Indispensable sources of information for the historian or the genealogist are city, county and state directories, especially when they include a classified directory of businesses, professions and occupations as they often do.
The earliest directory to include Idaho Territory was published in San Francisco by George Owens in 1864, when the gold rush to Boise Basin was at its peak. The long-winded title page of the 1865 edition reveals the exact contents: “A general directory and business guide of the principal towns east of the Cascade Mountains, for the year 1865, including valuable historical and statistical information, together with a map of Boise Basin, embracing a portion of Ada, Owyhee and Alturas counties, compiled and published by George Owens.”
The work includes individual directories of Placerville, Pioneer City, Centerville, Idaho City and Buena Vista Bar. The Ada County portion of the directory has eight pages of Boise City names, the earliest such record we have, since the first federal census was not taken until 1870.
That Boise City was a boom town is amply demonstrated by the fact that between the time the Army arrived from Fort Vancouver, Washington Territory, to establish Fort Boise, and the town was platted, both in July 1863, until Owens published his directory in 1864, more than 200 men could be listed with their respective businesses, trades or professions. Not listed are the names of their wives and children, although they would be in the 1870 census. By that time the city’s population had grown to 995.
The cost of printing Owens’ 1864 directory was partly borne by advertising. Some of the Idaho City businesses that bought space were J.G. Bryant, “Wholesale dealer in groceries, provisions. Hardware, crockery, glassware, clothing, etc.”; J.G. Brooks & Company, wholesale and retail dealers in “Clothing, dry goods, boots and shoes, ladies’ and gentlemen’s furnishing goods”; The Miners’ Restaurant, “Formerly the Antelope” and run by S.J. Moody; T.C. Poujade, proprietor of the Poujade House and Stage Office on Main Street; and photographers F.H. Train and W.I. Cromwell: “Children’s pictures taken from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Views of residences and mining claims taken in a superior manner.”
James S. Reynolds, founder and editor of the Idaho Statesman, is in Owens’ directory, along with his brothers R.W. Reynolds and T.B. Reynolds, also named as “proprietors.”
A classified business directory of Idaho Territory published in San Francisco in 1867 reveals some unusual statistics: Boise City, Silver City and Ruby City each had five lawyers, while Idaho City had 20 and Lewiston had four. Silver City had a bank, but Boise didn’t have one, although the Idaho First National Bank would open that year. Only one Boise blacksmith is listed, but Buena Vista Bar near Idaho City had six, and Placerville three. When it came to liquor dealers, however, Boise City was well supplied with seven, and Idaho City had eight.
Some Boise businesses took out full-page ads in L.M. McKenney’s Pacific Coast Directory of 1880: Judge Milton Kelly, publisher of the Idaho Statesman; the Eastman brothers, proprietors of the Overland Hotel; John Hailey, superintendent of the Utah, Idaho and Oregon Stage Co.; and J.S. Hatch, dealer in furniture and household goods. Other prominent advertisers were Cyrus Jacobs, D. Falk & Bro., G.W. Brumm, Coffin & Kennaly and James A. Pinney.
The greatest compiler and publisher of city directories in U.S. history was R.L. Polk & Co., founded by Ralph Lane Polk in 1870. He had enlisted in the Union Army when he was 16, and at 21 had moved to Detroit and started his own business compiling and publishing directories. How successful was he? It takes 132 pages to list the more than 1,300 directories published by R.L. Polk & Co. over the years, including many for Idaho towns.
Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.