army Corps of Engineers, the agency that owns to site, to ask about installing an interpretive sign. Site enhancement had been part of the Corps master plan, said Keith Hyde, park manager with the Corps. But Worthington and Arnold’s advocacy, he said, sped up the process.

“They brought a spotlight, attention and a lot of energy to the project,” said Hyde.

They all worked together to install an interpretive sign. The Corps made other improvements, including widening the road to the site, installing a parking area, bathrooms and a gate.

Arnold and Worthington’s ambitions grew into plans for the interpretive center. The two began raising money for the project in 2015. They gave public talks, wrote grant proposals and got the word out about their project through related events like last summer’s popular Mary Hallock Foote program at the Boise Public Library. The day-long event brought academics, writers and history lovers to the library.

A $30,000 grant from the Morrison Knudsen Foundation helped guarantee that the project would be able to go forward, but Worthington and Arnold said that they’re also grateful for scores of smaller donations that have supported the project. Donations from individuals and other organizations have ranged from $25 to $1,000. The Idaho Humanities Council has also provided ongoing support, they said.

While they are, “sufficiently funded to proceed,” Arnold and Worthington continue to accept donations to complete the project. They’re working with an architect to finalize the drawings for the interpretive center and will begin the process of getting construction bids.

In a joint statement, Arnold and Worthington said, “The journey has been filled with the thrills of finding individuals and organizations who share our interest in these two pioneers who were so important in shaping the history of the Treasure Valley. Time and again, new connections to the Foote family have emerged and the project has grown into a true grass roots community effort.”

“It’s the kind of project we could probably do ourselves, but we probably wouldn’t because of the effort and the funds,” said Hyde. “Mary Ann and Janet’s expert knowledge and research, their work with all kinds of folks, digging things up in the archives. The product will be better for their involvement.”

“We have a lot of bright ideas that will walk through the door, but few from people who will stick it out for three years,” he added. “They really care and that’s inspiring for us.”

Worthington and Arnold estimate that each has put in about 20 hours a week on the project since the fundraising began in earnest in 2015.

Other plans for the homesite include regular patrols and a solar-powered light to discourage vandalism, as well as more interpretive signs and benches, said Hyde. The improvements that exist now have already cut down on vandalism in the area as well as illegal camping and campfires, he said.

Who were the Footes?

Mary Hallock Foote was a nationally known artist who illustrated works by Hawthorne, Longfellow and many others. She wrote 12 novels of her own and a number of stories and essays. She chronicled life in the West at a time when the city of Boise was barely two decades old. The proceeds from her writing paid for the Footes’ Idaho home.

Arthur Foote developed an irrigation plan for the Treasure Valley. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation credits Foote for designing the irrigation plan it ultimately adopted in 1909.

Support the interpretive center construction

To volunteer, contact Arnold and Worthington at footeparkproject@gmail.com or call 208-853-2599. (Volunteers must be 18 or older.) To donate, make checks payable to Foundation for Idaho History/Foote (for credit card donations include number, expiration date and signature). Mail to Foote Park Project, c/o Janet Worthington, 8109 W. Powell St. Boise, ID 83714.

The Foundation for Idaho History is a nonprofit organization. Your donation is tax-deductible.

Visit the site

Foote Park is located east of Boise, across the Boise River from Discovery Park on Highway 21.

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