After April’s successful launch of the restored James Castle House, Boise leaders are shifting their sights to other city-owned historic properties. These places, they say, will tell important stories about the rapidly changing city.
The Hayman House in the River Street neighborhood, an area once populated by African-American families, will become a public cultural site.
Across town, a master plan is complete for a once-working farm. Spaulding Ranch on the Boise Bench could become a community garden, with much of its acreage preserved as open space.
Boise’s explosive growth and push-back from longtime residents who want to preserve the city’s character have become constants in the news. But the current work to preserve historic sites is not in response to that trend, said Mike Journee, city spokesman.
“Our city has been growing for the past 40 years. The Castle House and other sites have been on our radar for quite awhile,” he said. “When there’s an opportunity for something to become a public asset and it makes financial sense, we do it.”
Structures such as the Castle and Hayman houses are modest in scale, originally built by working-class families in unassuming neighborhoods. They nonetheless have “an outsized place in the history of the city,” said Journee.
“We’re ensuring protection and preservation going forward in areas that could look completely different in 40 years,” he said.
Sites to keep your eye on:
Hayman House: 617 Ash St., River Street neighborhood
The neighborhood, just north of the Boise River and west of the soon-to-be expanded Boise Public Library, was historically a working-class neighborhood, home to immigrants including Basques, Asians, Greeks and other then-marginalized groups. By 1930, 80 African-American families lived in the neighborhood.
The Haymans, one African-American family, bought their 1907 house, a modest, sandstone cottage with a hipped-roof, in 1943. Resident and neighborhood leader Erma Hayman worked as seamstress, a window-dresser for a Downtown Boise store and a real-life “Rosie the Riveter,” repairing aircraft at Gowen Field. She lived in her house for close to seven decades until her death in 2009 at the age of 102.
In May, the owner of the Hayman House, Capital City Development Corporation, transferred ownership of the property to the city.
The house sits in a gentrifying part of Boise, prized for its proximity to downtown, the Boise River and Boise State University. The house sits just south of the Ash Street Workforce Housing project, a complex of townhouses and flats now under construction. Other attractions in the neighborhood include the Pioneer Pathway that connects the Greenbelt and nearby Myrtle Street.
“The Hayman House is one of those last, rare gems in the neighborhood, a piece of history showing the architectural vernacular of the times,” said Schorzman.
A University of Idaho archaeological dig near the house in 2015 uncovered household items, as well as remnants of what some believe is the oldest fronton, or Basque handball court, in the city.
Over the next three years, city leaders plan to restore the house and its surrounding grounds into a public cultural site. Unlike the Castle House that required major interventions just to stabilize it, the Hayman House is solid, said Schorzman. Its 1940s-era features are largely intact. Upgrades will include removing the paint from the exterior sandstone and installing a modern bathroom, as well as adding a new roof.
Other new features could include interpretive signs, public art that tells the story of Erma Hayman’s life, seating areas, a small orchard and an educational walking path that links the house, the Anne Frank Human Rights Memorial nearby and the Idaho Black History Museum in Julia Davis Park. Work on exterior landscaping and the installation of public art elements will begin in 2019. Restoration of the house’s interior and exterior will begin the following year.
The city has secured capital funding, said Schorzman -- $277,000 from CCDC and comparable funds from the city’s capital fund and the Percent for Art program.
Spaulding Ranch: 3805 N. Cole Road, on the Bench.
Spaulding Ranch, once a full-scale working farm, is unique in several ways. The 20-acre site is one of nine historic preservation districts in Boise – the only one that comprises a single property. The ranch was home to Mary E. Spaulding, one of Boise’s first female doctors, who homesteaded the property with her family in 1896. The city acquired the site in a 2016 land swap with a local developer.
Spaulding Ranch, not unlike the Hayman House, represents a last of its kind in Boise, said historian Dan Everhart.
“The Bench is now strip malls and housing developments as far as the eye can see,” said Everhart. “Once, it was all farmland. Orchard Street got its name for a reason.”
The Spaulding Ranch site includes a farm house, silo, and several other outbuildings. The Boise Department of Parks and Recreation oversees the site. Doug Holloway, director of the department, said that the city has completed a master plan for the property.
“There is a strong public desire to keep it open space and create a working farm concept,” said Holloway.
The master plan calls for an orchard, space for small community gardens, play features with a farm theme and an open field that may be planted with a crop like hay or natural grasses. As far as the farm house and other structures, “We’re still working on what that would look like,” said Holloway. “It could be an educational component with displays and historical information, possibly rooms set aside as classrooms.”
A future scenario could include transforming the barn on the property into a special event space that the city could rent to the public, said Holloway. The city has built a brace on the farm’s old silo that will stabilize it for a few years while restoration plans are finalized. Other outbuildings could be restored, or rebuilt to duplicate the originals if they’re not structurally sound, he added.
The city has budgeted $1 million in fiscal year 2021 for the improvements at Spaulding and are currently working on a fundraising plan for what will ultimately be a public and privately funded project. Completing the master plan was the first big step, said Holloway.
“The farm is a charming feature. People are extremely intrigued. They drive by, they see the house, the barn, a lot of open fields. They still don’t know the city owns it.”
The Day House: in Terry Day Park, 1225 S. Federal Way
When the Day family, longtime residents of the Boise Bench, donated seven acres to the city in 2006 to create a park in an underserved part of the city, the donation included the family house, a 1908 structure notable for its big, square columns and Craftsman-style roofline.
The park opened in 2013, but the house has remained vacant, in a state of limbo, and surrounded by chainlink. The Boise Department of Parks and Recreation is in charge of the property.
“We have talked to a lot of organizations about doing some upgrades in exchange for them using the house as office, or special events space,” said Doug Holloway. “But we haven’t been able to find someone with the funding ability.” He said he has also spoken to members of the Day family about finding future uses for the house. The house is currently zoned A-1 or open space because of the park site. Other uses would require rezoning.
Historian and consultant Barbara Perry Bauer told the Idaho Statesman in 2016 that the house is a significant part of Boise history. The house was built as part of the Upland Park Addition. The early Bench development offered large, bucolic homesites close enough to Downtown Boise to be accessible by streetcar on the Hillcrest Loop, but still far enough away to harken back to the area’s agricultural origins.
What's new at the James Castle House?
So far, the Castle House has attracted between 35 and 50 visitors each day it’s been open, said Terri Schorzman, director of the Boise Department of Arts and History. New York artist Keiran Brennan Hinton, the house’s first visiting artist, has taken up residency. The house’s gift shop has already raised $7,000 to help support more cultural programs.
The Castle House project, said Schorzman, responded to a “pent up interest from people who want to know about Boise. It’s through these historic sites that we explore who we are.”
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Anna Webb is a former Idaho Statesman reporter and Boise native who studies local architecture and history.