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Own a piece of history: Boise pioneers’ home is up for sale

Jenny and Chuck Schmoeger are the fifth owners of the O’Farrell House, built 125 years ago. “We kind of feel like we’re just caretakers of this house,” Chuck said. “The house is a joy to live in.” Jenny added, “We love it.” The Schmoegers are downsizing.
Jenny and Chuck Schmoeger are the fifth owners of the O’Farrell House, built 125 years ago. “We kind of feel like we’re just caretakers of this house,” Chuck said. “The house is a joy to live in.” Jenny added, “We love it.” The Schmoegers are downsizing. kjones@idahostatesman.com

Want to live in a historic Boise house? Another one has come on the market, for less than half the price of the geothermally heated C.W. Moore house on Warm Springs Avenue that went up for sale this spring.

Still, it’s not cheap: The O’Farrell house, built by Boise pioneers John and Mary O’Farrell in 1892 at 5th and Franklin streets Downtown, is listed for $924,900.

Before building this house, the O’Farrells built what is believed to be Boise’s oldest surviving house, the O’Farrell cabin, in 1863.

The O’Farrells prospered in those early years and rose in prominence in Boise. John O’Farrell, an Irish veteran who served in the Crimean war, was a gold miner and one of the original investors in the New York Canal. He also served a term in the Idaho Territorial Legislature. A North End street bears the O’Farrell name.

Mary invited priests into the modest cabin. Clergymen held services, believed to be the first Catholic services in Boise, for many years there.

In 1892, the O’Farrells, who raised seven of their own children and adopted seven more, built the much grander house. It’s a white brick mansion described by the Silvercreek Realty Group as “Queen Anne meets colonial style.”

The owners, Chuck and Jenny Schmoeger, are looking to downsize, Chuck Schmoeger said. The Schmoegers run their family business, American Cleaning Service Co., on Front Street in Downtown Boise. They have lived in the O’Farrell house for nine years. Now they plan to divide their time among three small condominiums in Boise, McCall and Tucson.

The 3,238-square-foot house has four bedrooms and four bathrooms. It sits on a large corner lot surrounded by a white wooden fence salvaged from the Dewey Palace Hotel that once stood in Nampa. The Capitol is visible from the second-floor and attic windows.

The O’Farrells’ original cabin stands at 450 W. Fort St. and is visible from the house’s back window.

“Jenny likes to joke that she’s glad we don’t live in the O’Farrells’ first house,” Chuck said.

The white brick house is in the Hays Street Historic District. According to the city, half of the houses in the district, including the O’Farrells’, were built before 1912. About a quarter of them are in the Queen Anne style — typically an ornate style characterized by turrets, porches, bay windows and other details.

Inclusion in an historic district can mean an owner has to adhere to strict city rules in order to build on to a house or renovate it or go through a city approval process.

Many of the house’s original features remain intact, including its high ceilings and wood floors. The Schmoegers restored it, discovering newspapers used as insulation in the walls and old knob and tube wiring.

Chuck Schmoeger said the couple likes the property’s suburban-style open lawn and its proximity to Downtown. They walk to work, to the Saturday market, to breakfast Downtown and to stroll through the shady grounds of the nearby Veterans Administration — the original home of Fort Boise, which inspired the founding of the city.

More history on the market

The O’Farrell house joins a list of historically significant Boise properties on the market.

The C.W. Moore house has been inhabited by Moore descendents since it was built in 1892. It was the first house in the U.S. heated by natural geothermal water. It is on the market for $2.4 million.

The Grapevine Building at 1518 W. Fort St. will be sold at a live auction at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 16. Originally a city fire house built in 1911 as Fire Station 2, the city had been renting the building to The Grapevine, a nonprofit recovery center for people with substance-abuse problems, since the early 1950s.

“The building has always been involved in saving lives in one way or another,” said Rob Tiedemann, president of The Grapevine’s board.

The city closed the building earlier this year because of hazardous lead, paint and asbestos. The Grapevine’s board of directors has been working to raise money to place a bid at the auction. The group has raised around $12,000 in donations and has an additional $5,000 in pledges, Tiedemann said.

“There’s still hope,” he said.

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