Idaho History

From his service to his humor to his family, Jimmy Hart was a picture of early Boise

Jimmy Hart was an active volunteer fireman for many years.
Jimmy Hart was an active volunteer fireman for many years. Idaho State Historical Society

Saloon keeper James H. “Jimmy” Hart entertained Statesman readers for a generation with regular small items, usually humorous, extolling the virtues of the food and drink available at his establishment.

On May 22, 1875, when the big news nationally was the sex scandal involving Henry Ward Beecher, the nation’s most renowned clergyman, and a female member of his congregation, Jimmy’s ad read: “There will be a free discussion over the Beecher-Tilton affair at Jimmy Hart’s rooms this evening.”

In October: “The great financial panic in San Francisco has not created any depression of spirits at Jimmy Hart’s Sample Rooms. He presented the Statesman editor with a bottle of Noble’s Best yesterday and told us he had enough to drive away all the blues in the Territory and if the boys would call on him he would give them medicine that would do it.”

The Statesman noted in January 1876 that “Jimmy Hart is about the only Eighth of January man in town; he threw his large American flag to the breeze on that day, and it still floats majestically over Main Street in commemoration of the Battle of New Orleans. Jimmy says he well remembers how English General Pakenham sent word to General Jackson that he would eat his supper in New Orleans that night, and Jackson sent word back, that if he did he would take his breakfast next morning in hell.” (Pakenham was killed in the battle that followed.)

On: July 1, 1876, “Jimmy Hart will celebrate the 4th of July at his ‘Sample Room’ with a pot of baked beans – free for all. All kinds of fancy iced drinks, not free!” When the Idaho Legislature was in session, Jimmy’s pitch was aimed at its members: “Both houses of the Idaho Legislature, also every other good man, will bear in mind that clam chowder is good for the brain. Drop in any time after 8 o’clock tonight at Jimmy Hart’s, and see for yourself.”

By 1879 Jimmy had expanded his offerings: “He will dish up Clam Chowder every Saturday night, at his Bakery, Grocery, Sample Room, or, vulgarly speaking, rum shop.” In February 1880: “Oldest pioneers of Idaho assemble at Jimmy Hart’s and compare notes of 20 years’ experience in Idaho. Jimmy has been keeping saloon most of that time, either in Oro Fino, Placerville or Boise, but has given up the idea of getting rich selling whisky alone, and therefor caters to the taste of everyone.”

The 1880 U.S. Census tells us that James H. Hart, 46, and his wife Eliza, 33, were both born in New York. They had children 11, 9, 6, 4 and 1. In June 1881, Jimmy wrote a letter to the editor, asking that he not be confused with the Mormon bishop of the same name. “It keeps me pretty lively to take care of one wife and live.”

Popular men such as Jimmy Hart made things go in a volunteer fire department, and his record over a lifetime of service shows what the boys thought of him. He was elected foreman of Ada Hook & Ladder No. 1 in 1881, twice in 1883, and again in 1885. He also served terms as secretary and as treasurer, and was elected its president six times. In 1902 he was chosen as the fire chief.

James H. Hart died April 18, 1925, at the age of 88, much loved and admired by his fellow old-timers.

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