Idaho History

In Idaho's early 1900s, linking Boise-area cities by rail was much celebrated

Between towns on the Boise & Interurban, structures provided shelter for passengers and farm produce.
Between towns on the Boise & Interurban, structures provided shelter for passengers and farm produce. Idaho State Historical Society

In the summer of 1905, what became known as the “Valley Loop” was two separate electric interurban projects, both building from Boise toward Caldwell, one on the north side of the river, the other on the south.

Dr. H.P. Ustick, speaking for the southside promoters, told the Statesman that his people had three parties soliciting subscriptions and that they were “meeting with splendid support from the Boise people,” and that he thought the matter “had progressed far enough to remove any doubt of ultimate success.”

Speaking for the northside project, Walter E. Pierce said: “We are going to continue with our proposition on the lines of good business management until our roads are built. We have undertaken to connect Boise with a territory that will be immensely beneficial to this city. Our men are in the field taking rights of way, and eastern engineers are checking up our surveys.”

On July 26, 1905, the Idaho Statesman reported: “People in the Valley Enthuse Over Railroad. They Pledge Hearty Support to the Pierce Project.”

In November that year Dr. Ustick told the Statesman that the delays in completing the Boise Valley Railway Co.’s connections with Boise Rapid Transit were due to the nonarrival of some rails and other materials. In fact it took until May 1907 for his line to reach Ustick, 6 miles out from Boise. Its arrival there set off an immediate rise in real estate values.

Arrival of the tracks in Middleton on Walter E. Pierce’s north project set off a 1907 building boom there. An Interurban substation made of white brick shipped from Boise was nearing completion on May 27, and the Statesman reported: “Fine Progress in Middleton. Twelve thousand dollar hotel to be erected at once – Three brick blocks to be constructed this year… Great activity shown on all sides. The State Bank of Middleton opened last November in a neat and well-equipped brick building.”

When the Boise & Interurban line was completed to Caldwell in August 1907, the first run carried 27 special guests of Pierce and Chief Engineer F.H. Knox. Next day a special round trip from Caldwell to Boise carried that city’s mayor and its leading businessmen. The first regular service started on Friday, Aug. 9, 1907. The Statesman devoted a full page of pictures of the historic event on that Sunday.

Walter E. Pierce realized early on in the planning that if he wanted people to ride the new line, he needed to provide an attractive destination, one they would return to regularly. Pierce Park (located where Plantation Country Club is today) had its formal opening on Aug. 25, 1907. The Statesman noted: “Big Crowd Finds Pleasure in Delightful Air of the Boise Valley. There were picnics, watermelon in abundance, the Columbia Band played, and the Interurban cars were loaded with people, three in a seat, and many standing.”

On Sept. 25, 1907, the paper reported: “Electric Lines at Caldwell Clash. Trouble Over Crossing of Boise Valley Line by Interurban Soon Amicably Settled. Where the two lines crossed there was a slight difference in their levels. By order of the Boise Valley Co., A. Waldrodt went out to the intersection at 12:30 last night and began tearing up the tracks of the Boise & Interurban. That company’s watchman called the Marshal and Waldrodt was arrested. He was brought before Judge Shorb next morning, but as no one appeared against him the case was dropped. It was obvious to all concerned that to complete a valley interurban loop the tracks in downtown Caldwell had to meet at the same level.”

When Pierce returned from a business trip to Pittsburgh in January 1908, he revealed plans of the Board of Directors for making the park named for him “one of the finest in the country,” with a large lake, and boats of all kinds and sizes available to visitors.

Arthur Hart writes this column on Idaho history for the Idaho Statesman each Sunday. Email