Boise & Garden City

With Boise’s help, Ustick residents work to honor townsite

Ustick Mercantile, once a thriving neighborhood hub. Boisean June Fitzgerald provided this undated photo. Her family owned and operated the store when she was a child. This photo was taken around 1918, said Fitzgerald.
Ustick Mercantile, once a thriving neighborhood hub. Boisean June Fitzgerald provided this undated photo. Her family owned and operated the store when she was a child. This photo was taken around 1918, said Fitzgerald.

Many Boiseans know Ustick only as a busy road connecting Boise to Meridian. It’s lined with strip development and teeming with speeding cars.

But around the turn of the last century, Ustick was an independent townsite. It was a desirable destination filled with acres of apple orchards. Ustick was easily accessible to Downtown Boise some 6 miles away via electric streetcar. The townsite had its own bank, a cheese factory, a mercantile where local produce was weighed and shipped via trolley, a school and, perhaps most significantly, a distinct sense of place.

Longtime resident Gladys Clymens, interviewed for a Ustick history piece for the Boise State University Center for Idaho History and Politics, said, “Even as a child living in the townsite during the 1940s and 1950s, I thought of Ustick as my hometown. It had not yet become a suburb of Boise.”

In the mid-1950s, it was all farm land. You could ride your bike down the middle of Ustick Road without ever bothering to look around you.

Virginia Wurtz, lifelong resident of the Ustick area

Then came decades of suburban growth and a road project that removed a stand of massive trees, changing Ustick from a shaded two-lane road to what neighbors call a “five-lane freeway.” There’s not a lot left of the old townsite, save a few historic buildings and the words “Ustick Townsite” stamped like a placeholder in the sidewalk along Ustick Road.

“Now everything’s lined with sidewalks. I know it’s safer, but it doesn’t have the same feel. Those trees were kind of the anchor. And the cars have sped up,” said Barbara Bancroft, a West Valley Neighborhood Association member who’s lived in the area for 19 years. “Now everyone’s just going from somewhere else to somewhere else.”

For the past year, the neighborhood association has campaigned to recapture a sense of Ustick’s former character. The group has been working with the city of Boise and landscape architecture students at the University of Idaho Urban Design Center to come up with a plan to “soften the area” and make it appeal to walkers and bikers, said Judith Herman, another longtime neighborhood resident and member of the neighborhood association.

“We want to bring our dream of restoring the Ustick Townsite to reality.”

Beautifying, energizing

On Thursday, the public will get a look at the plans designed by the University of Idaho students and have a chance to share thoughts and comments on the future of the project at a public meeting in Comba Park. Ideas include restoring trees and other plantings along Ustick Road between Bryson Avenue and Wildwood Lane, adding signs in the Ustick median to mark the entrance to the neighborhood, creating an enhanced street crossing at Ustick and Mumbarto, and adding public art and seating areas at various corners. The neighbors would also like to see historical interpretive signs and walking paths, possibly along irrigation ditches, that would lead to Comba Park on Five Mile Road.

Herman, who’s lived nearly three decades in the area, said the neighborhood association will work with the city’s planning and zoning department to apply for a city neighborhood reinvestment grant to pay for the project. The budget for the project is still coming together, said Leon Letson, an associate planner with the city. But the Ustick plan does include 12 historic streetlights costing around $3,500 apiece. In the past, he said, the city has awarded grants for $50,000 or more to neighborhoods for various enhancement projects.

Ustick was a wonderful place to grow up. Everybody knew everybody.

Gladys Clymens, who moved to Ustick with her parents after World War II, when she was 5

The West Valley Neighborhood Association is also part of the city’s Energize our Neighborhoods initiative, which launched in 2014 to enhance community services and amenities in sometimes overlooked Boise neighborhoods. Energize our Neighborhoods looks to improve transportation, housing, children and youth, art and history, and more. The initiative first focused on the Vista neighborhood, also on the Boise Bench. Projects there have included documenting residents’ oral histories, awarding home improvement grants to residents, expanding public transportation and giving more than 118 trees to residents. The city also partnered with the Boise School District to offer preschool at two Vista elementary schools.

“We are taking a larger look at Energize going forward, and scaling the framework to be applied in multiple locations across the city,” said Mike Journee, a spokesman in the Boise mayor’s office. “Any initiative that helps any neighborhood become stronger, more identifiable, more close-knit, such as the work the neighborhood association wants to do at the Ustick townsite, will be managed as part of Energize.”

The city will make an announcement in the fall about new resources available to residents who want to build community in their neighborhoods or work with the Energize team, Journee added.

Here’s how you can take part

The neighborhood meeting on the Ustick townsite is planned for 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday at Comba Park, 2995 N. Five Mile Road.

Learn about the project and meet its organizers. They will be available to answer questions and collect public comment. Conversations will include other ways to enhance livability in the Ustick area.

Bring a chair or blanket to sit on and historic photos of Ustick. The city’s Parks and Rec team will provide supervised activities for kids.

Learn more online at

Memories from the neighborhood

Gladys Clymens: Her parents grew up in the Ustick townsite. She moved back to Ustick with them after World War II, when she was 5 years old. As an adult, she lived in other areas, but has lived in her old family home near Ustick since 1997.

“My grandmother raised chickens and we went to Boise once a week to sell the eggs. That was a big trip. There weren’t many houses or businesses between Ustick and Boise. It was mostly fields and sagebrush. The railway was gone before I was born, so we drove there. ...

“All along Ustick there were big old cottonwoods and locust trees on both sides of the road. And down by where Albertsons is now, there was a swimming hole. All the kids went there. ...

“I attended Ustick School from grades 1-7. I remember, every Friday, there was a guy named Pinky with a pink and blue van. He’d come to the school and we’d rent roller skates from him. We’d roller skate in the school gym. We used to have polio auctions there, too, to raise money to fight polio before they invented the vaccine.”

Virginia Wurtz: She’s a lifelong resident of the Ustick area. Her grandparents’ farm, the Aldridge Farm, was located off Ustick between Five Mile and Cloverdale. The area is a subdivision now, but her grandparents’ house is still standing.

“My grandparents grew feed for the cattle they raised, along with the sheep and pigs. They had 500 chickens. ...

“When my parents would pick up the mail at the Ustick mercantile, we would fight over who got to go along with them because we loved going to the merc. Mail was addressed then to Ustick, not Boise like it is now. ...

“I was happy to get the turn lane when they widened the road. I can’t tell you how many times I was almost rear-ended turning into the subdivision. But I was heartbroken when they took down the trees.”