Idaho History

When fires hit the area in late 19th century, brick’s foundation took hold in Boise

James Flanagan supplied nearly a million bricks for Idaho Territory’s 1885 Capitol building.
James Flanagan supplied nearly a million bricks for Idaho Territory’s 1885 Capitol building.

Boise City in its earliest years was built almost entirely of wood, and before there was a sawmill for making lumber, the first hardy pioneers built log cabins. The first logs cut were from the cottonwoods that grew in abundance along the Boise River, but fir and pine logs, floated down the river from the mountains, were straighter and easier to work with.

It took only a few bad fires to persuade people to build with more substantial materials. After a fire in May 1881, the Idaho Statesman wrote: “Stone cutters, brick layers, and carpenters will now be in demand to build up the burnt district. This is, fortunately, the right season for doing such work, and it is to be hoped that none but substantial brick structures will be suffered to take the place of the rookeries destroyed.”

One of the first producers of brick mentioned in the paper was Bevins & Mullaney, which opened at the lower end of town in February 1870. In June, the paper reported: “BRICK: Messrs .Mullaney and Bevins are now making a superior quality of brick at their yard. They have a large kiln just burned and are commencing the erection of another to be composed entirely of sand brick. These gentlemen are ready to fill orders for any number of brick and invite those who contemplate building to give them a call. Wood, hay, grain, and all kinds of marketable produce taken in exchange.”

The 1870 census tells us that Cordoan H. Bevins was a 30-year-old native of Illinois. His partner, James Mullaney, 33, was born in New York..

Masons and bricklayers were much in demand in Boise in June 1870 and were being paid from $6 to $8 per day, good at the time.

When Irish-born brick-maker James Flanagan was arrested for drunkenness in August 1874, the Statesman wrote, “Flanagan is a hard-working, quiet citizen when he is himself, but once in a while he gets too much tangle-leg aboard, which makes him a hard customer to manage.” On this occasion it took four men, including 300-pound German brewer Jo Misseld, to subdue him and carry him to jail.

That month the Flanagan Brothers (James, Henry and Laurance) sold about 100,000 bricks and were burning 100,000 more.

In September: “Messrs. James and Laurance Flanagan are now busy burning, at their yard opposite the U.S. Assay Office, the largest brick kiln ever burned in the Territory. The kiln contains 230,000 brick and it is estimated that it will take seventy cords of wood to burn them. Flanagan Brothers are determined to keep the market supplied, and as they are hard working men they are deserving of success.”

On New Year’s Day in 1881, James Flanagan advertised in the Statesman: “BRICK! BRICK! Now Is The Time To Build. I Have on Hand 175,000 Brick Which I will deliver in town for cash in quantities to suit at $7.50 per M.”

In May 1882, a new Ada County Courthouse was being built, and Flanagan Brothers supplied the 450,000 bricks needed. Big new Central School used 520,000 Flanagan bricks, and the Territorial Capitol would use a staggering 999,750. (These numbers were gleaned from Flanagan company records still in existence.) By 1890 Flanagan was burning more than a million bricks at a time. The Idaho Statesman wrote, “Mr. F. has everything in very fine working order, and feeling happy as a boy on account of the increased demand for his product.”

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