Idaho history: Nampa’s Dewey Palace hotel was legacy of a remarkable man

The Dewey Palace was Nampa’s most notable landmark. Many still miss it.
The Dewey Palace was Nampa’s most notable landmark. Many still miss it. Provided by Arthur Hart

When the stately Idanha, with its castle-like towers, opened on Jan. 1, 1901, it was the largest hotel in Idaho. On that same day the Idaho Statesman published a line drawing of a proposed Dewey Palace hotel for Nampa. Two years later, in February 1903, Col. William H. Dewey’s hotel, in a style very different from the Idanha, opened in downtown Nampa, and in 1904 the chateau-style Saratoga Hotel opened in Caldwell, to become that city’s pride and joy.

The Dewey Palace was designed and built in the Georgian Revival style of architecture, characterized by red brick walls and long, white-painted wooden porches with classical Ionic columns and capitals and urn finials. Its builder, Col. William H. Dewey, was a man whose prodigious energy and skill as a promoter impressed all who knew him. He went to the Eastern states regularly seeking investors in his varied projects. On one of his trips he hired Chicago architect W.K. Johnson to design his hotel and Joseph A. Graef to design its interiors and choose the furniture, all of which was produced in Grand Rapids, Mich. The linens, silverware and carpets Graef purchased from Marshall Field’s famous department store in Chicago. The chinaware, a few pieces of which survive, featured a picture of the new hotel.

Dewey was born in New York state on Aug. 1, 1823, of New England ancestry. He came West by way of the Isthmus of Panama, arriving in San Francisco in 1852. His travels took him next to Virginia City, Nev., where he was among the adventurous multitude that hoped to strike it rich in mining. In 1863 he arrived in the Owyhee mines of southwest Idaho, having walked all the way from Virginia City — a dangerous journey because hostile Indians had already killed travelers along that route, including some on horseback.

Ruby City was the leading town in the new mining district, before Dewey and others moved up Jordan Creek a short distance and staked out the rival town of Silver City. In April 1864, Dewey built the first wagon road into the area. As Silver City grew, it absorbed all of Ruby City.

The event that nearly derailed Dewey’s career came in 1884 when he was arrested, tried and convicted of manslaughter for killing a man named Henry Koenig. He spent six months in the penitentiary before being granted a retrial. Thanks to the efforts of noted attorney Richard Z. Johnson he was found innocent and released from custody.

Writers about Dewey, especially those in subscription biographies, in which the subject of the piece paid for and had final approval of what was written about him, often got carried away, as in this example: “Among the prominent influential citizens of Idaho, Col. Dewey ... enjoys a unique position and reputation. He is a pioneer Idahoan in the true sense of that word, and the marvelous development of the interests and industries of his adopted state is largely attributable to his enterprise and sagacity. He is a man of remarkable resources, and has never failed to measure fully up to all the requirements and emergencies of life. Although over 70 years old, he is well preserved and exhibits unabated vigor of mind and body.” The reader might think that Dewey had won the West, all by himself.

On May 22, 1900, the Statesman reported at length on a banquet given in Dewey’s honor, at which he was presented with “a Silver Key to the Hearts and Homes” of those present, whose names were listed.

The grand opening of the Dewey Palace hotel took place on the evening of Feb. 20, 1903. On April 11, 1903, the Caldwell Tribune published a long editorial praising the hotel and its builder. Less than a week later, William H. Dewey was dead. His grand hotel was torn down in 1963, much to the regret of many throughout Boise Valley. In April 2012, the Idaho Press-Tribune called the Dewey Palace “Perhaps Nampa’s most famed — and most missed — structure” in all her history.

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