Idahoans have long treasured books and libraries

Book stores, reading rooms and libraries have a rich history in Idaho. They filled an important cultural need and from the beginning were supported by an avid reading public.

The City Book Store, located in the Post Office building on Boise’s Main Street, was run by J.H. Misener and Benjamin F. Lamkin. They advertised in the Idaho Tri-weekly Statesman in December 1866, that they kept “constantly on hand a large supply of standard, school and miscellaneous books and publications, blank books, stationery, albums, song books, etc., etc. The latest Eastern, Salt Lake and California papers, and all the popular magazines and pictorials received by every mail and express.”

That mail had to come a long way by stagecoach, so keeping magazines like Godey’s Lady’s Book, Harper’s Magazine and Atlantic Monthly on hand for their regular readers was a challenge.

Ben Lamkin had served as Idaho territorial auditor from Sept. 23, 1863, until Dec. 24, 1864, for which he was paid $1,800. J.H. Misener told the Owyhee Avalanche in September 1867, as he passed through Silver City en route to San Francisco, that he had sold his interest in the City Book Store to Major A.H. Brown, and that he would return in a short time with “the largest stock of books and stationery ever brought into Idaho Territory.”

In November 1868, H.H. Lamkin, Ben’s brother, was sole proprietor of the City Book Store, listing himself in a Statesman ad as successor to Brown & Lamkin. In addition to all of the things mentioned in the store’s earlier ad, a “Circulating library for all who desire to read” was listed, and in 1870 the Lamkin brothers were partners who signed this ad in the Statesman: “Members of the CIRCULATING LIBRARY will please return all books on hand and be more prompt in the future. Many volumes have been out six months.”

James A. Pinney, who would become the city’s only five-time mayor, moved to Boise from Idaho City and opened his Main Street book and stationery store in November 1869. Meanwhile, soldiers stationed at Fort Boise had shown their hunger for reading. The Statesman reported on March 8, 1870, “We understand the soldiers of Co. H, 23rd Infantry, have saved of their wages and appropriated $1,200 to the purchase of a library consisting of 1,000 volumes. It is already purchased and shipped to Kelton, and Col. Sinclair will send a team after it as soon as the roads are a little better settled.”

By 1875 James A. Pinney and his book store were firmly established in Boise. The Statesman noted, “Mr. Pinney’s pleasing ways show plainly to anyone acquainted with human nature that he is prospering. This goes to prove that any business will prosper if properly attended to. Mr. Pinney has built up a good trade, and altogether by being attentive, accommodating and punctual in all business transactions. Try it who will, it will never fail.”

Reader clubs of all kinds were organized in the 1880s. The Holland Literary Circle, “open to all,” was organized in the home of the Rev. I.T. Osborn in October 1881; on April 18, 1882, the first “Dickens Party” ever held in Boise City was held at the home of A.L. Rinearson. Those who came were dressed in the costume of a Dickens character they were supposed to represent, causing much merriment among those present.

In May, the Boise City Library and Literary Association met in the office of Judge Fremont Wood to plan the creation of a public reading room for the city, but not until February 1886 was a room on the second floor of the fire hall, on Main Street between Sixth and Seventh, formally opened to the public. The Statesman thought it a good location, since it could operate there at little public expense. The council hired a janitor to keep it neat and tidy, and Banker C.W. Moore donated money for a carpet, table and chairs, a hanging lamp and cuspidors for the convenience of the tobacco-chewing public.

A year later the paper reported, “The firemen’s reading room is said to be little used, but it enjoys the distinction of being the only public library and reading room in Idaho, and is equipped with books and periodicals, and made comfortable with furnishings, equaled by few towns the size of Boise in the Union.”

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email histnart@gmail.com.