Idaho History

Cyrus Jacobs defined success in early Boise City and had support from voters, residents

Cyrus and Mary Ellen Jacobs in front of their then-new Boise City house.
Cyrus and Mary Ellen Jacobs in front of their then-new Boise City house. Idaho State Historical Society

Cyrus Jacobs was elected Ada County treasurer in August 1868 and celebrated by pouring champagne for his friends in his store at 7th and Main streets. The Statesman recognized his accomplishments by recounting the development of his business interests since early in the spring of 1863. It listed his large flouring mill, his distillery and the fact that he was feeding 500 hogs that would become hams, pork chops and bacon. Jacobs’ mill had done its work and was awaiting a new wheat crop. The firm had over 100 tons of flour on hand. The Statesman noted, “If the other mills have done equally well there will be no scarcity of that item in Idaho.”

In November 1868, and for two years thereafter, Cyrus Jacobs ran an ad in the Statesman urging readers to “Patronize Home Industry. Save Freight and Buy Your Liquor at Home! We claim the privilege of soliciting your patronage on the ground that we invest our money in our common interest and furnish as good liquor as can be imported, for less money.”

Jacobs continued to run the ad that listed the multitude of things you could buy at his store. That October he received seven wagonloads of salt in sacks of various sizes from the Oneida Salt Works, of which he was agent. There was little salt of any other kind in the market.

The U.S. Census of 1870 tells us that Cyrus Jacobs was born in Pennsylvania, was 56 years old, and had assets of approximately $50,000 (equal to over $900,000 today.) His wife Mary Ellen was 33, and their four children were listed as Edith, 10, Fanny, 7, Carrie, 4, and Minnie, 3. Living with them were Robert Brooks, 40, who drove the company team, and Charles Himrod, 28, who was a clerk in the Jacobs store.

That Himrod was a popular young man we know from the fact that he was elected to three one-year terms as mayor of Boise City, 1869-1872, and a fourth in 1878. When Himrod passed through Idaho City in June 1870, the Idaho World reported, “Our genial young friend Chas. Himrod, ex-mayor of Boise City, arrived here a few days ago, but did not remain any length of time as he was en route for Loon Creek on business for Messrs. C. Jacobs & Co.”

Cyrus Jacobs, like many of Idaho’s pioneers, had come west on the Oregon Trail in the 1850s. In 1856 he had married Mary Ellen Palmer, daughter of General Joel Palmer, a prominent pioneer who had served as 3rd speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives.

Boise’s oldest brick house, at 607 Grove Street, was built for Cyrus and Mary Ellen in 1864 by mason contractor Charles May. The house was enlarged in 1878 to include two additional bedrooms and a dining room. In 1895 young Boise attorney and future U.S. senator William E. Borah married Mamie McConnell, daughter of Idaho Gov. William J. McConnell, in the Jacobs house. Cyrus lived there until his death in 1900, and Mary Ellen until her death in 1907.

In 1910 the house became a lodging place for Basque sheepherders. The Uberuaga family rented it in 1917, bought it in 1928 and continued to operate it as a lodging house until it was acquired by the Basque Museum and Cultural Center in 1985 for use as a museum and headquarters. The house was added to the National Register of Historic Places on Nov. 27, 1972.

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